Chapter 8. Teacher motivation, responsibility, pedagogical knowledge and professionalism: a new era for research

Fani Lauermann
University of Bonn, Germany

The key objective of this chapter is to provide an overview of current research on teacher motivation and its relevance to the instructional process and to teachers’ professional competence. The chapter begins with a brief review of different approaches to the conceptualisation of teachers’ professional competence, with a special focus on high-leverage teaching practices and dimensions of teaching quality. Next, the chapter focuses on teacher motivation as an element of teachers’ professional competence and describes different theory-driven conceptualisations of teacher motivation, including perspectives grounded in socio-cognitive theory, expectancy-value theory, self-determination theory, achievement goal theory and research on teacher responsibility. The chapter concludes with a discussion of open questions, methodological and theoretical challenges for teacher motivation research, as well as directions for future research.



With the exception of research on teachers’ perceived teaching ability and job satisfaction, systematic theory-driven research on teacher motivation represents a relatively new and, until recently, an “overlooked” phenomenon (Watt and Richardson, 2008a; Woolfolk Hoy, 2008). The landscape of educational research on this topic has changed dramatically over the past years, however, as researchers have adapted established theoretical frameworks of motivational processes for the teaching profession. Examples include systematic analyses of teachers’ expectancies and values related to teaching (Abrami, Poulsen and Chambers, 2004; Reeve et al., 2014; Watt and Richardson, 2008a, 2008b), achievement goals (Butler, 2007, 2012), basic psychological needs and self-determination (Eyal and Roth, 2011; Roth et al. 2007), enthusiasm for teaching and for their subject area (Frenzel et al., 2009; Kunter et al., 2011, 2008), and teachers’ sense of professional responsibility (Lauermann and Karabenick, 2011, 2013, 2014).

Accumulating evidence suggests that teachers’ motivations have critical implications for the teaching profession, including those for teachers’ professional commitment, psychological well-being and instructional practices (for a review, see Richardson, Karabenick and Watt, 2014). Furthermore, various operationalisations of teacher motivation have emerged as key elements of teachers’ professional competence.

Accordingly, the purpose of this chapter is threefold. First, we focus on the concepts of pedagogical knowledge and professionalism, and provide a working definition to guide the analysis and discussion of available evidence on teacher knowledge and motivation. We will illustrate that pedagogical knowledge is necessarily multifaceted. Included is knowledge about educational processes, goals and evidence-based practices, and which instructional practices are adaptive or maladaptive with respect to students’ learning, motivation and socio-emotional needs, but also motivational and self-regulatory characteristics of teachers (Blömeke and Delaney, 2012; Kunter et al., 2013).

Second, we review current work on teacher motivation, elaborate on evidence regarding how these conceptualisations of teacher motivation are related to different aspects of the instructional process, and discuss implications for teachers’ pedagogical knowledge and professionalism. Specifically, we focus on major theoretical frameworks that have provided the foundation for recent research on teacher motivation: socio-cognitive theory, expectancy-value theory, self-determination theory and achievement goal theory.

Finally, drawing from multiple theoretical perspectives, we present current work on teachers’ sense of professional responsibility (Lauermann, 2014a; Lauermann and Karabenick, 2011; 2013; 2014). Teacher responsibility has a dual status as both a motivational antecedent of teachers’ behaviours (e.g. teachers engage in various behaviours out of a sense of responsibility) and a key element of teachers’ knowledge about their professional roles (e.g. what responsibilities teachers believe are included in a particular instructional context). Convincing, although still scarce evidence indicates that teachers do differ in how they conceptualise their professional responsibilities, which has implications for their instructional practices and professional well-being.

The chapter concludes with a discussion of directions for future research, including (a) methodological challenges such as the use of observational data versus self-report measures and the use of multiple data sources such as linking student-teacher data over time and (b) theoretical challenges, including the limited applicability of available motivational theories to the teaching profession and the need for modifications.

The multifaceted nature of teachers’ professional competence

What types of competencies do teachers need in order to produce desirable outcomes in the classroom? What qualifies as “sufficient” evidence that a teacher possesses such competencies? Which competencies are essential for what types of outcomes? These fundamental questions of teaching effectiveness have posed a challenge for educational researchers, even though a substantial knowledge base is available about more or less adaptive instructional practices and approaches to teaching, as well as about their consequences for teachers and students. In the following sections, we review examples of systematic lists of evidence-based instructional approaches and practices. Then, we turn to proposed types of knowledge about teaching and teaching competencies. Finally, we discuss the links between knowledge about the instructional process and affective-motivational competencies of teachers, and why both types of competencies are essential for teachers’ professional success.

High-leverage teaching practices and dimensions of teaching quality

A substantial knowledge base about effective instructional practices and approaches to teaching has been developed over the past decades (e.g. Brophy, 1999; Hattie, 2009; Rosenshine, 2010; Seidel and Shavelson, 2007). As one example, Box 8.1 lists twelve principles of effective teaching identified by Brophy (1999). Such lists of research-based teaching principles and practices typically focus on relational and motivational aspects of the instructional process such as developing positive relationships with students, establishing a collaborative learning environment and a well-managed classroom, setting high expectations for students, fostering students’ mastery orientation (emphasis on effort, personal improvement and task mastery), and students’ sense of autonomy; as well as aspects of the delivery of instruction and monitoring of learning outcomes such as reviews of previous learning and continuous monitoring, and assessment of all students’ learning and understanding (Boekaerts, 2002; Brophy, 1999; Brophy and Good, 1986; Rosenshine, 2010).

