Applying Goal Orientation Theory in an Exploration of Student Motivations in the Domain of Educational Leadership

By McCollum, Daniel L.; Kajs, Lawrence T. | Educational Research Quarterly, September 2007 | Go to article overview

Applying Goal Orientation Theory in an Exploration of Student Motivations in the Domain of Educational Leadership


McCollum, Daniel L., Kajs, Lawrence T., Educational Research Quarterly


The purpose of this article is to explore the motivation of graduate students in an educational leadership preparation program. Motivation is a key element for academic and professional success because without it little learning or performance takes place. The goal orientation theory of motivation was examined in the context of the educational leadership domain. To evaluate the psychometric properties of a measure of goal orientations of future educational leaders, a factor analysis was performed and internal consistency calculated. The scale presents good factorial and discriminant validity evidence and fair to good internal consistency evidence. Due to the lack of research regarding the assessment and development of goal orientations in the educational leadership domain, this study provides a basis for further research.

Little research exists on the motivations of graduate students enrolled in an educational leadership graduate program pursuing careers as school leaders (e.g., principals). These graduate students are typically classroom teachers who have voluntarily enrolled in a principal certification program to obtain state credentials required for principalship eligibility. To succeed in acquiring principal certification and subsequent school leadership positions, motivation is a necessity. Motivation is "an internal state tiiat arouses, directs, and maintains behavior" (Woolfolk-Hoy & Hoy, 2006, p. 127). Without motivation, very little learning or performance occurs.

The goal orientation theory of motivation provides a viable framework to study the aims of graduate students in the domain of educational leadership. Goal orientations are defined as "a set of behavioral, intentions that determine now students approach and engage in learning activities" (Meece, Blumfeld; & Hoyle, 1988, p. 514). Goal orientations can further be described as a set of beliefs students have concerning their goals (i.e., a specific, desired product) that explain why the goal is important to them (Woolfolk-Hoy & Hoy, 2006). For example, if a student wants to obtain an A grade in class, is it because she wants to look better than her classmates do or is it so she can have mastered the course content? Goal orientations explain the why of students' behaviors.

Goal Orientation Dichotomy: Mastery and Performance

Early theorists of goal orientations, such as Ames (1992), dichotomized mastery goal orientation and performance goal orientation. The mastery goal orientation is "a desire to develop competence and increase knowledge and understanding through effortful learning" (Murphy & Alexander, 2000, p. 28). The term mastery goal orientation can be used interchangeably with other concepts in the literature, specifically learning goal orientations (Dweck, 1986; Dweck & Leggett, 1988) and task goal orientations (Nicholls, 1984). On the other hand, the performance goal orientation is "a desire to gain favorable judgments... of one's competence" (Murphy & Alexander, p. 28). The term performance goal orientation is generally synonymous with self-enhancing goal orientation (Skaalvik, 1997) and ego-involved goal orientation (Nicholls). Each of the initially theorized goal orientations was linked to a variety of student characteristics and learning variables.

Generally, the set of learner characteristics associated with the mastery goal orientation were considered positive in relation to student characteristics and performance. Mastery-oriented students tended to place high intrinsic value on learning (Butler, 1987; Covington, 1999) and were inclined to use deep information processing strategies, such as developing multiple examples of concepts (Ames, 1992). They were apt to be self-regulated, using self-monitoring and organizational strategies, as well as adaptive to failures on particular tasks. Mastery-oriented students tended io pursue challenging tasks (Dweck, 1986; Dweck & Ledgett 1988; Elliot & Dweck, 1988). …

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