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Recognition and motivation

Audience applaudingFiona Thomas is an EFL blogger and Director of Education at Net Languages, a large online language school. Here she considers the importance of recognition and motivation for teachers to excel at their jobs.

How appreciated do you feel in your job? It doesn’t matter what position you hold, everybody likes to feel that their colleagues, boss and people they are responsible for appreciate them when they work hard and do their job well. However, too many teachers and managers suffer from the frustration of feeling that what they do goes unrecognised and unappreciated.

Why is recognition so important? Frederick Herzberg spent much of his professional life researching what motivates people in the work place. His findings show that when a person is recognised for a high level of performance at work, this has a powerful effect on motivation (Herzberg, 1987).

He distinguished between what he classified as hygiene factors and motivational factors. Hygiene factors are those factors which need to be in place for us to be able to do our job.  If these factors are not satisfactorily covered, they will cause anxiety, distract us from our job and lead to demotivation and general dissatisfaction – e.g. if we do not earn enough money to cover our general needs and expenses, we will not be able to focus on our work. However, these factors do not actually motivate us – e.g. if we are given a pay increase (money is a hygiene factor), the effect of the pay rise on our motivation is, in theory, very short-lived. We soon get used to earning more money and as a consequence, its effectiveness in terms of motivation is soon lost.

Motivational factors, on the other hand, are factors which make a difference to how the worker feels about their job in a longer lasting way. Herzberg cited the following areas as motivational: achievement, recognition, the work itself, responsibility, and advancement. These, therefore, are the areas that language schools need to focus on in order to motivate the people who work there. And of these factors recognition is arguably one of the easiest to apply.

Recognition needs to happen all the way down the hierarchical ladder of any organisation, from Directors to DOSs and other managers, to level coordinators and to teachers. If the person who is directly responsible for us does not seem to notice or care when we perform outstandingly, we understandably feel unappreciated. This in turn can affect our work performance to the detriment of the organisation we work for.

Recognition from colleagues or those higher up the ladder can also be very effective at motivating us. This, I believe, tends to happen most in a climate where there is a general sense of well-being and appreciation within an organisation. People who work in an environment where recognition is part of the institutional culture are much more likely to reciprocate in kind.

Interestingly, people often receive more recognition from their PLNs (personal learning networks) than from the place where they work. The growth in online PLN communities has helped to provide the support and recognition which helps teachers and managers to develop as professionals, especially when this is lacking in the institutions that employ them. It seems, however, such a wasted opportunity that this potential is not exploited positively by these organisations.

It is somewhat ironic that teachers are trained to give praise, recognition and encouragement to their students (sometimes in excess, according to Jim Scrivener, but this is part of a different debate). However, when these teachers are promoted to management positions, they tend to forget to apply the same good practice to the people they are now responsible for. Managers seem to have become so busy directing or managing in their new positions that they forget to apply the same basic effective principles they used when managing students in a class.

If we strive to have vibrant, high-quality language organisations, the motivation of students, teachers, managers, and all other staff is an essential part of good management practice. If we accept that taking the time to recognise good work can make a significant difference to people’s levels of motivation, then language organisations would be well advised to make sure that the recognition of people’s merits, initiatives and hard work becomes part of their institutional culture.

Reference:

Herzberg, F.I. 1987, ‘One more time: How do you motivate employees?’, Harvard Business Review, Sep/Oct87, Vol. 65 Issue 5, p109-120

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Your place or mine?

Teacher with students in schoolFiona Thomas is an EFL blogger and Director of Education at Net Languages, a large online language school. Here she talks about the impact the location of classes has on the teacher-student relationship.

Most teachers view the prospect of teaching a new class with a mixture of excitement (an opportunity to do things differently, a chance to learn new things) and a certain amount of anxiety: Will the students like me? Will they like each other? Will the class be a success?

Irrespective of whether the class is a one-off, a substitution or a class lasting a whole term or academic year, most of us worry about how the class will go. But, when preparing for the new class, how many teachers or managers reflect on how the class dynamics and the relationship between the students and the teacher are affected by where the class is actually held?

According to Charles Handy (1993, Changing Organisations, Penguin, London, p.170) the location of a meeting (or class in our case) gives out certain signals and these signals affect the way people behave and interact with each other. Take, as an example, a teacher who is called into the Director’s office. By choosing to hold a meeting with the teacher in the Director’s office, the Director is (consciously or not) reinforcing the power relationship which already exists between a director and employee.

Depending on the purpose of the meeting, this can be used to great effect. If the meeting is disciplinary, the choice of venue will effectively emphasise the authority of the director to discipline the teacher. If the meeting is for another purpose, for example to bounce ideas off a teacher, the choice of the Director’s office as the venue for the meeting will not be as conducive to an open and frank exchange of ideas or opinions as meeting in a classroom, teachers’ room or other more neutral place.

So, let’s take this theory and apply it to where classes are held. A language school territorially belongs more to the teacher than the students. So, in terms of the student – teacher relationship if a teacher gives a class in his/her language school, this naturally emphasises the teacher’s role and authority in the class in relation to the students. Consider how much easier it is for a long-established teacher to assert his/her role in a new class full of new students who do not know each other if the class is held in the teacher’s language school compared with starting a class in an unknown venue with a group of students who already know each other.

For newly-qualified teachers (NQTs) giving a class to an already established group of young learners on the students’ territory e.g. in a state school, is a tall order. More experienced teachers will be equipped with a series of strategies and the required confidence to help manage the class and compensate for this more threatening environment.  So, where possible, when dealing with classes of younger learners in which discipline can be problematic, managers would be advised to assign NQTs classes in the language school rather than sending these teachers out to off-site locations where the teachers are at more of a disadvantage.

The same is true, although different, with classes held in companies. Teachers giving classes in a company walk into an already established set of roles and power relationships between the students in a class. The teacher, as an outsider, cannot challenge these roles and much of what he or she will be able to do in the class and his/her relationship with the students will be conditioned by these pre-determined relationships.

As for online classes, although giving online classes requires a different set of teaching and management skills to face-to-face classes, if the student attends the class from his/her home and the teacher from his/her home or language school, the territorial factors which can influence the teacher-student relationship and establishment of roles are, on the whole, neutralised.

There are obviously many more factors which influence how the teacher – student relationship and roles develop. However, by being aware of these territorial issues, teachers can anticipate and try to adapt how they manage their classes according to where their classes are held. Managers in turn should take this issue into consideration when deciding which teacher to assign to each class and how the location of the class could affect the amount of support the teacher might need.

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