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Teachers, Leadership Styles and McGregor’s Theories X and Y Assumptions

teachers

Managing people in both the corporate world and the academia industry is difficult and complicated. It requires not only mental and emotional competence  but also toughness. It is an enterprise not meant for the fainthearted and weak-kneed.

Managers need both smarts and grit. They need to be astute and their patience boundless. Perhaps the trickiest part of the job of those in supervisory positions is as  leaders they   have to determine which leadership style is most applicable given the kind of people they are leading and the nature of the business they have.

Leadership theories abound and before managers, supervisors, or administrators  are catapulted into the position as head of the organization they might already have a style which is inherent in them and framed by their education and  personal experiences.

As leaders, they could be any of what Koontz and Weilhrich in “Behavioral Theories” describe as autocratic, democratic, or free-rein leader (laissez-faire). Those in the position of leadership (according to the said authors) have the following options: maintain strong control over their subordinates and lead using their ability to withhold or give rewards and punishment; consult with the people they are leading on proposed actions and decisions and encourage participation from them; or use their power very little, if at all, giving subordinates a high degree of independence in their operations.

As to which of the aforementioned styles is most effective is hard to determine. Those espousing  the “Contingency Theory”  claim that there is no best way to organize  a corporation, to lead a company, or to make decisions. They add that the optimal course of action is contingent upon the internal and external situation. This is the principle that guided me when I was given the opportunity to lead.

In my experience as school administrator (1994-2012), I figured that  there is no one-size-fits-all kind of leadership.  I realized that the way to supervise people is a decision that designated leaders could arrive at only when they assume office. They may have a blueprint on how to lead when they take the reins of leadership in their organization but such is not set in stone. Whether as leaders they become autocratic, democratic, or free-rein depends largely on the kind of people being led.

Douglas McGregor, in his Theory X and Theory Y,  presented two opposing perceptions about employees. Theory X assumes that employees inherently dislike work, avoid responsibilities and seek formal direction and should therefore be coerced, controlled, or threatened with punishment. Conversely, in theory Y, they (employees) are viewed quite the opposite. They need not be controlled and closely supervised because they love work, exercise self-direction and self-control, accept and even seek responsibility, and make innovative decisions.

When leaders have already determined under which set of those perception the people they are supervising belong, they begin to devise what they think is the best way to lead them.

Experts in human behavior are saying though that people working in organizations are not necessarily either one type or the other. They said that between the two extremes, there could be a combination of behaviors. Thus, leaders need to be careful not to implement policies and operate in response only to either (or both) of those two assumptions about employees. They need to be flexible.

The best leaders are those who could devise a way to have a complete inventory of the different personalities of people in the organization they are running and calibrate their approaches to leadership to the categories of personalities that would emerge from the inventory. That of course is easier said than done especially if they are overseeing a big group, company or association.

What about teachers? Generally speaking, where should teachers be classified – under theory X or theory Y?

It is hard to imagine teachers disliking their work and avoiding responsibilities. To be in-charge of the teaching-learning process is not a walk in the park. It demands  the highest form of professional competence which means doing a lot of work and accepting a lot of responsibilities as well. The list of the things that teachers are expected to perform is long – prepare lessons;  construct exams, mark tests, quizzes and assignments; prepare reports; attend seminars and trainings; and keep abreast with the current innovations including using technology in instruction. The teachers’ primary function, of course, is instruction. If they are in universities, they are also expected to do research and get involved in community extension programs.

That’s a lot of things to do for teachers and with their plates that full  the teachers cannot possibly be theory X type. When they embraced the profession, they know the kind of work they are doing. They know that  they don’t stop working after class hours.  Teachers always  walk an extra mile or two.

The prevailing perception about teachers is that they are consummate professionals – the  embodiment of the theory Y assumptions.

Teachers are responsible and independent.  They don’t need to be micromanaged because they are happy to work on their own initiative and their strong sense of professionalism and self-motivation always lead to the successful completion of their tasks and responsibilities and strict adherence to policies and guidelines. They also need not be told as to what to do because they have strong sense of self-direction and self-control.

Are these assumptions about teachers true?

I have been in the academia for almost 31 years as a teacher. I worked with different kinds of teachers across demographics – age, gender, race, education, religion, and philosophical persuasion – as a colleague and as administrator (for 18 of those 31 years). Based on my experiences (most particularly here in South Korea where I have been teaching since 2013 and was briefly a head professor for 3 semesters), I can say that that prevailing perception about teachers is not true.

Some teachers are theory X type, some theory Y, and some are in-between.

The worst assumption that school owners and administrators could make is “all teachers conduct themselves within the bounds of professionalism.” They ought  to check carefully the background of the teachers they hire. They need to strictly monitor the performance of the teachers and ensure they are following school policies and guidelines.  This should not be construed as lack of trust but rather enforcing excellence and ensuring that the students get what they deserve, what they pay for.

