In the last post on “how to motivate teachers” the focus was on the most common method of motivation, reinforcement or incentives. This post will focus on methods that are just as effective as incentives, but rely more on environmental factors for teachers and leaders.
Environmental factors or job contexts that affect teacher motivation require more effort from leaders in the district than offering incentives. School district leaders must be willing to step beyond quick fixes and be willing to communicate and listen to what teachers are saying or the data received in climate surveys. If you recall from part 1 of “How Do You Motivate Teachers?” incentives and rewards can increase the quantity of behaviors, but have not been found to increase the quality of performance. Reorganizing teachers’ job context in factors beyond rewards, have been found to increase both quality and quantity of performance for employees.
The Effect of Job Context
Job context or environment is a combination of the following: physical environment of work, the design of tasks that teachers perform, social norms within the district, and the organizational culture. Individual attributes of the teacher and the context in which teachers work combine to influence motivational processes. Below is a path analysis that illustrates correlations between various factors that lead to job satisfaction or the decision to leave a school district.
As you can see, feeling valued, having a good report with school leaders, and strong relationships with colleagues combine to strongly affect a teacher’s sense of belonging. The sense of belonging is shown to have a significant correlation with job satisfaction. Meanwhile, time pressures and discipline problems combine for a strong relationship to emotional exhaustion among teachers, which in turn is strongly correlated to the motivation to leave. Also notice the negative correlations between emotional exhaustion and belonging, emotional exhaustion and job satisfaction, and motivation to leave and job satisfaction. Negative correlations simply indicate as one factor increases the other decreases. For example, as the sense of belonging increases, feeling of emotional exhaustion decreases, or as job satisfaction increases the motivation to leave decreases. What’s interesting here is how some of the factors are seemingly unrelated, but have significant consequences on teacher motivation. The feeling of belonging has little to do with the mental and physical strains of teaching that lead to exhaustion, yet if a teacher feels like they belong within their school district and feel like they are part of the team, they are less likely to feel exhausted, even if job factors are overwhelming.
Expectancy and Self-Efficacy
Expectancy in motivation is exactly what it sounds like. It is a theory that asserts people tend to make rational decisions of whether their effort will lead to outcomes they value or expect; it is a probability assessment. The factor of expectancy combines with a few other factors to help educators decide how much effort they should put forth. If teachers and principals feel helpless in reaching the goals the school district or state has put before them, or if the rewards that are being offered, i.e. pay, bonuses, recognition, or other forms of reinforcement, expectancy levels will be low. If school districts break up large goals to smaller and more achievable goals, if they ensure basic resources for teaching are in place, and promote a community of everyone working together to achieve common goals, the district is more likely to be successful. This environment of support along with valued rewards, such as pay, can combine to encourage educators to persevere in the face of challenging circumstances.
Self-efficacy is another important factor in motivating teachers to be more effective. It is the belief in one’s own abilities to meet situational demands of a task. The idea is a basic one. People who think they can perform well on a task tend to do better than those who think they will fail. School districts would do well to identify essential competencies for beginning teachers in their respective school districts and ensure mentoring programs are structured to reinforce these skills early in a new teacher’s career. Strong mentor relationships should be established to help new teachers feel confident in core abilities and behaviors that lead to student success. Self-efficacy seems to be related to past performance or at least perceptions of past performance. Administrators can increase self- efficacy in teachers by communicating high expectations and providing the resources and support to achieve those expectations. Research has also shown that self-efficacy is reduced when low expectations are communicated. The lesson learned here is set ambitious, but realistic goals for your staff and ensure they have the resources available to achieve those goals. Why is all this talk about self-efficacy important? Terrance Mitchell and Denise Daniels have conducted and reviewed empirical research that found those with higher self-efficacy put forward more effort towards a task and persevere longer, they focus attention better, choose more difficult goals, seek feedback to improve performance, and choose more efficient task strategies than those with lower levels of self-efficacy.
Administrators can improve teacher performance and student performance; affect motivation by increasing self-efficacy. This can be achieved in a few ways. The first and possibly most important way is through enactive mastery i.e. gaining relevant experience with the task or job. The second key is vicarious experience, in other words, seeing others around you or observing successful behaviors. The third factor to improving self-efficacy is verbal persuasion. Verbal persuasion is the encouragement and confidence that is given by others. The last factor of self-efficacy is physiological arousal, or being “psyched up.”
What does all this about self-efficacy mean for a school district? It means training and development plans for new staff members are absolutely essential. Remember, this entire post is focused on motivation. It is difficult to imagine being able to effectively motivate your staff to higher levels of performance if you don’t have an environment that supports feelings of belonging, have forms of reinforcement that are valuable to your staff, and implement training and developmental resources that increase self-efficacy. Motivating teachers isn’t as easy as rallying the troops at the beginning of the school year. The answer isn’t always a matter of providing better incentives or rewards. It is a well-developed and deliberate organizational plan that everyone must be committed to throughout the school year and during entire course of tenure for each teacher in the school district. If a school district is looking to improve student and teacher performance, improving motivation among teachers is a good place to start.
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