Box 8.1. Principles of effective teaching
  1. A supportive classroom climate: Development of cohesive and caring learning communities, which includes supportive and caring teacher-student and student-student interactions.

  2. Opportunity to learn: Allocation of most of the available instructional time to curriculum-related activities.

  3. Curricular alignment: Alignment of curricular components, so that student learning is focused on interconnected ideas and instructional goals, rather than on disconnected content.

  4. Establishing learning orientations: Provision of structure and clarification of intended outcomes of the learning process and of desired learning strategies.

  5. Coherent content: Facilitation of meaningful learning through clear and coherent explanations of new content.

  6. Thoughtful discourse: Stimulation of student discourse around powerful ideas.

  7. Practice and application activities: Provision of opportunities for practice and application of new knowledge and skills, and provision of improvement-oriented feedback.

  8. Scaffolding students’ task engagement: Provision of assistance that supports students’ cognitive, affective, and behavioural engagement in the learning process.

  9. Strategy teaching: Modelling and instruction of learning and self-regulation strategies that enable students to monitor, regulate, and reflect upon their learning.

  10. Co-operative learning: Provision of opportunities for students to work in pairs or small groups.

  11. Goal-oriented assessment: Use of a variety of formal and informal assessment methods to monitor progress towards learning goals.

  12. Achievement expectations: Establishment and communication of appropriate expectations for learning outcomes.

Source: Brophy, J. E. (1999), Teaching, International Academy of Education, Brussels, Belgium.

Current educational debates, however, are focusing not only on the question of “what works”, but also on the question of “what works best” (Hattie, 2009; Seidel and Shavelson, 2007), and which practices form the core of the teaching profession by being generalisable across educational contexts and situations, but also specific enough to be named, identified, taught and assessed (Ball, 2012; Ball and Forzani, 2009). The process of identifying such core practices is often hampered by lack of precise shared technical language and by the contextual specificity of particular practices (Ball and Forzani, 2011). Nonetheless, a set of “high-leverage” practices have been proposed to guide teacher training efforts and to serve as common professional standards for the practice of teaching (see Box 8.2). Practices are considered to have high leverage when their skillful implementation maximises the effects of teaching on student learning. Whether, how and to what extent the decomposition of the teaching profession into a set of specific practices (as opposed to philosophies and general approaches to teaching) will lead to improved teacher training and professionalism remains an open question, although ongoing efforts to train and assess these core teaching practices are promising (e.g. TeachingWorks).

Box 8.2. High-leverage practices of teaching, TeachingWorks, University of Michigan
  1. Making content explicit through explanation, modelling, representations and examples.

  2. Leading a whole-class discussion.

  3. Eliciting and interpreting individual students’ thinking.

  4. Establishing norms and routines for classroom discourse central to the subject-matter domain.

  5. Recognising particular common patterns of student thinking in a subject-matter domain.

  6. Identifying and implementing an instructional response to common patterns of student thinking.

  7. Teaching a lesson or segment of instruction.

  8. Implementing organisational routines, procedures and strategies to support a learning environment.

  9. Setting up and managing small group work.

  10. Engaging in strategic relationship-building conversations with students.

  11. Setting long- and short-term learning goals for students referenced to external benchmarks.

  12. Appraising, choosing and modifying tasks and texts for a specific learning goal.

  13. Designing a sequence of lessons toward a specific learning goal.

  14. Selecting and using particular methods to check understanding and monitor student learning.

  15. Composing, selecting, interpreting and using information from methods of summative assessment.

  16. Providing oral and written feedback to students on their work.

  17. Communicating about a student with a parent or guardian.

  18. Analysing instruction for the purpose of improving it.

  19. Communicating with other professionals.

Source: TeachingWorks, University of Michigan,

In addition to fine-grained analyses of educational practices, researchers have also proposed a set of overarching dimensions of teaching quality. Notably, three dimensions of teaching quality have emerged across a set of large scale national and international assessments: classroom organisation (e.g. structure, discipline, classroom management), supportive climate (e.g. social and learning support to students and positive classroom climate), and the provision of cognitively activating, thought-provoking instruction (Klieme, 2012; Vieluf et al., 2012). These dimensions of instructional quality, as well as aspects of these dimensions have been linked to desirable outcomes such as student achievement and motivation (Baumert et al., 2010; Fauth et al., 2014; Klusmann et al., 2008; Kunter and Baumert, 2006; Kunter et al., 2011, 2013), and teachers’ self-reported practices. For instance, for teachers who participated in the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) conducted by the Organisation for Economic Development and Co-operation (OECD) (2014), a positive disciplinary climate in the classroom was related to the self-reported use of small group and project-oriented work, as well as to the use of technology for instructional purposes.

General dimensions of instructional quality have been assessed from the perspective of students (Klieme, 2012), but comparative analyses of students’ and teachers’ perspectives have also been conducted, with somewhat mixed results. One study, for instance, indicated that teachers’ and students’ perceptions of the occurrence of classroom management problems (problems with discipline and interruptions) are generally consistent with each other; teachers’ and students’ views of cognitively activating instruction and social support by the teacher overlap, but are less consistent; and their perceptions of the instructional tempo – an aspect of teachers’ provision of learning support – can be discordant (Kunter and Baumert, 2006). Bivariate correlational patterns revealed that classroom management rated from the perspective of students was related to student achievement in mathematics, whereas teachers’ and students’ perceptions of classroom management and cognitively stimulating instruction were related to students’ satisfaction with their math teacher (Kunter and Baumert, 2006).