The ones leading schools ought to make sure that their teachers are not engaged in what I call “mercenary teaching” – interested only in the money and disregards professional ethics.

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When Students Don’t Learn

studentsOne morning, I witnessed how  an English teacher masterfully discussed the intricacies of the English language. It would take a paragraph or two should I explain in details the things he discussed. Let me just say that he is every inch a native English speaker. His knowledge of the phonemes, morphemes, lexemes, syntax and context is impeccable. He dissected the language so skillfully  and the way he did it almost made me envious.  I was reduced to being a listener uncertain whether I just wanted to make sure not to miss anything new (something I don’t know yet) from what he was saying or I have nothing more to share because he had everything covered about what he was discussing. I wasn’t really sure what prevented me from saying anything. Maybe I was intimidated by his evident mastery of grammar, semantics, and pragmatics or I just did not like to gatecrash into his moment to showcase his brilliance.

That teacher held court in that conversation. He had the attention of everybody present. It was difficult to judge the intentions of my colleagues whenever they (unsolicitedly) share their expertise like that. Was it to impress upon us (their co-teachers) that they know that much or they simply would (good-naturedly) like to help us learn more about the subject (English) we’re teaching.

Later that day, I changed upon a student  who attended my English class in a previous semester. That student was one of the best in my class. Like me, he was heading out of the campus. After the exchange of greetings, I asked “Who’s your English teacher this semester?” The student already started responding before I recalled that I have previously made a promise to myself never to ask any of my former students that question for the reason that a few of my previous attempts led to the opening of “a can of worms.”

But it already happened – I asked that stupid question again.

The student named the teacher – he was the one I heard deliver an impromptu lecture about the English language earlier that day. After that, the student heaved a sigh and said, “We could hardly understand what he’s teaching.”

I looked at him seriously and all I could say was “Really!?”.

He nodded and said one more thing, “He is also very serious.”

Before he could open wider that “can of worms,”  I told my former student to give that teacher more time to adjust since the semester is still a long way to go. Then I quickly redirected our conversation to another topic after that.

What’s amazing is that the occurrence – of me one day hearing a  colleague deliver a brilliant impromptu lecture but later that same day (or within the week) I would meet one of his  students (who used to be my student also) claiming that they, in the class, could hardly understand what he is teaching – did not happen only once.  If my memory serves me right, that’s the fourth time.

It finally made me reflect. That’s the reason I wrote something  about it.

It made me wonder also how my former students rate my performance as a teacher. What do  they really think  (and how they feel)  about me as their teacher?

Students evaluate the performance of their teachers every semester. It’s hard to tell how reliable and valid are the results of such evaluation. Whether or not the results is a reflection of the true professional and personal qualities of the teachers is a matter of debate.

But valid or not, reliable or otherwise, it’s hard to ignore what students say about the performance and behavior of their teachers. Teachers get to read what students write in their evaluation. They could either agree or disagree with the results of their evaluation.  But what the teachers would not know is what students say about them in informal discussions. Only the most naïve among teachers don’t know that students talk about their teachers.

In gatherings, teachers do talk  (or should I say gossip) about their students – their performance and behavior in the class. Conversely, students do the same. They talk (or gossip) about their teachers. There are only two possibilities – they either praise or curse their teachers.

One of the  most unacceptable things that students could say about a teacher is – they do not or they could hardly understand what he/she is teaching.

Witnessing first hand an English teacher discuss with ease the complexities of the English language and hearing a student claim that he and his classmates could hardly understand what that teacher is teaching is quite paradoxical.

So I asked myself this question that night – Which is true… my impressions about that English teacher or that of his students?

What could have gone wrong?

My former student said that their current English teacher is very serious. Is that the problem –  good rapport does not exist between him and the students? It is no secret that teacher’s personality is correlated to students’ academic performance.

I tried to think of other reasons.

Then I recalled my teaching demonstration when I was applying for a job right after my graduation. When the high school principal called me to her office to discuss the results, she told me I did great. But she said there was a problem – I explained things in a way that only students enrolled in a graduate program could understand.

Could that be the reason?

If that teacher carry out discussions in the  class in the same way he explained the grammar topic to us in that gathering earlier that day then that exactly is the problem. You cannot discuss a grammar point to students trying to learn the language the way you would to teachers teaching that language. I think that is not a rocket science.

There are two things I learned before I officially began my teaching career – adapt my strategies and materials to students’ levels and simplify my language.

The problem is there are teachers who have a “one-size-fits-all” mentality thinking that educational processes and approaches to teaching and learning are standard and could not be tailored to meet individual needs. They wouldn’t buy into the idea of differentiated learning and teaching.

They will never accept responsibility when their students don’t learn.

Their standards are as immovable and high as Mt. Everest. The students have no other choice but to climb their Mt. Everest.

For them, it’s the fault of the students when they fail.

