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  • Writer's pictureAaron Daffern

How Micromanaging is Killing the Joy of Teaching

This article is inspired by the work of David Rock and neuroleadership. You can find a copy of his paper on the SCARF model here.

Let's be clear. No one likes a micromanager. No principal wakes up with the express goal of attempting to control every aspect of every teacher in his or her building.

Yet when teachers feel controlled, belittled, and managed, something negative usually happens.

In an attempt to standardize the teaching environment, micromanagement also sucks the joy out of teaching.


The need for control is a basic psychological need. It's the perception of exerting control over one's environment. A reduction in choices is associated with increased stress and a strong threat response.

In a recent study, teachers found to have more autonomy support have a stronger inner motivation for teaching and better work engagement. Teachers feel empowered to make decisions and thus have greater desire to enact changes in behaviors and invest more in growing their skills.

Autonomy makes teachers more energetic, innovative, and committed to improving the lives of students.

Command and control

The opposite of this is a top-down, authoritative approach. Starting from the belief that teachers do NOT have the desire and/or skill to succeed on their own, administrators that do not support autonomy are directive instead of collaborative, give orders rather than choices.

Yet from what we know from neuroscience, a lack of choices produces a threat response in people. Asking a teacher to find joy and satisfaction from teaching in a controlling, rigid school environment is like asking a plant to thrive if removed from rich soil and planted in the middle of the Saharan desert.

As oxygen and water are key elements for all life, so autonomy breathes life into teachers, meeting their basic psychological needs so they can thrive even in stressful situations.

Reinvigorating teachers

There are more choices for principals than instructional chaos or totalitarian regimes. While those are the two ends of the spectrum, a balanced leadership approach can be used to increase teacher engagement. Providing choices while clearly describing the accountability that comes with those choices gives teachers flexibility (and autonomy) without feeling like a ball will be dropped.

Scripted curriculums, while designed to keep every teacher on track, are another culprit that reduces teacher's autonomy. Within the curriculum components, find opportunities for teachers to personalize parts of each lesson to meet the needs of their students. In doing so, teacher's joy and satisfaction will greatly increase.

Micromanagement and lack of choices rubs against human nature, against basic psychological needs. If teachers show little joy in teaching, one possible solution is to increase autonomy.

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