Insight Note

Giving Schools and Teachers Autonomy in Teacher Professional Development Under a Medium-Capability Education System

Key Points

  • Long experience under a top-down system has caused schools and teachers in Jakarta to feel that teacher professional development is not their responsibility.
  • Low-motivated teachers are at risk of not participating in any professional activities because Jakarta tried to improve its system by giving autonomy to teachers regarding their own professional development.
  • For low-motivated teachers, school leadership plays a key role in directing teachers to use their autonomy for professional development.
  • School leaders can develop a professional development-oriented school culture by creating professional development regulations.


Image of Niken Rarasati

Niken Rarasati

RISE Indonesia

SMERU Research Institute

Image of Rezanti Putri Pramana

Rezanti Putri Pramana

RISE Indonesia

SMERU Research Institute

The importance of teacher autonomy in building professional development culture

A mature teacher who continuously seeks improvement should be recognised as a professional who has autonomy in conducting their job and has the autonomy to engage in a professional community of practice (Hyslop-Margison and Sears, 2010). In other words, teachers’ engagement in professional development activities should be driven by their own determination rather than extrinsic sources of motivation. In this context, teachers’ self-determination can be defined as a feeling of connectedness with their own aspirations or personal values, confidence in their ability to master new skills, and a sense of autonomy in planning their own professional development path (Stupnisky et al., 2018; Eyal and Roth, 2011; Ryan and Deci, 2000).

Previous studies have shown the advantages of providing teachers with autonomy to determine personal and professional improvement. Bergmark (2020) found that giving teachers the opportunity to identify areas of improvement based on teaching experience expanded the ways they think and understand themselves as teachers and how they can improve their teaching. Teachers who plan their own improvement showed a higher level of curiosity in learning and trying out new things. Bergmark (2020) also shows that a continuous cycle of reflection and teaching improvement allows teachers to recognise that the perfect lesson does not exist. Hence, continuous reflection and improvement are needed to shape the lesson to meet various classroom contexts. Moreover, Cheon et al. (2018) found that increased teacher autonomy led to greater teaching efficacy and a greater tendency to adopt intrinsic (relative to extrinsic) instructional goals.

In developed countries, teacher autonomy is present and has become part of teachers’ professional life and schools’ development plans. In Finland, for example, the government is responsible for providing resources and services that schools request, while school development and teachers’ professional learning are integrated into a day-to-day “experiment” performed collaboratively by teachers and principals (Niemi, 2015). This kind of experience gives teachers a sense of mastery and boosts their determination to continuously learn (Ryan and Deci, 2000).

In low-performing countries, distributing autonomy of education quality improvement to schools and teachers negatively correlates with the countries’ education outcomes (Hanushek et al., 2011). This study also suggests that education outcome accountability and teacher capacity are necessary to ensure the provision of autonomy to improve education quality. However, to have teachers who can meet dynamic educational challenges through continuous learning, de Klerk & Barnett (2020) suggest that developing countries include programmes that could nurture teachers’ agency to learn in addition to the regular content and pedagogical-focused teacher training materials.

Giving autonomy to teachers can be challenging in an environment where accountability or performance is measured by narrow considerations (teacher exam score, administrative completion, etc.). As is the case in Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia, teachers tend to attend training to meet performance evaluation administrative criteria rather than to address specific professional development needs (Dymoke and Harrison, 2006). Generally, the focus of the training relies on what the government believes will benefit their teaching workforce. Teacher professional development (TPD) is merely an assignment for Jakarta teachers. Most teachers attend the training only to obtain attendance certificates that can be credited towards their additional performance allowance. Consequently, those teachers will only reproduce teaching practices that they have experienced or observed from their seniors. As in other similar professional development systems, improvement in teaching quality at schools is less likely to happen (Hargreaves, 2000). Most of the trainings were led by external experts or academics who did not interact with teachers on a day-to-day basis. This approach to professional development represents a top-down mechanism where teacher training was designed independently from teaching context and therefore appears to be overly abstract, unpractical, and not useful for teachers (Timperley, 2011). Moreover, the lack of relevancy between teacher training and teaching practice leads to teachers’ low ownership of the professional development process (Bergmark, 2020).

More broadly, in the Jakarta education system, especially the public school system, autonomy was never given to schools and teachers prior to establishing the new TPD system in 2021. The system employed a top-down relationship between the local education agency, teacher training centres, principals, and teachers. Professional development plans were usually motivated by a low teacher competency score or budgeted teacher professional development programme. Guided by the scores, the training centres organised training that could address knowledge areas that most of Jakarta's teachers lack. In many cases, to fulfil the quota as planned in the budget, the local education agency and the training centres would instruct principals to assign two teachers to certain training without knowing their needs.

Realizing that the system was not functioning, Jakarta’s local education agency decided to create a reform that gives more autonomy toward schools and teachers in determining teacher professional development plan. The new system has been piloted since November 2021.

To maintain the balance between administrative evaluation and addressing professional development needs, the new initiative highlights the key role played by head teachers or principals. This is based on assumption that principals who have the opportunity to observe teaching practice closely could help teachers reflect and develop their professionalism. (Dymoke and Harrison, 2006). As explained by the professional development case in Finland, leadership and collegial collaboration are also critical to shaping a school culture that could support the development of professional autonomy. The collective energies among teachers and the principal will also direct the teacher toward improving teaching, learning, and caring for students and parents (Hyslop-Margison and Sears, 2010; Hargreaves, 2000). Thus, the new TPD system in Jakarta adopts the feature of collegial collaboration. This is considered as imperative in Jakarta where teachers used to be controlled and join a professional development activity due to external forces. Learning autonomy did not exist within themselves. Hence, teachers need a leader who can turn the "professional development regulation" into a culture at schools. The process will shape teachers to do professional development quite autonomously (Deci et al., 2001). In this case, a controlling leadership style will hinder teachers’ autonomous motivation. Instead, principals should articulate a clear vision, consider teachers' individual needs and aspirations, inspire, and support professional development activities (Eyal and Roth, 2011). This can also be called creating a professional culture at schools (Fullan, 1996).

In this Note, we aim to understand how the schools and teachers respond to the new teacher professional development system. We compare experience and motivation of different characteristics of teachers.



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Rarasati, N. and Pramana, R. P. 2023. Giving Schools and Teachers Autonomy in Teacher Professional Development Under a Medium-Capability Education System. RISE Insight Series. 2023/050.