Subsequent longitudinal analyses of these data by Kunter and colleagues (2013) have identified the dimensions of classroom management (operationalised as a composite of teacher and student perceptions) and cognitive activation (operationalised as expert ratings of the cognitively activating features of quizzes and exams used by the teacher) as positive predictors of students’ learning gains in mathematics between grades 9 and 10. Furthermore, Kunter and colleagues’ (2013) research identified teacher- and student-reported classroom management and student-reported learning support as positive predictors of students’ intrinsic interest in mathematics. This study is an example of the selective use of teachers’ and students’ ratings for analyses of different aspects of the instructional process.

This line of research is important for the present chapter for the following reasons. First, it implies that some teaching qualities may be more easily observable than others (e.g. classroom management problems versus learning support; Praetorius, Lenske and Helmke, 2012). Second, it suggests that teachers’ and students’ ratings complement each other rather than being redundant. Third, students’ perceptions of their teacher’s practices can be an indispensable source of information when attempting to link instructional quality to students’ academic outcomes such as achievement.

Examples of core teaching practices and general dimensions of instructional quality reviewed thus far have a clear focus on students’ academic, socio-emotional and developmental needs. However, factors that motivate teachers to engage in such practices and that enable them to successfully implement these practices in specific situations, also constitute key elements of teachers’ professional competencies. Indeed, recent evidence suggests that motivational characteristics of teachers can have positive effects on student learning and motivation, beyond the effects of teachers’ knowledge about effective instruction (Kunter et al., 2013). This topic is addressed in the following section, with special attention to the relevance of motivational factors for teachers’ competence and professional success.

Types of professional competencies and the role of teacher motivation

The definition of professional competence guiding this discussion is competence in terms of “skills, knowledge, attitudes, and motivational variables that form the basis for mastery of specific situations” (Kunter et al., 2013: 807). Since the successful mastery of instructional situations requires not only knowledge about instructional practices and learning processes, but is also influenced by teachers’ affective, motivational and self-regulatory characteristics, such characteristics constitute a core element of teachers’ professional competence.

For instance, in a recent study of German math teachers whose classes had participated in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2003 (OECD, 2004), Kunter and colleagues (2013) demonstrated that motivational characteristics such as teachers’ enthusiasm for teaching predicted not only student- and teacher-reported instructional quality (learning support and effective classroom management), but also students’ achievement and interest in mathematics. Notably, enthusiasm for teaching was a positive predictor of student outcomes, even after controlling for the effects of other competencies such as teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge (knowledge about the teaching and learning of mathematics), teachers’ self-regulatory skills, and their beliefs about teaching (constructivist views). This is one of the few existing studies to assess the combined effects of knowledge-related, motivational and self-regulatory constructs on instructional quality and student outcomes, and provides convincing evidence in support of a multi-faceted conceptualisation of professional competence that includes motivational factors.

Although the evidence is still relatively scarce, educational researchers have presented strong arguments in support of this multifaceted conceptualisation. For instance, a review of teacher knowledge conceptualisations and assessments in the math domain by Blömeke and Delaney (2012) concluded that professional competence includes two main elements: professional knowledge and affective-motivational characteristics of teachers. Teachers’ professional knowledge base includes content knowledge (knowledge of a content area such as mathematics), pedagogical content knowledge (knowledge about the teaching and learning of a content area) and general pedagogical knowledge (overarching principles of high quality teaching that are not content-specific) (Baumert et al., 2010; Blömeke and Delaney, 2012; Shulman, 1986, 1987). Among these three types of knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge has emerged as the strongest predictor of student achievement (Baumert et al., 2010; Hill, Rowan and Ball, 2005).

Affective-motivational characteristics include teachers’ beliefs about their content area, about teaching, and about student learning, as well as teachers’ own motivation and self-regulation (Blömeke and Delaney, 2012). Blömeke and Delaney (2012) proposed that the affective-motivational characteristics of teachers have implications for teachers’ decision making in particular situations (e.g. how and whether they use available knowledge), as well as for teachers’ self-evaluations of their strengths and weaknesses, and corresponding engagement in professional development. Indeed, as discussed subsequently, types of teachers’ motivations have been linked not only to desirable instructional practices in the classroom, but also to adaptive professional behaviours such as help-seeking in the face of professional challenges, and involvement in professional development (see review in Richardson et al., 2014). Furthermore, as Kunter et al. (2013) demonstrate, motivational characteristics such as teacher enthusiasm can predict instructional quality and student outcomes beyond the positive effects of teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge.

Thus, motivational characteristics are relevant for teachers’ professional competence, because such characteristics influence teachers’ decision-making, professional learning, instructional practices and, indirectly, students’ academic success. Theoretical frameworks of teacher motivation and associated implications for teachers and students are discussed in the following section.

