How do teachers stay motivated?

How do teachers stay motivated?

Even wondered how a teacher stays motivated or how you motivate yourself to continue teaching? Teaching is a complex activity and no one single answer will suffice. However, there is a growing body of research which provides some direction in how teachers remain motivated and engaged in their teaching. Much of this research pertains to teachers in school contexts, though there may be some useful insights into motivational strategies for studio teachers as well.

Much of my reading on teacher and student motivation rings true and makes intuitive sense, though I have not had until now the correct language and framework to conceptualise and understand. There is some caution to add to this as well. Teachers have many deeply held beliefs which pervade their views about teaching and learning, including views on student motivation and their own motivation for teaching (Fives and Buehl, 2008). What has had some consensus is the importance of teacher efficacy and psychological well-being to overall teacher motivation.

Collie et al (2015) explored teachers’ well-being and psychological functioning in the workplace. Teachers’ perceptions are found to be very influential in their workplace well-being and functioning, motivation and job satisfaction. Perceptions are connected to teaching practice and to put it simply, teachers who have positive perceptions about their work and functioning in the workplace have greater positive impact on student learning, engagement, increased enthusiasm for teaching and instructional practices.

There is little known about contextual factors which affect teacher well-being and motivation. The factors investigated in Collie et al (2015) are derived from self-determination theory (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Self-determination theory argues that perceived autonomy support will predict satisfaction of basic psychological needs thereby stemming further work-related perceptions of teachers.

Self-determination theory provides a useful framework to study teachers’ beliefs and how they manifest into their teaching experiences. The central idea is that individual functioning is influenced by the extent to which they perceive their context is autonomy supportive. For teachers, a sense of autonomy and autonomy support from colleagues and the leadership team is crucial. Teachers often work in isolation, making the majority of decisions related to their day-to-day functioning. Teachers problem solve and adapt to their teaching environment based on the needs of their students and the demands encountered throughout a school day. This requires autonomous functioning. Without a foundation of autonomy support, teachers may feel less satisfaction of their psychological needs leading to negative impact on work-place functioning, efficacy, and well-being.

Collie et al (2015) aimed to corroborate prior research which suggests perceived autonomy support is beneficial for teachers satisfaction of basic psychological needs. Further, the study aimed to find links between need satisfaction and positive benefits for general well-being, teacher well-being, identified regulation, job satisfaction and organisational commitment. The research of Collie et al (2015) found autonomy support was important for teacher need satisfaction. Furthermore, the results found need satisfaction predicted general well-being and motivation.

Teachers’ sense of autonomy, competence, and relatedness with students increased their identified regulation (a form of intrinsic motivation). The findings of need satisfaction, well-being and motivation were significant predictors of job satisfaction and commitment. Competence was the strongest predictor of general well-being, autonomy was the greatest predictor of teacher well-being, and relatedness with students was the strongest predictor of commitment.

Some differences were found in comparisons between experienced and early career teachers. Competence negatively predicted teacher well-being among younger teachers (less than 44 years of age). Relatedness with students was positively predicted among younger teachers. Experienced teachers (more than 15 years experience) had negative associations with external regulation and relatedness with students. Early career teachers (less than 15 years experience) were found to have positive associations with relatedness with students. Experienced teachers were found to have higher levels of general well-being predicted by job satisfaction than early career teachers.

Overall, the results demonstrate that perceived autonomy support by teachers is important to their basic psychological need satisfaction and their work-related perceptions. Well-being and motivation were found to mediate job satisfaction and commitment. additionally, there is evidence to suggest that age plays a role in teacher relatedness with students.


Collie, R. J., Shapka, J. D., Perry, N. E., & Martin, A. J. (2015). Teachers’ psychological functioning in the workplace: Exploring the roles of contextual beliefs, need satisfaction, and personal characteristics. Journal of Educational Psychology. Retrieved from  doi:10.1037/edu0000088.

Fives, H., & Buehl, M. M. (2008). What do teachers believe? Developing a framework for examining beliefs about teachers’ knowledge and ability. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 33(2), 134-176.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25(1), 54-67.

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