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Motivation is a complex and diverse topic, as it applies to such a broad field of studies. This paper explores how a teacher builds an identity with a school through strong motivational factors, by first discussing the concept of motivation and offering some basic definitions. Then, it will cover some general topics that will effect teachers’ identity with a school and look at the theoretical concepts that relate to motivation, especially the motivational theories of Maslow and Herzberg. Finally, it will explore a range of contemporary motivational theories and how these can apply to motivating teachers. Since, it is important that the theory can be applied to practise, some recommendations will be made on how to best motivate employees, specifically teachers.

Introducing the motivation concept

Motivation is a topic that relates to every organisation, every leader/manager and every individual in their desire to accomplish different goals, therefore, there exists many definitions of motivation. Robbins, Bergman and Stagg, (1977, 533) in Management, define motivation as “The willingness to exert high levels of effort to reach organisational goals, conditioned by the effort’s ability to satisfy some individual need”. Gamage (2000) defines motivation simply as “getting the best out of people”. There area number of general factors to be discussed when examining the topic of teacher motivation and how they can develop and identity with a school, such as leadership, culture and job satisfaction.

Leadership is one of the most important factors that will determine a teacher’s identity with a school. This becomes evident when examining a quote by Evan (1998, 188), “Whether it was the extent to which it enabled or constrained teachers, created and fostered school professional climates that were compatible with teacher’s ideals or engaged their commitment and enthusiasm, the leadership effected by their headteachers was clearly a key determinant of how teachers felt about their jobs”. Also, teachers will identify more with their school if the leadership can ‘engage with followers’ “in seeking to achieve not only the goals of the leader but also significant goals of the followers” (Owen, 1998, 205). The level to which the leader or principal is willing to empower their subordinates in relevant school issues and decision- making will have a vast impact on the teachers personal motivation, especially if the empowerment is through real structures and process that share authority amongst the staff.

Culture can be defined as “A system of shared meaning within an organisation which determines in large degree, how employees act” (Robbins et al, 1998, 83). The culture of the school can have vast implications with a teacher’s identity with the school. Ownes (1998) highlights some of the important features of culture that are relative to the motivation of teachers, such as, norms that inform teachers of acceptable behaviour; the dominant values which the school holds and strives for; the basic assumptions and beliefs that are shared by members of staff; the rules that must be observed if ones is to get along and be accepted as a member, and the philosophy that guides the organisation in dealing with staff, students and the community. All these factors of culture will directly affect the teacher’s identity with the school and impact of their personal motivation and sense of belonging.

Job satisfaction is very important to the teachers identity with a school and associated motivation. Although some authors see the casual relationship between job satisfaction and productivity as being unclear and/or insignificant, Aamodt (1991) concluded that job satisfaction does indeed led to increases in performance, even though the magnitude of the relationship may not be great. A teacher that has a high level of job satisfaction is likely to have a strong identity with their school. Therefore, it is important for principals and administrators to understand factors contributing to job satisfaction in order to gain maximum productivity and employee motivation.

Theoretical concepts of motivation

There a many differing theories and concepts of motivation, but because motivation is psychological complex, no general and comprehensive theory exists. The foundation of such a theory, however, has taken shape from the writings of influential theorists such as Abraham Maslow (1970) who focuses on the needs hierarchy of employees and Frederick Herzberg (1964) who focuses on the intrinsic and extrinsic factors that effect motivation. Lastly, contemporary theories such as David McClelland’s learned needs theory, and process theories such as: goal setting theory, reinforcement theory, equity theory, and Victor Vrooms’ expectancy theory.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (1954) is one of the best-known and influential motivation theories. It was based on the belief that goals or needs underpin personal motivation (by being the fundamental source of all desires). And that everyone seeks to satisfy two basic levels of needs: Lower level needs – physiological, security, and the need for love and belonging. And Higher level needs – Esteem of both self and others, and self-actualisation or achieving one’s full potential. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs states that we must satisfy each need in turn, starting with the first, which deals with the most obvious needs for survival itself. Only when the lower order needs of physical and emotional well-being are satisfied are we concerned with the higher order needs of influence and personal development. Conversely, if the things that satisfy our lower order needs are swept away, we are no longer concerned about the maintenance of our higher order needs.

Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene Theory

Herzberg (1959) constructed a two-dimensional paradigm of factors affecting people’s attitudes about work. He concluded that such factors as company policy, supervision, interpersonal relations, working conditions, and salary are hygiene factors rather than motivators. According to the theory, the absence of hygiene factors can create job dissatisfaction, but their presence does not motivate or create satisfaction. In contrast, he determined from the data that the motivators were elements that enriched a person’s job. He found five factors in particular that were strong determinants of job satisfaction: achievement, recognition, the work itself, responsibility, and advancement. These motivators (satisfiers) were associated with long-term positive effects in job performance while the hygiene factors (dissatisfiers) consistently produced only short-term changes in job attitudes and performance, which quickly fell back to its previous level. According to several authorities, the proper approach to motivation lies in a careful distinction between Extrinsic and Intrinsic Rewards.

Content theories

McClelland’s learned needs theory, identifies four specific needs: the need for achievement, the need for power, the need for affiliation and the need for autonomy. “These needs McClelland contends, become personal predispositions that influence individuals’ perspectives on, and attitudes towards, work and, in doing so, orientate them towards certain goals” (Evan, 98, 37). Educational administrators need an understanding of these needs in order to crate an appropriate to best satisfy their staff.

Process Theories:

Goal setting theory: process of improving individual or group job performance with formally stated objectives, deadlines, or quality standards. Based on the belief that intention to work toward a goal is a major source of job motivation. Therefore, teachers need to understand the goals/ vision of the school as well as develop and evaluate their personal goals

Reinforcement theory: This relies on the assumption that behaviour is externally caused and reinforcers control behaviour. Reinforcers are any consequence immediately following a response that increases the probability that the behaviour will be repeated. In the teaching profession the reinforcers are general intrinsic factors such as, praise from peers, students results in examinations or sometimes even the chance of promotion.

Equity theory: The individuals’ perception of equity will determine their level of motivation by comparing inputs and referents. A referent is the persons, systems or selves against which individuals compare themselves to assess equity.

Expectancy theory: Victor Vroom’s expectancy theory is one of the most comprehensive explanations of motivation. It includes 3 variables: Effort – performance linkage, which is the probability perceived by the individual that exerting a given amount of effort will lead to performance. Performance – reward linkage, the degree to which the individual believes that performing at a particular level will lead to the attainment of a desired outcome. The attractiveness of the reward or the importance of the potential outcome or reward that can be achieved, this considers the goals and needs of the individual.

Teacher motivation

Recent studies have shown fairly conclusive that teachers are motivated more by intrinsic than extrinsic rewards. Pastor and Erland (1982) conducted a survey which found that teachers perceive their needs, and measure their job satisfaction by factors such as participation in decision-making, use of valued skills, freedom and independence, challenge, expression of creativity, and opportunity for learning. They concluded that “high internal motivation, work satisfaction and high-quality performance depends on three ‘critical psychological states’: experienced meaningfulness, responsibility for outcomes, and knowledge of results. Sergiovanni (1980) Likewise found that teachers obtain their greatest satisfaction through a sense of achievement in reaching and affecting students, experiencing recognition and feeling responsible for the students’ outcomes.

In a survey conducted by Brodinsky and Neill 1983, a majority of school administrators (and teachers) citied 3 policies that effectively improved moral and motivation of their staff. Firstly, shared governance or participatory management enhances teachers’ professional status and their ownership in the planning and operation of the school. Thus, shared governance gives teachers a vested interest in school performance and also promotes harmony amongst teachers and administration. Secondly, inservice education promotes the sharing of ideas and interdependence among teachers. Informal education can include resource sharing or conversations among teachers about professional concerns. Formal education can include workshops and seminars, and either kind of inservice tends to improve instructional techniques and enhance professional self-awareness. Lastly, systematic and supportive evaluation a well-designed system of evaluation, provides teachers with the necessary feedback to assess their own professional growth. The main purpose of the evaluation should be to provide information to help teachers improve their teaching performance.

