Motivating Teachers and Overcoming Constraints – Questions from the RISE Online Presentation Series
Motivating teachers to cultivate student learning
Research on teacher motivation largely focuses on teacher career structures—such as hiring, firing, placement, pay, promotion, recognition, and professional development. These career structures are often not designed in ways that attract, select, retain, and motivate teachers to cultivate student learning. Other factors can also impact teacher motivation, including individual teacher preferences, social and professional norms, overall workloads of both teaching and non-teaching responsibilities, teachers’ autonomy, and working conditions. These factors must also be taken into consideration, alongside teacher career structures, and jointly designed to promote an enabling environment in which teachers are motivated to care about students’ learning.
On 5 August, we brought together a panel of researchers and academics to discuss teacher motivation and overcoming constraints to increase learning outcomes. The session was chaired by Emiliana Vegas, senior fellow and co-director of the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution.
Research insights from the RISE webinar panellists
Shintia Revina highlighted ‘thick’ qualitative data from 16 novice teachers in Indonesia to highlight how non-pay factors and the prevailing norms modelled by experienced teachers affected their motivation. Christina Brown spoke about a randomised controlled trial in private schools in Pakistan that illuminates the conditions under which performance pay can raise teacher quality. David Evans spoke about descriptive statistics from 15 African countries to ask whether teachers are underpaid relative to similar workers and to identify a robust correlation between teacher pay and student learning outcomes that also emphasises the potential role of pay in teacher selection. Yue-Yi Hwa described a holistic model of teacher careers wherein pay is only one of a number of relevant factors and each factor can vary across the phases of the teacher career cycle (pre-service, novice, experience, and veteran).
We had a number of great questions during the webinar, and since we couldn’t cover all of them, our panellists have kindly agreed to address a few more. Click on one of the questions below to gain more insight from our panellists’ research.
- My understanding is that industrial jobs pay much more than teaching jobs, and this is why qualified professionals prefer industrial jobs. Is this true, and how can countries address this pattern? Go to Question 1 ↓
- What does your work find about teacher motivation in private vs. public schools? Are there differences between types and can we generalise between types?
Go to Question 2 ↓
- Does your work on teacher motivation distinguish between the type of school system, particularly French-based vs. British-based systems? Are there differences between these types of systems and can we generalize between types? Go to Question 3 ↓
- Regarding the proportion of male vs. female teachers in African countries, does this have any relationship with male vs. female access to education in particular countries? Is there any relationship between the proportion of teachers who are male and learning outcomes across different countries? Go to Question 4 ↓
- What is the most crucial challenge for Indonesian teachers in the next few years? Can teacher organisation be part of efforts to meet this challenge? Go to Question 5 ↓
- How important is the quality of professional development for teacher motivation? Does coaching in particular have an impact on teacher motivation? Go to Question 6 ↓
- Is it just ‘my contract’ or also the kind of contracts in the system that will matter to and motivate teachers? If different contracts are offered at scale across the system, will teachers be okay with letting individuals choose differential contracts?
Go to Question 7 ↓
My understanding is that industrial jobs pay much more than teaching jobs, and this is why qualified professionals prefer industrial jobs. Is this true, and how can countries address this pattern?
David Evans: In our paper, we find that — on average — teachers with secondary education actually earn more than manufacturing workers with secondary education, but they earn less than mining workers with secondary education (Table A7). But this average doesn’t capture the wide variation across countries: in Burkina Faso and Namibia, teachers earn more than workers in both of those sectors. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in Nigeria, teachers earn less than workers in both of those sectors. For those with post-secondary education, teachers on average learn less than workers in both of those sectors, consistent with your question (Table A8). Again, this varies across countries. It is not unique to African countries: I expect we’d see a similar pattern in most high-income countries. One solution is to ensure that in addition to a fair wage, teachers have support to do their jobs effectively, positive working conditions, and a good reputation, all of which work together to attract effective candidates to the field. Top ↑
What does your work find about teacher motivation in private vs. public schools? Are there differences between types and can we generalise between types?
David Evans: This is a great question. We do include both private and public schools in our sample, but we do not have systematic data on teacher motivation. This is one more indicator that we need better data on the array of teacher measures.
Christina Brown: There are several important differences which affect motivation across these types of schools. First, motivation can come from norms of behaviour, firing policies, promotion/incentive pay policies, mentoring/oversight/management policies, instructional and resource support, and the interaction of these factors. We find that the success of one policy (performance pay) is highly dependent on the many other factors (quality of the principal, teacher's quality, the extent of monitoring, etc. These features operate differently in private versus public schools. Second, the demographics of the teaching profession are typically different between private and public schools. Private school teachers are generally younger, less experienced, more likely to be female, more likely to be from the local community and more likely to work for shorter, interrupted stints rather than staying in the profession all of their adult life. These differences mean career or financial incentives may have very different effects in private versus public schools.
Yue-Yi Hwa: We haven't studied this directly, but I would speculate that (a) there are probably within-country differences in the level and orientation of teacher motivation in private and public schools, because these teachers face different career and incentive structures, but (b) it’s probably difficult to generalise these differences in teacher motivation across education systems, because teacher career structures in each sector vary across systems. For example, Shintia’s paper in this panel on novice teachers in Indonesia found that those in private schools received induction weeks, whereas those in public schools had minimal induction support — whereas novice public school teachers in the United States are more likely to participate in induction programmes than their private school counterparts.
