Spring 2007 - Volume 10 Number 2
|Reviews||Awards and Recognition for Exceptional Teachers K-12 and Community College Programs in the U.S.A., Canada and Other Countries
Ottawa IL: Matilda Press, 2006
Hans Andrews’ book is intended to carry out several distinct but related tasks. It can therefore be read from a variety of perspectives and judged according to their different standards.
Andrews first seeks to analyze the relationship between teacher motivation and the provision of official rewards for excellence. Such rewards may be symbolic expressions of praise (easily used to fluff up a résumé), material prizes (cash), and often both. They may be offered by educational institutions, governments, business and industry, professional associations or private foundations. Those that derive from schools and colleges or from the public authorities to which they are responsible may be preferred, for they seem less likely to represent “special interests” and may better reflect the common need for high quality teaching.
He then generates a skeletal philosophical outline justifying such programs both in terms of promoting individual excellence and of stimulating improvements in teaching for entire educational communities. It is important to stress here that purely financial bonuses are placed well down in Andrews’ list of motivators. On this much, he, administrators and teachers’ unions are (though perhaps for quite different reasons) generally agreed: “merit pay” is not a proper strategy to enhance educational systems.
Next, he presents concise descriptions of highly diverse programs of teacher recognition and reward selected from a number of jurisdictions. These descriptions cover roughly 90% of the text (excluding an ample bibliography and index).
Finally, Andrews ventures a heart-felt call to action in support of excellence-based rewards in the hope of improving teacher enthusiasm, instructional quality and organizational revitalization all the way from kindergarten to college.
There are, of course, issues that the book does not address, but that he might at least have mentioned in passing. Two will be briefly discussed later.
In dealing with the relationship between rewards and motivation, Andrews sensibly argues that the success of excellence-based awards programs (as of any institutional initiatives) depends on the organizational context and the thoughtfulness with which the project is designed. In this case, he says that there must be a pre-existing and evident measure of “trust” between administrators and teachers. This trust will incorporate a basic respect for the work that teachers do. It will also require transparent procedures which demonstrate clarity in the criteria for success and fairness in the evaluation of excellence. Thus, for example, teachers should know what is expected of them so that they can meet and exceed those expectations. As well, we may infer that awards must not exclusively be given to “management pets,” and it is even suggested that teachers might participate in determining what counts as teaching excellence. Significantly, opposing views that stress egalitarianism and collegiality, and insist that competition can be divisive are dismissed as unhelpful “union rhetoric” that presumably arises when mediocrity confronts meritocracy. By discounting the notion that management-labour relations in educational institutions are as inherently conflictual as in other work environments, Andrews takes an unequivocal stand in support of what I will call the corporate model of modern organizations, and leave it to others to offer a critique of this view.
As an exercise in empirical analysis, Andrews’s work is not especially persuasive. He provides anecdotal evidence and pulls quotes from some recipients of rewards to assure readers that teachers deeply value recognition, and that they are encouraged to work harder and better, to demonstrate excellence and to go above and beyond the demands of their job descriptions, especially when the prospects of being personally honoured with more than a pay cheque are available. This is a plausible and testable hypothesis, but it is not fully confirmed here. We ought not, however, to be overly demanding. Andrews is not delivering a model of objective social science research. He is submitting a brief. He is promoting a particular normative agenda and a particular set of practices to advance it.
Practices of recognition and reward are not, in his opinion, of benefit only to individual teacher-winners. In schools and systems that take public notice of extraordinary educators, he tells us that students are likely to take pride when one of their teachers is singled out for praise. Likewise, schools and colleges bask in their champions’ reflected glory, and merely having one of an institution’s staff nominated for board, regional or state-wide or national accolades is deemed evidence that the educational facility in question is doing its job well.
Though skeptics might worry some about the possibility of boorish boosterism, Andrews does his best to ground the “philosophy” of awards for excellence in established managerial theory. Psychologists since the perpetrators of the Hawthorn experiments have made it their business to probe into the matter of employee motivation. In this book, Andrews relies largely on Frederick Herzberg, whose inquiries in the early 1960s led to his “hygiene-motivation” theory.
