Educational success – A pathway to happiness and well-being?

success in education

Educational success – A pathway to happiness and well-being?

The strong emphasis on succeeding in education through high grades, test scores and public recognition may be driving teachers and their students to adopt an extrinsic motivating style. There is nothing wrong with trying to succeed at the things we do, although some research suggests that the pursuit of materialistic extrinsic goals for educational success are less beneficial, both educationally as well as personally (eg: psychological well-being).

The need for educational success thrives in our culture. Through the pursuit of extrinsic goals, there seems little time for mastery of learning skills and concepts at depth. The lack of time in schools to foster deep learning combined with an over reliance on testing to determine educational paths and careers is all too prominent.

It is not the fault of teachers in schools who try to do their best in a system which panders to achievement and success. More recently, research (Jang, 2017) points to teachers having to adopt an extrinsic (success) goal orientation in their classrooms and teaching style. This is due to a number of factors, including compliance requirements, student behaviour, and the educational system itself.  The push of the extrinsic goal of academic success permeates our educational culture.

Teachers may unknowingly adopt a particular goal orientation through which their instructional behaviour may predict the type of goal orientation perceived and adopted by their students.

In this study, Jang (2017) described teacher instructional behaviour from a self-determination perspective. Self-determination theory (Deci et al., 2000) is a theory of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.In this research, teacher instructional behaviour can be classed as intrinsic autonomy supportive or extrinsic controlling.

One of the main focus areas of this study was to identify teachers’ instructional goals and their associated motivating styles. These types of instructional orientations have flow-on effects for students. Indeed, students’ perceptions of their teachers motivating styles were accurately reflected.

In the longitudinal study Jang (2017) found teacher-reported Autonomy-supportive intrinsic goal styles were also perceived by students as autonomy-supportive instructional style. Teacher-reported controlling goal styles were  perceived by students as controlling instructional style. The goal styles teachers reported were the goal styles perceived by students.

Intrinsic and extrinsic goals

Why are intrinsic and extrinsic goals so important? These goals or motivational orientations are very important to satisfying human psychological needs (Deci et al., 2008). The needs include the need to feel supported, listened to, given choice to pursue interests and activities, to allow opportunities for personal growth, close relationships, and community contribution. In contrast, extrinsic goals are not psychologically nurturing as they support  external values such as financial success, social recognition, the importance of image.

A corollary to these are the educational or instructional goals. Intrinsic instructional goals range from deep learning, choice of interest and activities to pursue, life-long learning, adaptive learning styles, strive for competence over top marks, persistence in the face of challenges, strategic thinking over rote learning, enhanced conceptual learning, greater knowledge retention, pro-social behaviour, and greater engagement in learning.

Teacher Motivating Style

Teacher knowledge of their own motivation style is beneficial for their classroom work. In the wake of increased scrutiny and pressure in the school system on teacher performance and appraisal, the additional administrative pressures may lead teachers to adopt a more controlling motivating style. Th key is to raise awareness of instructional styles and how they are perceived by students.

This is not to state that a controlling motivating style is inherently bad for all students all the time. A controlling motivating style can predict higher grades by students and a greater capacity to product the right answers in examinations. These are indicators of educational success which we all strive for. However, controlling motivating styles removes the capacity and opportunity for students to have those psychological need satisfying experiences. Those experiences considered important for educational as well as social and personal growth.

Practical Application

It terms of practical application, there may be strategies teachers can employ in planning their work. As an educator with over 25 years classroom teaching experience, I know not all teaching strategies go to plan. The classroom can be an unpredictable place. Planning teaching and learning activities which allow students choice, the development of competence at a pace and level suitable, the opportunity to follow their interest, can be a more effective classroom strategy to engage students in their learning for the long-term. Even more difficult could be having teachers recognise their motivating style and goal orientation and the willingness to make changes.


Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). The “what” and “why” of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behaviour. Psychological Inquiry, 11(4), 227-268.

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2008). Self-Determination theory: A macro theory of human motivation, development, and health. Canadian Psychology, 49(3), 182-186.

Jang, H.-R. (2017). Teachers’ intrinsic vs . extrinsic instructional goals predict their classroom motivating styles. Learning and Instruction.


© iteachpiano 2018

Leave a Reply