Assess teacher autonomy in reform efforts and in hiring decisions, study advises

iStock_000018618557XSmallTeacher autonomy has been shown to be important to teacher motivation and job satisfaction.  It is so important, write researchers in a recent article in The Journal of Educational Research, that teacher autonomy should be assessed when evaluating education reform efforts and even when hiring new teachers.

“Teacher autonomy is a common link that appears when examining teacher motivation, job satisfaction, stress (burnout), professionalism, and empowerment,” write L. Carolyn Pearson and William Moomaw. Some researchers have even argued that granting autonomy and empowering teachers is an appropriate starting point to solve current school problems.

But, first, a reliable measure of teacher autonomy is needed, the researchers state. Such a tool could help administrators  evaluate reform efforts because many argue that teacher autonomy is critical to the implementation and success of any initiative. In hiring decisions,  administrators could try to identify teachers who have a sense of autonomy. Those teachers are more likely to be dedicated to teaching as a profession, they write.

“A measure of teacher autonomy could help those who hire teachers to identify persons who are satisfied with their jobs and professional identities and who will remain in their jobs,” the researchers write.

Scale measures autonomy

The Teaching Autonomy Scale is an 18-item scale developed by L. C. Pearson and B.C. Hall to elicit the degree to which teachers perceive that they have autonomy in the selection of activities and materials, classroom standards of conduct, instructional planning and sequencing and personal on-the-job decision making.

Eleven of the items reflect high autonomy (e.g. I follow my own guidelines on instruction) and the remaining items reflect low autonomy (e.g. My job does not allow for discretion on my part) The scale evaluates curriculum autonomy (selection of activities and materials and instructional planning and sequencing) and general teaching autonomy (classroom standards of conduct and personal on-the-job decision-making).

In their study, the researchers validate the 18-item teacher autonomy scale by replicating an earlier study that showed internal consistency of results with its use. The target population for the study consisted of 300 teachers working in three neighboring school districts in three counties in Florida.

“Identifying systemic factors that are essential for interpreting teachers’ perceptions of autonomy is important and, of particular interest, in the context of expanding school reform and statewide standardized testing initiatives,” the researchers say. “We plan to examine the perceptions of autonomy as they relate to attitudes toward high-stakes or low-stakes statewide testing.”

The researchers note that autonomy should not be viewed as “isolation” and should not be limited to the classroom. “For teachers to realize a new sense of professional autonomy, traditional bureaucratic governance models would need to change so that teachers could have authority over the ‘substance’ of schools,'” the researchers write.

“Continuing Validation of the Teaching Autonomy Scale”, by L. Carolyn Pearson and William Moomaw. The Journal of Educational Research September/October 2006 Volume 100 Number 1 pp. 44-51.

Published in ERN February 2007 Volume 20 Number 2

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