Motivation and successful teaching
As every teacher undoubtedly knows, how we feel in the classroom influences how we teach. When we have a bad night’s sleep, it can influence how we work the next day. Likewise, when we are feeling stressed, this has an impact on our teaching; for example, we may be less patient with our students.
This is true for students too. How they feel impacts on how they function in the classroom. Given all this, teacher and student wellbeing is vital for motivation and optimal functioning in the classroom.
Over the past several decades, there has been interest among educational psychologists about how to enhance motivation in the classroom. After all, students who are motivated tend to enjoy their learning more and report better academic achievement. Similarly, teachers who are motivated also enjoy their work.
One theory that has helped to guide this research is self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 2012). One of the core ideas of self-determination theory is that there are three internal (or psychological) needs that influence our motivation and wellbeing: autonomy, competence and relatedness.
Of course, in real life things are much more complex, but distilling major ideas into three core needs provides a clearer understanding that researchers can then examine.
Autonomy refers to our belief that we are in charge of our behaviour and have choice or input into the activities we undertake and how we do them. Competence refers to our belief that we have what it takes to undertake and master what we set out to do. Relatedness refers to our need to feel connected to others, and to care for and be cared for by those others.
When these three needs are met, we experience greater wellbeing and motivation. For instance, if we feel autonomous, competent and connected at work, we are more likely to experience wellbeing and motivation in our job.
Most of the educational research on these three needs has focused on students and how support of their autonomy, competence, and relatedness can increase their motivation. However in recent research, several colleagues and I were interested in how this applies to teachers (Collie, Shapka, Perry, & Martin, 2014). When teachers experience autonomy, competence and relatedness, does this translate to greater wellbeing and motivation?
We collected data from just over 600 teachers and asked them about the three psychological needs, wellbeing, and workplace motivation. A key finding was that when teachers felt a sense of autonomy, competence and relatedness, they also experienced greater:
- Wellbeing in their teaching work;
- Motivation for teaching;
- Satisfaction with their work;
- Commitment to their school of employment
This finding has significant implications for teachers, students, and schools. After all, when teachers experience wellbeing, motivation, satisfaction with and commitment to their work, this can translate to better instructional quality, and greater student learning and motivation.
How to increase autonomy, competence, and relatedness?
Our research also looked at the role of the school in helping teachers meet their psychological needs. The principal’s role was of interest. For example, we found that teachers experienced greater autonomy, competence, and relatedness when principals:
- Provide teachers with choices and options in what and how they do things, and encourage teachers to ask questions (Autonomy);
- Convey confidence in teachers’ ability to do well at their job (Competence);
- Listen to teachers and try to understand their points of view (Relatedness).
Following from these findings, we can also suggest guidance for teachers to help increase their own autonomy, competence and relatedness, including:
- Being involved in school-level decision making (Autonomy). For example, taking the opportunity to vote on decisions or state one’s thoughts when requested;
- Carefully planning and preparing lessons to enhance one’s sense of teaching proficiency (Competence). A positive experience in the classroom is a powerful way of boosting confidence in and enjoyment of teaching;
- Working on building positive relationships with colleagues (Relatedness). For example, spending quality time with colleagues with whom you feel connected and comfortable.
Can teachers apply this knowledge to students?
Yes. Research shows that when teachers provide students with choices and options, listen to students thoughtfully, respect students’ perspectives, ask questions about what the students want to do, and resist stating answers too quickly, it supports students’ autonomy, competence, and relatedness (Reeve, Bolt, & Cai, 1999).
This type of understanding can help to improve students’ wellbeing and motivation in the classroom. In turn, this is likely to further improve a teacher’s wellbeing and motivation for teaching as well.
Collie, R.J., Shapka, J.D., Perry, N.E., & Martin, A.J. (2014). Self-Determination Theory and Teachers: Examining Well-being, Motivation, Job Satisfaction, and Organizational Commitment. Manuscript submitted for publication.
Deci, E. L. & Ryan, R. M. (2012). Motivation, personality, and development within embedded social contexts: An overview of self-determination theory. In R. M. Ryan (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of human motivation (pp. 85-110). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Reeve, J., Bolt, E., & Cai, Y. (1999). Autonomy-supportive teachers: How they teach and motivate students. Journal of Educational Psychology, 91(3), 537-548. doi:10.1037/0022-06126.96.36.1997
By: Dr Rebecca Collie
Rebecca Collie is a post-doctoral research fellow in educational/developmental psychology at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. Her research interests focus on motivation and wellbeing among students and teachers and quantitative research methods.
