An analysis of enabling and mindful school structures. Some theoretical, research and practical considerations

Date01 February 2003
Publication Date01 February 2003
AuthorWayne K. Hoy
An analysis of enabling and
mindful school structures
Some theoretical, research and practical
Wayne K. Hoy
The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, USA
Keywords Schools, Organizational structure, Standards
Abstract This inquiry is a theoretical analysis that attempts to identify the features of school
structure that efficiently promote positive outcomes of organization, while limiting negative
consequences that are often associated with bureaucratic structures. To that end, the concepts of
enabling structures and mindful organizations are developed, contrasted, and synthesized. Then,
the research and practical implications of enabling and mindful school structures are proposed and
Common usage of the term bureaucracy is pejorative, but like it or not, most
schools are bureaucracies because they possess a hierarchy of authority,
division of labor, impersonality, objective standards, technical competence, and
rules and regulations – classic characteristics of bureaucracy (Weber, 1947).
Weber claims such structures are capable of reaching the highest degree of
administrative efficiency. Yet, bureaucracies are criticized because they
produce over-conformity and rigidities (Gouldner, 1954; Merton, 1957), block
and distort communication (Blau and Scott, 1962), alienate and exploit workers
(Aiken and Hage, 1968; Scott, 1998), stifle and eliminate innovation (Hage and
Aiken, 1970), and are passive and indifferent to their publics (Coleman, 1974;
Scott, 1998). Feminists assault bureaucracy as an invention of men that
rewards the masculine virtues as competition and power and eschews the
feminine values such as collaboration and equality (Ferguson, 1984; Martin and
Knopoff, 1999). Principals, teachers, and school executives blame state
bureaucracies for artificial barriers, which hinder the development of
educational programs to meet community needs. The common thread
running through all these criticisms is human frustration with unresponsive
structures, rigid rules, and mindless policies.
Notwithstanding these criticisms, organizations of any size, including
schools, have bureaucratic features because they need appropriately designed
formal procedures and hierarchical structures to prevent chaos and promote
The Emerald Research Register for this journal is available at The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
This theoretical analysis builds on earlier conceptual and empirical work (Hoy and Sweetland,
2000; 2001).
Enabling and
mindful school
Received September
Accepted October 2002
Journal of Educational
Vol. 41 No. 1, 2003
pp. 87-108
qMCB UP Limited
DOI 10.1108/09578230310457457
efficiency. This inquiry has a number of purposes: first, to describe a different
kind of bureaucratic structure in schools, one that enables teachers rather than
hinders or punishes them; second, to begin to flesh out some specific examples
of enabling structures; third, to develop, construct of organizational
mindfulness in schools; fourth, to compare and contrast mindful and
enabling school structures; and, finally, to consider the research and practical
implications of enabling and mindful structures.
School structures
There is little doubt that bureaucratic structures can be detrimental to
participants and publics, but that is only half the picture. Bureaucracies can
increase satisfaction (Michaels et al., 1988), support innovation (Damanpour,
1991; Craig, 1995), reduce role conflict (Senatra, 1980), as well as diminish
alienation in organizations including public schools (Moeller and Charters,
1966; Jackson and Schuler, 1985). The extant literature paints two contrasting
pictures of human response to bureaucracy. The dark side reveals alienation,
discontent, rigidity, and dullness, but the bright view highlights commitment,
flexibility, responsibility, and effectiveness (Adler, 1999; Adler and Borys,
1996; Hoy and Miskel, 2001; Hoy and Sweetland, 2001; Sinden et al., 2002). It is
the dark view, however, that is emphasized and demonized in education.
Consider the bright side of the picture for schools. What kind of school
configurations can achieve the positive outcomes of structure and avoid the
negative ones? Earlier research (Hoy and Sweetland, 2000; 2001) has shown
that school structures vary along a continuum from enabling at one extreme to
hindering at the other. Formalization and centralization are the fundamental
features of structure that define the two extremes of this continuum.
Formalization is the extent to which the organization has written rules,
regulations, procedures, and policies. Gouldner’s (1954) classic analysis of rules
and regulations offers two kinds of formalization – punishment-centered and
representative. Building upon Gouldner’s earlier work, Adler and Borys (1996)
present a more comprehensive and contemporary theoretical analysis of
formalization – coercive and enabling – which offers a deeper analysis of how
work practices are affected by the features, design, and implementation of
enabling and coercive structures.
Coercive formalization tends to generate alienation at the expense of
commitment. Coercive rules and procedures constrain and even punish
subordinates for deviance rather than reward unusual and productive
practices. Instead of promoting flexibility and organizational learning, coercive
procedures force reluctant subordinates to acquiesce and comply with formal
routines. The consequences are not that surprising. For example, formalization
is positively associated with absenteeism, stress, alienation, and negatively

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