Recent developments in teacher motivation research and its relevance for teachers’ professional competence

The major theoretical frameworks that have informed systematic teacher motivation research are socio-cognitive theory, expectancy-value theory, self-determination theory and achievement goal theory. Even though there is abundance of empirical studies that directly or indirectly reference teachers’ motivations, it has been only recently that theoretical frameworks of motivational processes have been systematically applied to the teaching profession. One of the pioneers of this field, Ruth Butler (2007), who has focused on teachers’ relational and achievement goals in the context of teaching, noted for example:

Indeed, in the absence of coherent theoretical frameworks, it is not clear how initial goals can be expected to influence either teachers or their students. Conversely, many studies of practicing teachers have examined the role of individual differences in variables such as teachers’ qualifications, personality, instructional values, and perceptions of students [. . .], but few have focused on teacher motivation, and most of these have examined the strength, rather than the quality, of motivation. (p. 241)

The reasons behind this lack of systematic research are likely grounded in the multiple roles implied by the teaching profession. Due to their role as employees, teachers have been included in research on work motivation. Yet, the objective of this line of research is not to study teaching, but rather to assess generalisable organisational processes across occupations that just happen to include teaching. Due to their role as learners, teachers have been included in research on motivation for learning in teacher education settings. However, this line of work has not focused on teachers in their capacity as educators, but rather as students. Finally, due to their role as facilitators of student learning and motivation, teachers have been included in research on instructional practices designed to influence student motivation, without an explicit focus on teachers’ own motivations for teaching.

How this gap in the literature has been addressed over the past years is discussed in the following sections, with a focus on the following theoretical frameworks: socio-cognitive theory, expectancy-value theory, self-determination theory and achievement goal theory. In addition, drawing on multiple theoretical frameworks such as attribution theory, self-discrepancy theory and the job characteristics model, recent research on teacher responsibility and the motivational implications of personal responsibility are discussed.

Although each theoretical framework concentrates on different aspects of motivation, a general definition that is compatible with all approaches is motivation as “the process whereby goal-directed activity is instigated and sustained” (Schunk, Pintrich and Meece, 2008, p. 4). Because it is a process, motivation needs to be inferred from actions rather than products (e.g. choices, effort, persistence and verbal statements). In addition, the stipulation that motivational processes are goal-oriented implies awareness of something that individuals would like to attain or avoid. These characteristics of the motivational process are evident in the following conceptualisations of teacher motivation.

Socio-cognitive theory

Socio-cognitive theory, originally developed by Albert Bandura (1977), is one of the most frequently utilised frameworks in teacher motivation research (Klassen, Durksen and Tze, 2014; Tschannen-Moran and Woolfolk Hoy, 2001; Woolfolk Hoy, 2008). The key motivational construct in this framework is teachers’ sense of self-efficacy, defined as a teacher’s “judgment of his or her capabilities to bring about desired outcomes of student engagement and learning, even among those students who may be difficult or unmotivated” (Tschannen-Moran and Woolfolk Hoy, 2001: 83). Efficacy beliefs are essential for the motivational process, since individuals are unlikely to engage in behaviours and activities at which they do not expect to succeed. Sense of self-efficacy has been linked to the adoption of challenging goals, effort investment, persistence and resiliency in the face of difficulty (Bandura, 2000, 1997; Tschannen-Moran, Woolfolk Hoy and Hoy, 1998).

Efficacy judgments are influenced by mastery experiences, vicarious experiences of relevant role models, verbal persuasion by others, and physiological arousal such as experienced nervousness or anxiety in a given situation (Bandura, 1977, 1997). Analyses in the context of teaching corroborate the importance of mastery experiences and persuasion in the form of interpersonal support for teachers (Tschannen-Moran and Hoy, 2007; Tschannen-Moran and McMaster, 2009), although systematic analyses of the antecedents of teachers’ self-efficacy are still rare (Klassen et al., 2014).

Critical implications of teachers’ self-efficacy beliefs have been demonstrated for both teachers and students, but a recent review of the literature indicated that less than 3% of teacher efficacy research between 1998 and 2009 had focused on links to student outcomes (Klassen et al., 2011). Correlational research has established positive links between teachers’ self-efficacy and their psychological well-being in terms of stress resiliency and lower likelihood of experiencing burnout (Klassen and Chiu, 2010; Skaalvik and Skaalvik, 2007), as well as with job satisfaction and commitment to the teaching profession (Caprara et al., 2003; Klassen and Chiu, 2011), desirable instructional practices (Ciani, Summers and Easter, 2008; Holzberger, Philipp and Kunter, 2013; Thoonen et al., 2011a), school-level student achievement (Caprara et al., 2006), and student-reported well-being in school (Thoonen et al., 2011b).

A meta-analysis of the links between teacher self-efficacy and teaching effectiveness by Klassen and Tze (2014) indicated that teachers’ personality characteristics had a negligible effect on teaching effectiveness (operationalised in terms of student achievement and observations of teaching performance), whereas teachers’ self-efficacy had a moderate effect. Thus, available research, including meta-analytical evidence, supports the relevance of teachers’ self-efficacy beliefs for the instructional process, and has outlined positive implications for both teachers and students.

Expectancy-value theory

The key assumption in expectancy-value frameworks is that individuals are motivated to pursue goals and to engage in activities that they view as both achievable and subjectively valuable (Eccles et al., 1983). If an activity is viewed as achievable (e.g. as a consequence of high self-efficacy) but not personally valuable, or valuable but not achievable, individuals would be unlikely to engage in that activity.

