Research School Network: Teacher Autonomy An exploration of a research report on teacher autonomy by the NfER and TDT.

Teacher Autonomy

An exploration of a research report on teacher autonomy by the NfER and TDT.

by Durrington Research School
on the

Last week the NFER (National Foundation for Education Research) and TDT (Teacher Development Trust), published a really useful piece of research – Teacher autonomy: how does it relate to job satisfaction and retention?’ You can download a copy of the paper here. Researchers used data from two large-scale surveys, which explored autonomy in relation to different aspects of a teachers’ job, but also how this compared to other professions. The main findings from the research are summarised below:

- Teachers are 16 percentage points less likely than similar professionals to report having a lot’ of influence over how they do their job

- 38 per cent of teachers say that they have a little’ or no’ influence over their professional development goals.

- Teacher autonomy is lower among early career teachers and higher among senior leaders

- Teacher autonomy is strongly associated with improved job satisfaction and a greater intention to stay in teaching

- Increasing teachers’ reported influence over their professional development (PD) goals from some’ to a lot’ is associated with a nine‑percentage‑point increase in intention to stay in teaching.

The report also discusses the importance of Self-determination theory (Deci and Ryan, 2008):

Staff working in conditions that emphasise a greater reliance on intrinsic motivation are thought to be more likely to have high well‑being and job satisfaction, and be more likely to stay. Conversely, greater reliance on extrinsic motivation is thought to risk undermining staff members’ sense of feeling trusted and their own intrinsic motivation, potentially leading to disengagement, burnout and leaving.”

The idea of intrinsic motivation is developed further:

Deci and Ryan outline three basic psychological needs that underpin intrinsic motivation:

- Competence – skills to perform well in one’s job

- Autonomy – direction over one’s own decisions and actions

- Relatedness – connection with, and support from, colleagues.

The theory suggests that these needs are interdependent. In other words, intrinsic motivation is likely to increase more if you have all three (competence, autonomy and relatedness) at the same time. One implication of this interdependence is that too much autonomy for novices risks overwhelming them, as they are early in the process of establishing their competence and forming working relationships.”

How can schools use this to inform their CPD support for teachers? As a Research School, we have developed our CPD approach over the last few years, based on these key principles of intrinsic motivation. Here is a brief description of how we have tried to do this:

- teachers need to feel confident that the strategies and approaches they are using in the classroom, will have the best possible chances of being successful. This is where we turn to the research evidence. For a number of years, we have asked our teachers to focus on six evidence-informed pedagogical principles, to shape their teaching – challenge, explanation, modelling, practice, questioning and feedback (more here). In recent years, we have developed this further, by developing an evidence informed approach to curriculum, teaching and assessment (more here). This year, we have refined our approach to teaching, down to four Teacher Threshold Concepts’. Whilst staying true to our six principles, these are aspects of teaching that the research points us to heavily, in terms of improving student learning. If our teachers focus on these things, they should be highly competent. You can read the details of these teacher threshold concepts here.

- one could understand how the approach described above could be perceived as prescriptive and counter to the idea of autonomy. We have always promoted teacher autonomy, within this framework. We talk about a tight but loose’ approach to teaching i.e. do these six principles, but in a way that suits your subject, your style and the students you are teaching at that time. Similarly, when thinking about metacognition for example, how a PE teacher supports metacognitive development in terms of refining a javelin technique, will be different to how a maths teacher supports students with being metacognitive in terms of planning how they will tackle a maths problem. Developing this idea further, at the start of every year all teachers pick an aspect of their teaching they want to develop, from this framework of teacher threshold concepts eg. explicit vocabulary instruction, and shapes this into an inquiry question’ which then drives their professional development throughout the year – more on this here.

– teachers need to connect with their colleagues in order to support their professional development. Our approach to CPD supports this in two ways:

1. Subject, Planning & development Sessions (SPDS) – once a fortnight, every curriculum team meets and discusses What are we teaching over the next fortnight and how do we teach it well?’ This allows them to ensure that their subject knowledge is secure, they understand the misconceptions students might have, they understand how to explain things really well and how they might ensure that the level of challenge is really high (more here). This is a great opportunity for subject specialists to share effective practice.

2. Teacher Inquiry Groups – having picked their inquiry question, based on one of the teacher threshold concepts, every INSET day, teachers with a similar theme e.g. metacognition meet up and discuss it. They look at a piece of research on that topic and discuss how this might shape their work in the classroom moving forward. More on this here.

Our hope is that by adopting this approach, we are helping our teachers to have a greater sense of autonomy and intrinsic motivation. The results of this research suggests that this needs to be a priority for school leaders and system leaders around the country, if we are serious about having a well-motivated and high performing workforce in our schools.

Shaun Allison is Head of School Improvement at Durrington Multi-Academy Trust. He is also Director of Research School for Durrington Research School and will be delivering our training on Evidence informed approach to curriculum, teaching and assessment’, Making Every Lesson Count’ and An evidence informed approach to improving science teaching’.

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