Teachers, Leadership Styles and McGregor’s Theories X and Y Assumptions

teachers

Managing people either in the academia or industry is difficult and complicated. It requires not only mental and emotional competence  but also toughness. It is an enterprise not meant for the fainthearted and weak-kneed.

Managers need both smarts and grit. They need to be astute and their patience boundless. Perhaps the trickiest part of the job of those in supervisory positions is as  leaders they   have to determine which leadership style is most applicable given the kind of people they are leading and the nature of the business they have.

Leadership theories abound and before managers, supervisors, or administrators  are catapulted into the position as head of the organization they might already have a style which is inherent in them and framed by their education and  personal experiences.

As leaders, they could be any of what Koontz and Weilhrich in “Behavioral Theories” describe as autocratic, democratic, or free-rein leader (laissez-faire). Those in the position of leadership (according to the said authors) have the following options: maintain strong control over their subordinates and lead using their ability to withhold or give rewards and punishment; consult with the people they are leading on proposed actions and decisions and encourage participation from them; or use their power very little, if at all, giving subordinates a high degree of independence in their operations.

As to which of the aforementioned styles is most effective is hard to determine. Those espousing  the “Contingency Theory”  claim that there is no best way to organize  a corporation, to lead a company, or to make decisions. They add that the optimal course of action is contingent upon the internal and external situation. This is the principle that guided me when I was given the opportunity to lead.

In my experience as school administrator (1994-2012), I figured that  there is no one-size-fits-all kind of leadership.  I realized that the way to supervise people is a decision that designated leaders could arrive at only when they assume office. They may have a blueprint on how to lead when they take the reins of leadership in their organization but such is not set in stone. Whether as leaders they become autocratic, democratic, or free-rein depends largely on the kind of people being led.

Douglas McGregor, in his Theory X and Theory Y,  presented two opposing perceptions about employees. Theory X assumes that employees inherently dislike work, avoid responsibilities and seek formal direction and should therefore be coerced, controlled, or threatened with punishment. Conversely, in theory Y, they (employees) are viewed quite the opposite. They need not be controlled and closely supervised because they love work, exercise self-direction and self-control, accept and even seek responsibility, and make innovative decisions.

When leaders have already determined under which set of those perception the people they are supervising belong, they begin to devise what they think is the best way to lead them.

Experts in human behavior are saying though that people working in organizations are not necessarily either one type or the other. They said that between the two extremes, there could be a combination of behaviors. Thus, leaders need to be careful not to implement policies and operate in response only to either (or both) of those two assumptions about employees. They need to be flexible.

The best leaders are those who could devise a way to have a complete inventory of the different personalities of people in the organization they are running and calibrate their approaches to leadership to the categories of personalities that would emerge from the inventory. That of course is easier said than done especially if they are overseeing a big group, company or association.

What about teachers? Generally speaking, where should teachers be classified – under theory X or theory Y?

It is hard to imagine teachers disliking their work and avoiding responsibilities. To be in-charge of the teaching-learning process is not a walk in the park. It demands  the highest form of professional competence which means doing a lot of work and accepting a lot of responsibilities as well. The list of the things that teachers are expected to perform is long – prepare lessons;  construct exams, mark tests, quizzes and assignments; prepare reports; attend seminars and trainings; and keep abreast with the current innovations including using technology in instruction. The teachers’ primary function, of course, is instruction. If they are in universities, they are also expected to do research and get involved in community extension programs.

That’s a lot of things to do for teachers and with their plates that full  the teachers cannot possibly be theory X type. When they embraced the profession, they know the kind of work they are doing. They know that  they don’t stop working after class hours.  Teachers always  walk an extra mile or two.

The prevailing perception about teachers is that they are consummate professionals – the  embodiment of the theory Y assumptions.

Teachers are responsible and independent.  They don’t need to be micromanaged because they are happy to work on their own initiative and their strong sense of professionalism and self-motivation always lead to the successful completion of their tasks and responsibilities and strict adherence to policies and guidelines. They also need not be told as to what to do because they have strong sense of self-direction and self-control.

Are these assumptions about teachers true?

I have been in the academia for almost 30 years as a teacher. I worked with different kinds of teachers across demographics – age, gender, race, education, religion, and philosophical persuasion – as a colleague and as administrator (for 18 of those 30 years). Based on my experiences (most particularly here in South Korea where I have been teaching since 2013 and was briefly a head professor for 3 semesters), I can say that that prevailing perception about teachers is not true.

Some teachers are theory X type, some theory Y, and some are in-between.

The worst assumption that school owners and administrators could make is “all teachers conduct themselves within the bounds of professionalism.” They ought  to check carefully the background of the teachers they hire. They need to strictly monitor the performance of the teachers and ensure they are following school policies and guidelines.  This should not be construed as lack of trust but rather enforcing excellence and ensuring that the students get what they deserve, what they pay for.

The ones leading schools ought to make sure that their teachers are not engaged in what I call “mercenary teaching” – interested only in the money and disregards professional ethics.

 

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