Why Kids Skip School and What You Can Do About it
If trends persist, 75% of today's students entering high school will not complete the post-secondary education required to thrive in our globalized world. Yikes. According to the Freshman Transition Initiative (FTI) of George Washington University, a student's plans for post-secondary education often hinges on the attitudes they develop in the 8th and 9th grade about themselves, their futures, and their educations.
When you think of a high school drop-out, your mind may first go to a child who lacks motivation or goofs off. Rebecca M. Dedmond, Ph.D., and Director of FTI says that, in fact, many drop-outs are very bright. “The kids who are not engaged or tend to be truant simply don’t see what they’re learning in school as relevant to their life. They don’t see the relationship.” Andrew Jackson, the 7th U.S. President, dropped out, studied law in his late teens and became a lawyer. Certainly not a slouch, perhaps he just wasn’t challenged enough?
Dedmond says once students can see how what they’re doing in school can help them reach their future goals, they are much more likely to stick around and embrace their education.
So what can schools do to get on the same page as their students? First, says Dedmond, “We need to listen to the students. As long as we show them 'what’s in it for me,' they actually don’t mind working hard and being challenged.” Schools can help students balance their skills and interests as well as deemphasize competition, which allows more students the opportunity to participate.
But it’s not entirely up to the schools. Dedmond says as parents, there are a few things you can do as well. Get involved with your child’s school. Talk to the teachers about your child and what piques her interests. Discuss how that may be incorporated in lesson plans during her day. In addition, Dedmond tells parents to encourage their children to join after-school sports. If they don’t show up for school, they can’t be on the team.
Schools and parents alike need to ensure the teens of today have what they need to become world leaders of tomorrow. If you get engaged with your child’s education, your child will too.
Should Students and Teachers Be Online "Friends"?
In the virtual world, the definition of a student-teacher relationship is hazy, particularly on social networks like Facebook and MySpace, where adults and teens share the same forums to connect and keep in touch with friends, classmates, relatives, and co-workers. Chances are, your teen has already found her teachers on Facebook and sent friend requests to join their networks.
But is it appropriate for your child to “friend” a teacher on a social network? Terrence Jegaraj, a senior at Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan, primarily adds former teachers or instructors from summer programs in which he has participated. “I am friends on Facebook with a current teacher of mine, but there are teachers who tell us specifically not to add them until we graduate,” says Jegaraj.
Many of the teachers we asked, in fact, were reluctant to add students on Facebook. While a teacher can use some networking sites, such as Twitter, to extend a classroom discussion or offer quick homework assistance in 140 characters or less, networks like Facebook and MySpace easily blur the student-teacher relationship because of the personal information made available on profiles.
“I think that students and teachers have different personas in the classroom than outside of it, and the two should not necessarily be mixed,” says Heather Steed, a recent graduate of Florida State University in Tallahassee, Fla. As a student herself, Steed never added instructors on a social network until she completed their class.
“There needs to be a certain distance between teachers and students in order to maintain respect,” adds Rabbi Avi Schwartz, an educator at Magen David Yeshiva in Brooklyn, N.Y. “A teacher needs to be a role model, mentor, and advice giver – not a ‘friend.’” When a high school student gains access into a teacher’s network of friends and acquaintances and is able to view their family photos, for instance, the student-teacher dynamic is altered. “Friending students provides more information than you are willing to provide in an educational setting,” says Patrick Sweeney, an adjunct professor of history and government in Houston, Texas.
But student-teacher relationships can be transparent and visible to others online, which may have its pros and cons. Carlton Brown, a former community college instructor in Pittsburg, Pa, says interaction on a social network may be viewed and evaluated by classmates and others on the website, which, in turn, may deter inappropriate behavior. “Parents also have the opportunity to review and make judgments,” says Brown. If you have your own account on Facebook, you may opt to join your child’s teacher’s classroom group as a parent “chaperone,” for example, to supervise the discussion. (Based on current research, though, teens flock to Facebook because it’s mainly a parent-free space, so this type of supervision may not work for all families.)