According to Herzberg, people have both “animal” and “human” needs. The former are addressed by such matters as wages and working conditions; the latter involve recognition and responsibility. Loosely related to Maslow’s influential hierarchy of needs, and fully consistent with Kohlberg’s lower levels of ethical reasoning (the pre-conventional and the conventional stages), Herzberg’s formula allowed the intrinsic rewards of the quality of working life to trump petty concerns about power and money. This is not to say that he believed that most people would work for nothing, though the rise in “volunteerism” suggests that many will; but, he did imply (some say “exploded the myths”) that concerns about salaries, fringe benefits, the number of hours in the work week, and so on were major influences on motivation and, hence, on productivity. True, Herzberg agreed that overt displays of sensitivity to people’s feelings (e.g., supervisors saying “please” when giving orders) don’t help much either; however, in the complex process of motivating employees whether in coal mines or ivory towers, Herzberg did emphasize that personal and professional recognition could outweigh an extra week of paid vacation or a wage increase equal to inflation as motivators for mental and manual workers alike. Awards for excellence for a few are, by this logic, more productive (and much less expensive) than a decent dental plan.
A precondition for meaningful rewards, according to Andrews, not only involves an awareness of what makes people want to do better and to be better in their jobs. Also essential is an institutional context that makes the concept of “better” clear, precise and directly related to a comprehensive set of core values. The variable of excellence, it seems, must be operationalized and consequently measured in terms of performance indicators that are congruent with fundamental and unambiguously articulated institutional ideals.
Andrews next declares that policies concerning the recognition and reward of excellence will be useful only as an addition to an already functioning faculty evaluation process. “What good,” asks Andrews, “is the outcome to a school if good teachers are rewarded and recognized but poor teachers and average performances are left unchecked?” The awards-based incentive, then, appears to be the soft side of the coinage of managerial control. The hard side is added in the following terms: it must be plain that “the Governing Board values a strong stand on placing those teachers evaluated as doing poorly into a remediation process or, if necessary, into a termination process from the institution.”
The recognition of excellence, then, is no meaningless gesture, akin perhaps to the “employee of the month” signs that often appear in commercial establishments where, one fears, if the award winners are not drawn by lot, then all it takes to win the honour is to have lasted in the job more than thirty days. For Andrews, it is more important that determinations of excellence be understood as an element in the general corporate strategy for maintaining internal authority and facilitating external accountability.
Andrews next provides illustrations of the theory in practice or, rather, in “best practices.” Readers should not expect (nor is it Andrews’ goal to provide) a complete inventory of all cases of performance-based excellence awards. This would already be next to impossible for the United States (which is understandably his focus), but it is unthinkable in a project of the scope that he undertakes. In addition to examples selected from schools and colleges in the USA, he also describes programs in Australia, Belize, Canada, Guam, Jamaica, South Africa and the United Kingdom. The result is not a complete catalogue of advertised prizes; however, it does give a fair sense of the range and diversity of those available.
Some programs are directed against a real or imagined “brain drain.” In Scotland, for instance, we learn that there are thirty-seven teachers who have been awarded “charter status,” and who are being encouraged to remain in Scottish schools with an added ₤6,500 in their pay packets. Though this might belie the relative importance of “animal needs,” there are plenty of examples of less material, and therefore more affordable gestures. The Science Teachers Association of Ontario, for example, annually gives a plaque, some books and some software to teachers who introduce innovative methods in the classroom.
At the college level, practices vary from California to New Hampshire. Some institutions (e.g., De Anza College in California) rely on student nominations; others (e.g., Johnson County Community College in Kansas) obey strict formulae 65% for basic job responsibilities; 15% for divisional work; 10% for institutional work; and, 10% for professional growth and retain external judges to decide the winners). In most cases, teachers must be nominated or apply personally for these awards, and the methods for selection vary as much as the criteria that must be met.
This variability, however, ought neither to surprise nor to trouble anyone who is receptive to the basic principle. In fact, the messiness of the current evaluative landscape may be interpreted as an added and invigorating challenge. Bringing a number of programs under one rubric would not be impossible. The point of all such exercises is, after all, to acknowledge and to show appreciation for work done with care, diligence, enthusiasm and single-minded attention to the standards of the teaching profession and the goals set by employers as they seek to reflect the core values of the employing institutions. To achieve onsensus on at least some of these issues in some domains whether defined vertically by educational level or horizontally by geographic region or political jurisdiction would be a somewhat intimidating task, but one that would no doubt be worthy of an administrative prize itself.