Another complication is that there can be heterogeneity in teacher career and incentives structures within each sector, even within a single education system. For example, a RISE working paper by Lee Crawfurd on school management in Uganda found that there were no differences in management quality between the average public school, private school, and public-private partnership (PPP) school — but private schools run by an international PPP chain had substantially higher management scores. Top ↑
Does your work on teacher motivation distinguish between the type of school system, particularly French-based vs. British-based systems? Are there differences between these types of systems and can we generalise between types?
Yue-Yi Hwa: I wish I knew the answer to this fascinating question. Given that there are clear traces of colonial bureaucracies in the civil service architectures of many postcolonial countries, it seems plausible that there would also be patterns in teacher career structures across French-influenced and British-influenced systems and, consequently, patterns in teacher motivation across these systems. Unfortunately, most relevant study I can think of — and it’s only loosely related — is a 2007 study on district education officers in Benin, Guinea, Mali, and Senegal, which observes that educational decentralisation in these four countries was influenced by a combination of national history, French policy, and international trends. Top ↑
Regarding the proportion of male vs. female teachers in African countries, does this have any relationship with male vs. female access to education in particular countries? Is there any relationship between the proportion of teachers who are male and learning outcomes across different countries?
David Evans: We have not studied the link between historic gender gaps in education and the supply of male and female teachers. However, more female teachers sometimes — but not always — leads to better learning outcomes. In a piece that Alexis Le Nestour and I wrote, we observed “if anything, positive impacts [of female teachers on student learning] seem more consistent in middle school (yes in Korea, yes for a subset of students in China, yes in Chile) than for primary school (no in Ecuador, yes in India, mixed results in West Africa).” Top ↑
What is the most crucial challenge for Indonesian teachers in the next few years? Can teacher organisation be part of efforts to meet this challenge?
Shintia Revina: I think the main challenge for the current teaching workforce in Indonesia is to upgrade their competence. In 2015, over 1.3 million teachers had failed to achieve a minimum score of 55 out of 100 in the subject matter and pedagogical knowledge test conducted by the Ministry of Education. The low competence of our teachers might well explain the stagnation of our students learning in the past 15 years. With the ever-changing environment and demand of how active learning should take place, it is crucial for teachers to improve their quality.
The problem is teachers in Indonesian public schools are not motivated to improve their quality since the outcomes are the same for teachers who perform effectively and those who do not. There are no consequences for non-performance. Our government rewards teachers who show loyalty to the state by allocating a teacher allowance (double of base salary) to teachers who have served in public schools for many years, not to those who are excellent teachers. The link between performance and pay is weak in the Indonesian system.
In regards to teacher organisations, they mainly play a political role in the system. So far, teacher organisations do not advocate the government to create a stronger delegation to improve learning or teacher quality. Instead, very often the teacher organisations complain whenever the agenda of performance-based pay is discussed. There is some discussion about the role of teacher organisations in the teacher recruitment process in Indonesia which we cover in our recent Working Paper. Top ↑
How important is the quality of professional development for teacher motivation? Does coaching in particular have an impact on teacher motivation?
Dave Evans: A recent meta-analysis of teacher coaching programs in high-income countries shows consistent positive impacts. In recent years, the evidence in middle-income countries has grown. In South Africa, a teacher coaching program delivered twice the learning gains as a more traditional teacher professional development program. In a follow-up the next year, only the teachers who had received coaching retained their improved teaching skills. Other studies of coaching have shown positive impacts on student learning in Peru and Kenya. I haven’t seen studies that separate the impact on teacher motivation versus teacher skill. Coaching could work through both channels. One challenge with coaching is the scale-up. The high-income country meta-analysis showed smaller impacts as these programs went to scale, and an effort to replace face-to-face coaching with virtual coaching showed initial promising results but was ultimately disappointing.
Yue-Yi Hwa: We do not have direct empirical evidence on the relationship between professional development quality in general, or coaching quality in particular, on teacher motivation. But our conceptual intuition is that good PD matters for teacher motivation because cultivating student learning is a demanding task — and if teachers aren’t adequately supported (with PD and other supports), then they will not have the capacity to consistently fulfil this demanding task, so over time their motivation levels will diminish, or their motivation will be reoriented toward more straightforward goals such as maximising student enrolment or ensuring that students copy down notes from the blackboard accurately, whether or not they understand what they’re copying.
A previous panel in this Online Presentation Series on teacher training and coaching had some very interesting discussions about how training and coaching can affect teachers’ competing priorities, levels of trust between teachers and other stakeholders, and teachers’ emotional readiness to improve their classroom practice, all of which are closely related to motivation. Top ↑
Is it just ‘my contract’ or also the kind of contracts in the system that will matter to and motivate teachers? If different contracts are offered at scale across the system, will teachers be okay with letting individuals choose differential contracts?
Christina Brown: This is an important point. When we asked teachers about what contract they wanted their school to have, teachers often talked about consequences for other teachers — “I think everyone should get at least X”, “It isn't fair if teachers who don't do their part get Y”, rather than just focusing on the consequences for themselves. However, teachers also very much liked when we allowed each teacher to choose their own contract. We didn’t conduct a survey on this specific question but from focus groups, it seems teachers’ preferred option is to be able to select their own contract (and hence allow other teachers to choose their own contract as well). Top ↑
For more information regarding the event, including links to the papers that were presented, please visit the RISE website.
RISE blog posts reflect the views of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the organisation or our funders.