One of the most popular adaptations of this framework for the teaching profession, the “Factors Influencing Teaching Choice” (FIT-Choice) framework developed by Watt and Richardson (Watt and Richardson, 2007, 2008a, 2008b), has focused in particular on reasons for choosing teaching as a career. The expectancy component of this framework captures perceived teaching abilities and expected success in teaching, whereas the value component captures the perceived intrinsic value of the teaching profession (e.g. enjoyment and interest in teaching), personal utility value (e.g. job security and time for family) and social utility value (e.g. desire to help others, to work with children and adolescents, and to make a social contribution). Teaching as a fallback career and the influence of demands and formal returns associated with teaching (e.g. social status) are also considered in this model as factors that may shape the choice to pursue teaching. Proposed antecedents of aspiring teachers’ expectancies and values include socialisation processes such as prior teaching and learning experiences, as well as persuasion by others (Richardson and Watt, 2014; Watt and Richardson, 2007).

Initial expectancies and values reported by aspiring teachers at the beginning of their teacher education programme have been associated with self-reported engagement in teaching (e.g. planned persistence) and professional development aspirations at the end of their programme (Watt and Richardson, 2007). Pre-service teachers’ expected success, intrinsic values and social values have emerged as positive correlates of planned professional engagement (Watt and Richardson, 2007, 2008b). Furthermore, preliminary evidence reported by Richardson and Watt (2014) confirmed positive associations between pre-service teachers’ motivations for teaching reported at degree entry and their self-reported instructional practices as novice teachers. Perceived teaching ability and social utility value at degree entry predicted a positive (self-reported) teaching style after the transition to in-service teaching (e.g. positive student-teacher relationships, clear expectations for students, emphasis on effort). Choosing teaching as a fallback career and social persuasion, on the other hand, were related to self-reported negativity towards students.

Overall, ability beliefs and social utility values for choosing teaching have emerged as most adaptive with regard to professional engagement and self-reported teaching styles. However, recent evidence from Germany suggests that some aspects of personal utility value – an extrinsic form of motivation – may also be associated with desirable outcomes (König and Rothland, 2012). Specifically, König and Rothland (2012) found that although intrinsic and social motivations were positively correlated with the general pedagogical knowledge of pre-service teachers, the desire for job security (an extrinsic factor) predicted an increase in general pedagogical knowledge between two measurement points within the same academic year, whereas intrinsic and social motivations did not. Thus, extrinsic forms of motivation are not necessarily maladaptive.1

Expectancy-value constructs have been utilised not only for analyses of choices to pursue teaching, but also with regard to the endorsement and use of particular instructional practices, as well as self-reported engagement in teaching among in-service teachers. Both components – expectancies and values – have emerged as complementary predictors of teacher-reported professional engagement such as involvement in extracurricular activities (Jesus and Lens, 2005) and affective commitment (Chatzistamatiou, Dermitzaki, and Bagiatis, 2014), self-reported implementation of desirable instructional strategies (Abrami et al., 2004; Leithwood and Jantzi, 2006; Reeve et al., 2014; Wozney, Venkatesh and Abrami, 2006), teachers’ own self-regulatory strategies and encouragement of students’ self-regulation (Chatzistamatiou et al., 2014).

In sum, expectancy-value research overlaps with teacher efficacy research in that both frameworks underscore the importance of teachers’ confidence in their teaching abilities. However, expectancy-value theory suggests that teachers’ subjective valuing of selected instructional practices or of the teaching profession as a whole can be equally important for their decision making and (self-reported) instructional behaviours. Thus, a consideration of both aspects is necessary for analyses of motivational processes.

Self-determination theory and intrinsic orientations

According to self-determination theory, human motivation stems from three basic psychological needs: competence, relatedness and autonomy (Ryan and Deci, 2000, 2002, 2006). Competence refers to the need to effectively interact with one’s social environment and to produce desired outcomes. This implies that people are motivated to seek situations in which they can be successful and can maintain and develop their skills and potential. Relatedness reflects the need to establish positive relationships with others. Consequently, people are motivated to seek emotional attachment and a sense of belonging to a community. Autonomy reflects the need for self-determination of one’s own behaviour. Accordingly, people are motivated to seek situations in which they experience a sense of personal freedom. When the social environment is designed to foster these three basic needs, the individual’s performance, psychological well-being and intrinsic motivation (motivation that is independent of external incentives or threats) increase. Ample evidence suggests that a higher degree of self-determination leads to increased personal commitment, persistence, higher quality of engagement and positive self-perceptions (Burton et al., 2006; Ryan and Deci, 2000, 2002, 2006).

Although the preponderance of available evidence is based on research with students, teachers’ basic needs, self-determination and resulting autonomous motivation, that is, motivation stemming from factors within the individual (e.g. genuine interest), have been examined as well. Analogous to the student literature, teachers’ own autonomous motivation and sense of self-determination in their teaching have been linked to the degree to which their basic psychological needs for autonomy, relatedness and competence are satisfied in the workplace (Carson and Chase, 2009; Fernet et al., 2008; Taylor, Ntoumanis and Smith, 2009; Taylor, Ntoumanis and Standage, 2008).

