We're all faced with the perennial question of how we might motivate others in our schools. In a recent interview with Karen Christensen (Rotman Magazine, Spring 2013), David Rock, founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute, shares that "they key is to create an atmosphere that promotes Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, and Fairness. We call this the SCARF model." I find the model worthwhile because so many independent schools are positioned to implement it; some already do, without knowing it.
- Status - "Within the brain, feelings of low status actually provoke the kind of cortisol elevation associated with sleep deprivation and chronic anxiety. [...] One common threat is the custom of offering feedback. The mere phrase 'Can I give you some advice?' puts people on the defensive, because they perceive the person offering advice as claiming superiority. Inside your brain, it is the cortisol equivalent of hearing footsteps in the dark." (30-31)
- Certainty - We crave it. "At work, not knowing what will happen next can be profoundly debilitating, because it requires extra neural energy, which can undermine performance and disengage people from the present. Breaking a complex project down into small steps can help to create a feeling of certainty. Although it's highly unlikely that everything will go as planned, people will function better because the project now seems less ambiguous." (31)
- Autonomy - "As long as people feel they can execute their own decisions without much oversight, stress will remain under control. [...] A perception of reduced autonomy--for example, when someone is being micromanaged--can easily generate a threat response. When an employee experiences a lack of control, his or her perception of uncertainty is aroused, further raising stress levels." (31)
- Relatedness - "In the brain, the ability to feel trust and empathy about others is shaped by whether they are perceived to be part of the same social group. [...] In terms of workplace implications, this means that teams of diverse people cannot simply be thrown together. They must be deliberately assembled in a way that minimizes the potential for threat responses to arise." (31)
- Fairness - "The perception that an even has been 'unfair' generates a strong response in the limbic system, stirring hostility and undermining trust. The cognitive need for fairness is so strong that some people are willing to [...] commit themselves to an organization they recognize as fair." (31) In terms of an example of a threat, "the 'old boys' network provides an egregious example: those who are not a part of it always perceive their organization as fundamentally unfair, no matter how many mentoring programs are put in place." (31)
The reason why I find this SCARF model so interesting is because, when people experience a rewarding SCARF system, they are considered to be deeply engaged. Engagement is challenging to measure, but, aided by the SCARF model, I am certain that we could devise a way to measure it through a fairly straightforward survey that would provide us with some constructive/useful data points.
In this climate, not only do we want to see students who are deeply engaged, we want/need to see faculty, staff, and leaders who are deeply engaged. Success in this realm will beget success.
Are you deeply engaged?