Motivating teachers getting the best out of your staff in every way, every day

| April 6, 2011 | 0 Comments

Passion is the thing that separates good teachers from great teachers. There is no doubt that our pupils will feed off and emulate our attitude and our passion – or, alarmingly, the lack thereof. We also know that teaching is a wearisome task, and it can be difficult to maintain our passion over a long career. How many teachers do you know who have moved from leaping out of bed, saying “Good morning, God” to dragging themselves out, saying, “Good God, morning”?

So, having established the importance of passion as a key ingredient in teaching and learning, we now turn our attention to what helps keep teachers motivated and passionate.

Seeking answers via surveys
We decided to ask some teachers what keeps them motivated. We designed a simple, anonymous, online survey using Google Docs and sent the survey to the Heads of 12 independent schools, asking them to forward it to their staff and encouraging them to take a few minutes to complete it. We only surveyed independent schools, although our sample was representative in the sense that it included both monastic and co-educational, as well as boarding and day schools.

We asked the following questions:
1. On a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high), how motivated are you?
2. How has your level of motivation changed during your career? Has it increased, decreased or remained constant?
3. Give three things which your school CURRENTLY does which help to keep you motivated.
4. Give three things which your school COULD do to help motivate you.
5. Any other comments?

We received 85 responses, which was pleasing given that the survey was only available for four days.

The findings
The responses to the question on motivation (question 1, with a range of 1=low to 5=high) were analysed as follows:

While it is pleasing that the majority of the sample responses are fairly highly motivated, less than 25% are highly motivated. It is also worth remembering that we only sampled independent schools, and the picture may be quite different in the state sector. Teachers’ motivation levels have changed during the course of their careers (question 2), as follows: It is concerning that roughly a third of teachers feel less motivated now than when they started out, and that a large number have remained constant. Can this result in highly motivated students? We think not. We handled the anecdotal questions (three and four) by reading through all the responses and identifying distinct themes into which they could be grouped. The same things that many teachers identified were noted as being absent but desirable by others!

In each case, we quote directly from the research, indicating this in white italics. At the outset, we note that many of the ideas are common sense and will not surprise anyone. Having said that, maybe it is the simple things that, because of their very simplicity, are underrated and sometimes forgotten – so it is certainly worth reminding ourselves of them. The themes follow.

The leadership of the school creates a climate of awareness, acknowledgement and recognition for both sporting and academic endeavour
Almost all teachers placed a great value on recognition/affirmation for their efforts. A number mentioned that praise should be given in all areas, and it seemed as if anumber of schools place undue emphasis on sporting successes at the expense of other areas like academics, cultural, etc. It was interesting that a number of people placed special value on handwritten letters rather than e-mails. This shows a desire for an investment of time by leadership.

The leadership of the school supports the collegiality and sharing of ideas and resources with/by colleagues
It seems that a number of schools are promoting collegiality and that this plays a valuable role in motivating teachers. It is our contention that, while this may happen naturally, it can be greatly enhanced if it is actively promoted and modelled by the school leadership. This does not have to be limited to within your own school, but could also be inter-school collaboration.

The leadership of the school encourages/allows freedom/ independence and autonomy in and out of the classroom
It is clear that teachers who are given autonomy are more likely to be motivated than those who work in environments that are excessively prescriptive. The feeling was that autonomy means a freedom to employ different teaching styles and methods.

The leadership of the school creates an environment of trust
A number of teachers specifically mentioned trust. One could conclude that it is demotivating for teachers if they feel that they are ‘being watched’ or ‘checked up on’. The motivation for these people comes from a sense of respect by the leadership for their ability.

The leadership of the school is supportive of and encourages professional development opportunities/long leave/study leave
A large number of people identified professional development opportunities as a great motivator. We contend that while schools should, as a matter of course, be looking for opportunities to develop their teachers, teachers also need to take some responsibility for their own development – making sure that they put their hands up when opportunities arise. Teachers should also be encouraged to seek out development opportunities for themselves. Schools should not only be sending teachers to
conferences but should be encouraging teachers to present at conferences, as there is a great deal of growth that occurs in the process of preparing and presenting a paper. In the same way, schools should be encouraging teachers to publish in journals like Independent Education.

The leadership of the school is consultative, creating an environment of inclusion, of being heard
Teachers who feel included in decision-making processes are more likely to be motivated. The challenge here is that consultation can be very timeconsuming, but it’s more dangerous when you do not do what the consultation recommended.

The leadership of the school makes each individual feel that they matter
A very important result was the human need for individual nurture by the leadership of the school. There needs to be both personal investment and professional investment. A key element will be relationship building. So, in summary, it is all about relationships. The importance of the school leadership getting to know their teachers, valuing them for their contributions and for who they are was probably the strongest message. As presenters, we were affirmed by how much good leadership is being displayed in the schools we surveyed, and encouraged that the vast number of teachers in independent schools were motivated to continue the good work. The challenge remains, however, as to how this motivation is going to spill over into all teaching in South Africa.

Allan Laing and Paul de Wet teach at Michaelhouse.

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Category: Autumn 2011, Featured Articles

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