Esprit de Corps (The Value of Morale)

The success of an educational institution has long been identified with a number of concerns and objectives including strategic planning, physical facilities, budget, efficient staffing, various test results, accreditation requirements, and marketing. One element, however, that plays an important role in the success of an educational institution may not be as glamorous or attention-getting as these others, yet in reality is extremely paramount in achieving success, and that is esprit de corps. Actually, a school is not very different from any organization that turns out a consumer product, a service to a population, or in this case, a student. We often interchange esprit de corps with morale.

Philosophically, esprit de corps can be defined as a show of loyalty and attachment to a group with which one identifies. In addition to the loyalty and attachment, esprit de corps could also embody a sense of commitment. The energy generated by esprit de corps may be self satisfying when it is directed toward oneself in helping to establish an identity. ("This is me; being here makes me feel good.”) The energy may be directed toward a group, such as when one wants to play a participatory role in the group dynamic and function. ("I enjoy working here and I want to contribute.”) Or the energy of the esprit de corps may allow one to identify with an idea or philosophy which might be symbolic of a group. ("I believe in this cause and want to be part of it.”) Of course the esprit de corps can become the force that motivates one to function within any of these.

If members of a group can generate esprit de corps, and as a result can then identify with and believe in the operation of the group, then there is a cycle in which the individual within the group can potentially be better motivated to perform the expected responsibilities as well as those beyond expectation. Successful outcomes (marketable products, acceptable services, well functioning graduates) are usually indicators that the organization has generated esprit de corps.

Generating esprit de corps is not a passive operation. There are a variety of concerns among existing personnel that may erode esprit de corps. Its establishment, especially within an educational institution, is a concern because there the measurement of success is not as it is easy as when one can measure the amount of product sold or the amount of service asked for and performed. Also, with an educational institution there is always the possibility that the reason the school might be considered successful is because the students are high achievers and they all are favorably placed after graduation. There always exists the potential that students could succeed despite the possibility that the school might have a number of inefficiencies and/or inadequacies.

Some concerns that might erode the esprit de corps include questionable work loads, inadequate support at a variety of levels, lack of recognition of individual accomplishments, including remuneration, perception of the direction of the program or school, unclear perception of individual roles within the program, or mismanagement of personalities.

In order to help reinforce or elevate esprit de corps, it would be productive to identify the elements of 3 categories that help to generate it.:

First would be personal elements -- what the individual needs to feel in order to experience the esprit de corps. These would include the needs to believe in what you are doing, to feel that you are not alone, to feel that you will be recognized, and to feel that you will be appreciated. If these needs are fulfilled, then the willingness to perform for the group, for the institution, for the students, and for the self is enhanced and the possibility of feeling pleasure in dedicating yourself is also enhanced.

A second category would be group elements -- what the group offers the individual in order to enhance the esprit de corps. These would include colleagues offering feelings of cooperation and support, contributing to a sense of security, contributing to the concern for each individual’s welfare, and demonstrating that there is awareness that each individual is a part of the whole with the same mission even though the roles and contributions may vary.

The third category would be the institutional contributions -- the role an institution can play in order to foster esprit de corps. Among the institution’s contributions would be an environment of open communications, a relaxed environment that includes physical comfort, fair methods of assessment, a pathway for dissent, honest leadership, mechanisms for change and/or development, a prevailing spirit of concern for the individual as a human, rather than identifying faculty through a bit of data for a function or bits of demographic data a bit of data, and of course, realistic missions. Periodic assessment of these elements as well as potential solutions for improvements should be of a cooperative nature. Spreading a sense of ownership enhances a feeling of investment and a desire for involvement.

In an effort to maintain present and / or attain even greater levels of esprit de corps, we should not overlook the possibility that we can benefit through the experience of others. A visitor certainly gets the feeling that esprit de corps is illustrated at Walt Disney World. Therefore, it might be of interest to investigate the nature and mechanism of the training sessions or motivation workshops that take place at Walt Disney World. Looking at analogs that have worked in environments outside of the world of education could be quite fruitful. A limiting parameter in an educational system has traditionally been the attempt to keep a typical educational system separated from an industrial or commercial system.

However, if we examine the specific elements that help to establish esprit de corps, we can see that they commonly apply to any organization including business, entertainment, or government, as well as an educational organization. When the individual faculty member confronts the student; or the sales person confronts the buyer; or the entertainer confronts the audience; or the government official confronts the constituency, the goals are the same. In each case someone is trying to influence (or sell something to) someone else. That task is made easier when you believe in yourself, when you believe in what you are "selling," when you believe you have the support that you need working with you, and if you feel you are getting appropriate recognition.

Although "education” historically and "economics” more contemporarily have justifiably been the dual focus of our attention in the administration of a school, it is clear that there must be a third focus in the future. That involves the realm of esprit de corps which provides a role model for professional behavior as well as an environment conducive to learning. However, typically speaking, esprit de corps has fluctuated because at times its importance may have been overlooked or minimized.

The feeling of contentment and the spirit of devotion and enthusiasm would persist at even higher and more consistent levels if the processes of nurturing and promoting that feeling and that spirit are given adequate attention. It would be fruitful to set into motion an ongoing process for continuous evaluation and reinforcement of the elements of esprit de corps. We should not underestimate the value of morale.


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