Autonomous forms of teacher motivation have been associated with lower levels of burnout (Eyal and Roth, 2011; Soenens et al., 2012), with teachers’ willingness to engage in professional development (Gorozidis and Papaioannou, 2014), with teacher- and student-reported autonomy-supportive instruction, as well as with students’ self-reported autonomous motivation and self-determination (Roth et al., 2007; Soenens et al., 2012). Taylor and Ntoumanis (2007), however, found no association between teachers’ and students’ reports of autonomous motivation in physical education, even though the teachers’ autonomous motivation was positively related to their self-reported autonomy-supportive practices. Thus, evidence linking teachers’ autonomous motivation to their own psychological well-being and perceived instructional approaches is more consistent than the evidence linking teachers’ motivations with actual student outcomes. Nonetheless, there is convincing evidence that both students and teachers benefit from conditions that support their autonomous (rather than externally controlled) motivation.

Including the concept of autonomous motivation, Kunter and Holzberger (2014) reviewed the literature on intrinsic orientations towards teaching across theoretical frameworks such as self-determination theory and expectancy-value theory. The authors noted that multiple labels such as autonomous motivation, enjoyment, enthusiasm and interest in teaching seem to reflect an intrinsic orientation towards teaching that captures teachers’ enjoyment, excitement about, and interest in, teaching tasks and activities. Consequences of teachers’ intrinsic orientations examined in the literature include links with teachers’ psychological well-being and job satisfaction (Kunter et al., 2011; Kunter et al., 2008), desirable teacher- and student-reported instructional practices (Kunter et al., 2013), and students’ motivation and achievement (Frenzel et al., 2009; Kunter et al., 2013).

It is important to consider the specific tasks and outcomes towards which teachers may be intrinsically motivated. For instance, Kunter et al. (2008) found that teachers’ enthusiasm for teaching predicted both teacher-reported and student-reported high quality instructional practices, whereas teachers’ enthusiasm for their subject area predicted teacher-reported, but not student-reported instructional quality. Schiefele, Streblow and Retelsdorf (2013) distinguished between teachers’ interest in their subject matter, interest in approaches to teaching (didactic interest) and interest in educational processes. The authors found that all three types of interest were positively related to teachers’ self-efficacy, psychological wellbeing and self-reported instructional practices such as mastery orientation, but only their didactic interest and educational interest (and not subject interest) were positively related to their self-reported differentiation of instruction to fit individual student needs. Thus, intrinsic orientations towards teaching rather than a given subject area appear to be particularly adaptive for the instructional process.

Achievement goal theory and relational goal orientations

According to achievement goal theory, achievement situations elicit habitual tendencies to pursue particular goals such as the goal to learn, to outperform others, or to avoid being perceived as incompetent (Elliot, 2005). Which goal orientations are activated in a given situation have implications for the individual’s learning, performance and intrinsic motivation towards achievement tasks (Dweck and Grant, 2008; Elliot, 2005; Elliot and McGregor, 2001; Elliot et al., 2005). The adaptation of achievement goal theory for the teaching profession rests on the assumption that “the school is an achievement arena not only for students but also for teachers who presumably strive to succeed at their job but who may differ in the ways they define success, in the goals they strive to attain, and, thus, in their personal achievement goal orientations for teaching” (Butler, 2007:242).

Analogous to the student literature, the following goal orientations have been distinguished in research with teachers (Butler, 2007; Nitsche et al. 2011; Papaioannou and Christodoulidis, 2007): Mastery or learning orientation reflects the goal to learn and develop teaching mastery and professional competence. Ability approach or performance approach orientation reflects the goal to demonstrate superior teaching ability relative to other teachers. Ability avoidance or performance avoidance orientation reflects the goal to avoid the demonstration of inferior teaching ability relative to others. Work avoidance goal orientation reflects the goal to minimise effort investment in teaching. Finally, Butler (2012) modified her achievement goal framework for teaching to include a focus on teachers’ social or relational goal orientations. Such goal orientations reflect the goal to establish positive relationships with students. Butler argued that social goals are inherent in the teacher’s role and that therefore analyses of teachers’ goal orientations cannot be limited only to their orientations towards professional learning and performance, but should also include a focus on their relationships with students (see also Klassen, Perry and Frenzel, 2012).

Evidence on teachers’ achievement and relational goal orientations is generally consistent with a long tradition of research with students. For instance, teachers’ mastery/learning goals have been related to teachers’ psychological well-being, interest in teaching and job satisfaction (Papaioannou and Christodoulidis, 2007; Retelsdorf et al., 2010), engagement in professional development (Nitsche et al. 2013), adaptive help-seeking in the face of professional challenges (Butler, 2007; Nitsche et al., 2011), teacher-reported high quality instruction that emphasises a mastery orientation for students and cognitive stimulation (Butler, 2007; Retelsdorf et al., 2010), student-reported teacher support (Butler and Shibaz, 2008) and student interest (Butler and Shibaz, 2014).

The evidence on teachers’ ability-approach goals is mixed. Such goals are positively related to perceived teaching ability (Nitsche et al., 2011), but also to occupational strain (Nitsche et al., 2013), and have not been systematically linked to either teachers’ well-being, professional help-seeking or instructional approaches (Butler, 2007; Nitsche et al., 2011; Retelsdorf et al., 2010). Avoidance-oriented goals, on the other hand, have been associated with such maladaptive outcomes as burnout, dissatisfaction with one’s job (Papaioannou and Christodoulidis, 2007; Retelsdorf et al., 2010), disengagement from professional development opportunities (Nitsche et al., 2013), lower interest in teaching (Retelsdorf et al., 2010), negative attitudes towards help-seeking (Butler, 2007), teacher-reported instructional practices that place emphasis on students’ demonstration of ability rather than on learning, on surface-level learning strategies and low demands for students (Butler, 2012; Retelsdorf et al., 2010; Retelsdorf and Günther, 2011), and lower levels of student-reported teacher support and student-reported cheating (Butler and Shibaz, 2008). In sum, mastery/learning goals generally have desirable implications for the instructional process, ability-approach goals can have mixed effects, and avoidance-oriented goals are linked to undesirable outcomes.