In Andrews’ book, all people students, teachers, managers and overseers who share the corporate model of education can understand the basic issue of improving teachers’ confidence, self-worth and commitment. This well-defined problem is assertively said to be capable of solution. The diagnosis and the prescribed therapy are presented. All that is needed is a recognition that great teachers need to be rewarded in order to boost their own self-esteem, provide role models for others and stand as shining beacons whose light will illuminate the path for all. There are testimonials all sincere about the genuine need for progress along the prescribed path to greater institutional and personal health and proficiency.
The book successfully exposes what one former CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges calls “an embarrassing deficiency.” It offers a robust “call to action.” It encourages teachers to understand, as a former Hawai’i Teacher of the Year put it, that “the key to success in today’s workforce is to make yourself marketable,” and that it is the job of teachers to feed that workforce with young entrepreneurial spirits whose main products are themselves.
There are only a few additional comments that need to be made about Hans Andrews’ latest contribution to the discourse about education. Two likely criticisms can easily be set aside.
The first complaint might be that there are typographical and other errors throughout. An example is the alleged recruitment of the philosopher G. W. F. Hegel (1770-1831) into the roll of supporters of the “recognition and reward movement” because of a book called “The Struggle for Recognition,” which he is said to have published in 1995. It is plain that Andrews knows this to be false, but evidently his proofreader missed the mistake (the dubious claim that Hegel would support this managerial initiative was made in the book in question, but its author was our contemporary, Alex Honneth, not the antique German idealist and dialectician). I speak here from long and occasionally embarrassing experience, and I do not wish to appear condescending when I mention that Matilda Press seems to be a small publisher (indeed, Hans Andrews appears to be its only author), and that small errors can more easily be forgiven among such entities than in the great academic publishing houses.
The second potential protest is that there is too great a distinction among the diverse forms of elementary, secondary and college education to permit the allocation of their teachers to a common category, and to apply the same models and methods of industrial psychology to each. This objection, I suspect, would most likely be filed by self-important college teachers who imagine that their seemingly senior place in the educational pecking order should distinguish them from high school and, more so, from primary school teachers. What is at stake here is not, however, the level of schooling in which particular educators ply their trade, but rather the common managerial theories and practices that their employers adopt. Thus, my own concern is not so much that college teachers are squeezed into the same occupational mold as their congenial colleagues among K-12 teachers, but that university professors are somehow exempt. Whether one is smitten by a sense of vocational conceit or eager to endorse egalitarian enthusiasms is, nonetheless, merely a matter of taste and not something that need delay us here.
Genuine issues of importance, however, do exist and relate to power and ideology. Andrews’ disregard of the trade union presence in schools is indicative of the entire project of faculty evaluation when seen from a management perspective. Likewise, attention to so-called core values betokens a hegemonic ideology of education that reflects the priorities and practices of late capitalism as observable in the advanced industrial world and, increasingly, elsewhere.
Now, I understand that Andrews is making an argument as he has done in previous volumes such as “Accountable Teacher Evaluation: Toward Quality and Competent Teachers in Every Classroom” and “Teachers Can Be Fired! The Quest for Quality.” Indeed, he is close to constructing a polemic, and he is certainly committed to advancing a cause. It is therefore unlikely that he would give space a “fair and balanced” treatment of beliefs that are unlike and often unsympathetic to his own. Still, it might have advanced his position if he had at least conceded that there are those who are hostile to the increasing corporatization of education, and thereupon added some demonstration of how and why they may be in error.
Andrews’ book and the ideas that sustain it, and that it, in turn, promotes are not unsophisticated. Moreover, there are many educators from kindergarten teachers to postdoctoral fellows who would concur with them. They are, in any case, the dominant ideas of our age. What the book misses, and what needs to be considered, however, are the power relations within both public and private educational systems, and the debate about the competing purposes to which education should be put. Reflection on such matters would immediately call into question Andrews’ entire project for it would raise such issues as critical consciousness, class conflict (in both its senses), and the replacement of academic collegiality by corporate control.
I will not pursue this line of argument, however, for who knows? I might one day win a “Miss Congeniality” award myself, and then I’d have to eat these words.
Howard A. Doughty teaches in the Faculty of Applied Arts and Health Sciences at
The views expressed by the authors are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of The College Quarterly or of Seneca College.
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