Over the last 10 years, there has been an increased focus on the issues of teacher wellbeing and retention. This heightened attention is primarily driven by growing concerns about teachers experiencing burnout and leaving the profession.
A crucial factor tied to these concerns is the motivation of teachers, which has an important role to play in promoting positive workplace experiences for teachers and positive learning experiences for students.
Although understanding is growing around teacher motivation, more work is needed to examine adaptive types of work motivation, as well as factors that help support and outcomes that emanate from teachers’ motivation.
In a recent study published in Teaching and Teacher Education (Collie, 2023), I set out to examine how teachers’ perceptions of leadership support are linked with their work motivation and, in turn, their wellbeing and turnover intentions.
The study involved data collected from 502 Australian school teachers via 2 surveys in Term 2 in the 2022 academic year. Teachers filled out the first survey near the start of the term and the second survey near the end of that same term.
In the first survey, teachers were asked about their perceptions of leadership support and their work motivation. Leadership support was assessed via autonomy-supportive leadership practices. This factor captures teachers’ perceptions of whether their school leaders seek their input and support their agency at work. Work motivation was assessed via self-determined motivation, which captures whether teachers are motivated to put effort into their work because they enjoy it and/or personally value what they do.
In the second survey near the end of the term, teachers were asked about their emotional wellbeing and quitting intentions. Emotional wellbeing refers to teachers’ experiences of more positive emotions and fewer negative emotions. Quitting intentions involve teachers’ current plans to search for other jobs and quit their current job.
Results demonstrated that teachers who perceived greater autonomy-supportive leadership tended to be more self-determined in their motivation. This finding likely occurred because school leaders who seek input from and endeavour to understand teachers’ perspectives help teachers to value their work and enjoy it more.
Alongside that, teachers reporting more self-determined motivation at the start of the term tended to experience greater emotional wellbeing and lower quitting intentions at the end of the term. Teachers who are self-determined inherently value their work. In turn, this likely leads to them experiencing more positive emotions related to work and less desire to leave – because they have positive experiences at work.
Implications for schools
The findings show that self-determined motivation among teachers is relevant for both wellbeing and retention-related outcomes. The results also suggest that autonomy-supportive leadership is one way to help teachers experience greater self-determined motivation.
School leaders may want to incorporate autonomy-supportive leadership practices (Collie, 2021). Strategies include seeking input from and endeavouring to understand teachers' perspectives. Offering meaningful rationales for work tasks assigned to teachers is also important so they understand the purpose of what is being asked of them—and can better see the value of the tasks.
Providing opportunities for teachers to make decisions about their work are also important, such as allowing teachers to select the focus for their professional learning.
Through strategies such as these, schools can help teachers to experience self-determined motivation at work, which has important implications for their wellbeing and retention.
Collie, R.J. (2021). Teacher wellbeing. In K.-A. Allen, A. Reupert, & L. Oades (Eds.), Building better schools with evidence-based policy: Adaptable policy for teachers and school leaders (pp. 169-175). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781003025955-23
Collie, R. J. (2023). Teachers’ work motivation: Examining perceived leadership practices and salient outcomes. Teaching and Teacher Education, 135, 104348. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2023.104348
Dr Rebecca J Collie says providing opportunities for teachers to make decisions about their work is important when it comes to staff motivation, wellbeing and retention. As a school leader, what opportunities do you give your teachers? Are they able to choose the focus of their own professional learning?