The inclusion of relational goals in recent research on teachers’ goal orientations has outlined another channel through which teacher motivation can impact the instructional process. Although both relational and mastery goals are correlated with mastery-oriented instructional practices – practices that emphasise student learning and personal improvement – relational goals have emerged as the stronger predictor of such practices (Butler, 2012). Analyses of links between teacher and student reports further revealed positive associations between teacher-reported relational goals and student-reported mastery-oriented instruction, social support by the teacher and student interest (Butler, 2012; Butler and Shibaz, 2014). Relative to relational goals, teachers’ mastery goals have emerged as the stronger predictor of cognitively stimulating instruction, whereas relational goals are the stronger predictor of mastery-oriented instruction and social support by the teacher (Butler, 2012; Butler and Shibaz, 2014). Thus, even though the mechanisms through which they affect teachers and students may differ, both types of goals – mastery-oriented and relational – have desirable consequences for the instructional process.

Teacher responsibility

Unlike the previous four frameworks, research on teacher responsibility is not yet based on a coherent theoretical approach, but rather draws on research from multiple theoretical perspectives (see review in Lauermann and Karabenick, 2014). Personal responsibility is defined as “a sense of internal obligation and commitment to produce or prevent designated outcomes or that these outcomes should have been produced or prevented” (Lauermann and Karabenick, 2011: 127). It is a motivational source since individuals may engage in various activities not because these activities are necessarily enjoyable, but because of an internal sense of obligation and a sense of duty to do so.

A critical distinction exists between formal responsibility (or accountability), which refers to one’s awareness of others’ expectations of another person’s areas of responsibility, and personal responsibility, which refers to an internal sense of obligation, commitment and duty (Lauermann and Karabenick, 2011). This distinction is analogous to the differentiation between intrinsic (stemming from within) and extrinsic (stemming from external sources) forms of motivation in self-determination theory (Bacon, 1991; Deci and Flaste, 1995). Whereas formal accountability requires external monitoring and control, personal responsibility implies internal motivation and self-regulation.

Willingness to assume personal responsibility for a given outcome results from characteristics of the organisational environment, mainly the amount of job autonomy (independence and freedom in how people do their work), from situational characteristics such as social roles that apply in a given context, judgments of causal controllability over an outcome for which one might feel responsible, mitigating circumstances such as excuses or justifications that can limit one’s perceived responsibility and from personal characteristics of the individual (see reviews in Lauermann and Karabenick, 2011, 2014).

Relevant personal characteristics include self-efficacy, proactive personality (habitual tendency to be proactive), work ethic and trust (defined as willingness to be vulnerable to others e.g. school administrators, parents and students) due to the belief in others’ willingness and ability to contribute to student learning and academic success (Lauermann and Karabenick, 2011). Outcomes consistently associated with personal responsibility in organisational contexts, including evidence from a meta-analysis, are intrinsic work motivation, job satisfaction and job performance (Humphrey, Nahrgang and Morgeson, 2007).

Various operationalisations of responsibility have been applied to the teaching profession, linking teacher responsibility for student learning to fewer disciplinary problems (Rose and Medway, 1981a, 1981b), teachers’ positive affect towards teaching, positive change in student learning (Guskey, 1984), willingness to implement new instructional approaches (Guskey, 1988), job satisfaction (van Dick et al., 2001; Winter, Brenner and Petrosko, 2006), an optimism about teaching effectiveness, a hopeful attitude towards personal goals and challenges, and positive emotions towards teaching (Eren, 2013). There is mixed evidence regarding possible links between teachers’ self-judgments of responsibility and reported sympathy felt towards a failing student, as well as intentions to actually pass (vs. fail) the student, with some studies showing positive associations (Matteucci and Gosling, 2004, Study 1), but others no significant links (Matteucci, 2007; Matteucci and Gosling, 2004, Study 2).

It is important to note that there is substantial variation in how responsibility for teaching has been operationalised, making inferences about its influence on the instructional process difficult (Lauermann and Karabenick, 2013). Some researchers, for instance, have operationalised responsibility as internal locus of control in terms of teachers’ beliefs that educational outcomes depend on their actions rather than on factors that are external to the teacher (Guskey, 1981, 1988), or have included items originally developed to assess self-efficacy to measure responsibility (Lee and Smith, 1996, 1997).