Theory into Practice: Recommendations for Motivating employees:

There are several common areas that can be addressed in motivating employees. Firstly, recognising individual differences is important when considering individual motivation, due to individuals’ differences in terms of attitudes, personality and other important individual variables. For example, for individuals with an internal locus of control, the expectancy theory will be the more accurate prediction, because they believe that events of their lives are largely under the influence of their own control. Another factor that can be managed is matching people to jobs, because there is a great deal of evidence showing the motivational benefits of doing so. Principals and administrators should ensure that employees have challenging, specific goals and feedback on how well they are doing in pursuit of these goals. It is also important to ensure that goals are perceived as attainable, if employees do not have this perception they will reduce their effort towards the goals. The use of rewards is also a significant determining factor in employee motivation. Managers should use their knowledge of employee differences to individualise the rewards over which they have control. And this can be most effectively done through the linking of rewards to performance, as key rewards such as, pay increases and promotions should be given for the attainment of employee’s specific goals. Checking the system for equity is valuable, as employees should perceive that rewards or outcomes are equal to the inputs given. And finally, do not ignore money, the allocation of performance-based wage increases, piecework bonuses and other pay incentives are important in determining employee motivation.


The complexities in defining motivation, due to the scope of study, means that no comprehensive definition of motivation exists. However, motivation could be defined as the influencing factors that drive ones-self or others toward accomplishment of goals, needs, or desires. It was shown that there are a number of general factors such as leadership, culture and job satisfaction that will significantly contribute to a teacher’s identity with a school, their personal motivation and moral. A comprehensive overview of both content and process theories was explored, by firstly examining the most prevalent process and content theories of Malsow and Herzberg, as well as more contemporary theories of McClelland and Vroom. As discussed in the section on teacher motivation, most research points out that teachers are primarily motivated by intrinsic rewards such as self-respect, responsibility, and a sense of accomplishment. Thus, administrators can boost moral and motivate teachers to excel by means of participatory governance, inservice education and systematic, supportive evaluation. Using this knowledge, the application of theory into practice was addressed and recommendations made on how to improve employees’ motivation and specifically teachers’ motivation. Recommendations such as, recognising individual differences, matching people to jobs, having challenging specific goals and providing feedback, which all aid the achievement of the overall objective of building strong motivational factors to improve a teachers identity with their school.


Aamodt. (1991), Applied Industrial/ Organisational Psychology, Brooks and Cole, California.

Bateman, T.S. and Zeithmal, C.P. (1990), organisational structure, in Bateman and Zeithmal, management: Function and Strategy. Boston: Irwin.

Evans, L. (1998). Teacher moral, Job satisfaction and motivation. Paul Chapman publishing: London

Gamage, D. EDME 552:Educational Administration: Theory and Practice. Course notes 2000

Hatton, N. and Sinclair, K.(1992). “The motivating Role” in Turney, C., Hatton, N., Laws, K,. Sinclair, K. and Smith, D. (eds), The school manager. Allen and Urwin: North Sydney.

Owen I,G,. (1998). Organizational Behaviour in Education sixth Edition. Allyn and Bacon: Boston

Robbin, S.P, and Barnwell, N. (1994). Organisational Theory in Australia, 2nd Edition. Prentice Hall, Australia.

Robbin, S.P, Bergman, R, and Stagg, I,.(1997) Management. Prentice Hall: Australia

Sergiovanni, T.J. and Carver, F, D (1980). The new school Executive. Harper and Row: New York

Vecchio, R.P., Hearn, G., and Southerly, G. (1992) Organisational Behaviour: life at work in Australia Sydney: Harcourt Press.

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