Accordingly, recent work on teacher responsibility has focused on three main issues. Firstly, research has focused on the distinction between teachers’ personal sense of responsibility and teacher self-efficacy. Evidence with pre-service teachers suggests that even though beliefs about responsibility and beliefs about ability and control are correlated, they constitute distinct constructs (Lauermann and Karabenick, 2013; Silverman, 2008). Secondly, a multi-dimensional assessment of responsibility has been proposed that distinguishes between responsibility for such outcomes as student motivation, student achievement, relationships with students, and for the quality of teaching (Lauermann and Karabenick, 2013). Multi-dimensional assessments provide the foundation for outcome-specific analyses of responsibility in the context of teaching that go beyond a simple distinction between more or less responsible teachers. Finally, in a sample of Israeli teachers and their students, preliminary evidence has provided support for the importance of teacher responsibility in shaping teachers’ instructional behaviours, as well as for the usefulness of an outcome-specific assessment (Lauermann, 2014b; Lauermann, Karabenick and Butler, forthcoming). Controlling for teachers’ self-efficacy, responsibility for having positive relationships with students was positively related to student reports of their teacher’s enthusiasm for teaching and mastery-oriented instruction. In addition, responsibility for student achievement, for relationships, and for teaching quality was positively related to student reports of more equitable instruction that considers the needs of students with different ability levels.

In sum, even though personal responsibility constitutes a well-established construct in psychological and organisational research, with implications for motivational and performance outcomes of the individual, research on teachers’ sense of professional responsibility is still in its infancy. Scarce yet promising evidence indicates that teachers do differ in how they conceptualise their professional responsibilities, which has implications for their professional well-being and instructional practices.

The importance of teacher motivation, open questions and directions for future research

The review of available evidence on teacher motivation in the previous sections reveals a promising and burgeoning field of research that has implications for how educational researchers, policy makers and educators conceptualise the roles, responsibilities and professional competencies of teachers. Knowledge of and ability to implement particular instructional practices that help students learn and actively engage in the instructional process are necessary ingredients of teacher professionalism, but so are teachers’ motivational characteristics, including their beliefs about their teaching abilities, their expectancies and values, their goals, their intrinsic orientations towards teaching, as well as their perceived responsibilities.

Motivational characteristics matter for teachers’ professional success in the following ways:

  • Teachers’ motivational characteristics have been consistently associated with their psychological well-being in terms of experienced levels of stress, burnout and job satisfaction.

  • Teachers’ motivational characteristics have been associated with their involvement in professional development.

  • Teachers’ motivational characteristics have been linked to teachers’ professional decision-making in terms of willingness to implement new instructional practices that they have learned in the context of professional development.

  • Teachers’ motivational characteristics have been associated with their self-reported as well as student-reported use of high-quality instructional practices.

  • Teachers’ motivational characteristics have been associated with their students’ motivation and performance.

Despite such promising evidence, research on teacher motivation is still underdeveloped and thus many open questions remain to be addressed in future work, both methodological and theoretical. Methodological challenges include several issues. Firstly, the vast majority of available evidence is correlational and cross-sectional, so that the ability to make causal inferences is limited. Secondly, because student outcomes are an important, albeit indirect, indicator of professional competence, analyses of the impact of teachers’ professional competence on the instructional process and on students necessitate linking teacher and student data. Currently, researchers are often limited by relatively small samples or by their focus solely on teachers because such study designs and analyses are challenging and costly. Thirdly, different aspects of teachers’ professional competence can be highly interrelated, so that disentangling their effects can be difficult, especially in the absence of sufficiently large samples and longitudinal data. Fourthly, social and psychological phenomena and outcomes are typically interrelated, so that “predictors” and “outcomes” often influence each other over time, further obfuscating the distinction between cause and effect.

Theoretical challenges exist as well. Much of the literature on teacher motivation has been inspired by research with students, under the assumption that motivational factors that influence students’ performance on academic tasks likely also apply to the performance of teaching tasks. Thousands of articles have documented that student motivation matters both for student performance on achievement tasks, and also for students’ decisions on their educational and occupational pathways. Yet, there are obvious differences between achievement on academic tasks and teaching tasks, most notably the fact that teachers are not only responsible for their own actions and decisions, but also for their students.

This has led to modifications of existing theories (e.g. achievement goal theory) to include a focus on relational aspects of teaching, and to differentiations of specific aspects of the teaching task towards which teachers might have varying motivations (e.g. fostering student engagement and achievement, developing positive relationships with students, classroom management, using particular instructional practices, and interest in and knowledge of their subject area). Taking achievement goal theory as an example, the focus on teachers’ relational goals has been a necessary and valuable adaptation of this framework. However, such goals are not traditionally part of the achievement goal framework, so that theory-based inferences about their effects are not as straightforward as the predictions about achievement goals. Accordingly, such goals are the focus of ongoing research and theory development.

Even though this is still an emerging field, researchers have begun to address these concerns. For instance, in addition to confirming the applicability of theory-based predictions about the effects of teachers’ motivations, theoretical frameworks have been adapted to focus on specific features and tasks of the teaching profession. Furthermore, researchers are increasingly utilising longitudinal data to examine the implications of teachers’ motivations for the instructional process, including analyses of implications for teachers and students. This ongoing research has helped to move the field forwards and researchers are no longer asking “Does teacher motivation matter for the instructional process?”. It does. It matters for teachers’ psychological well-being, for their professional engagement, for their decision-making, for their instructional practices and for their students.


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← 1. Further research is warranted to clarify this finding. The desire for job security had a significant negative association with general pedagogical knowledge at the first time point, and was not significantly related to knowledge at the second time point. Thus, the observed positive association between pre-service teachers’ desire for job security and their increase in general pedagogical knowledge does not imply a concurrent positive association between extrinsic motivation and knowledge. Furthermore, the correlational nature of the data precludes causal inferences.