Academic journal article Journal of Research in Childhood Education

Motivation, Work Satisfaction, and Teacher Change among Early Childhood Teachers

Academic journal article Journal of Research in Childhood Education

Motivation, Work Satisfaction, and Teacher Change among Early Childhood Teachers

Article excerpt

This study tests the explanatory power of Deci and Ryan's (1985) self-determination theory as a framework for describing how interactions between early childhood teachers and the systems within which their work is embedded influence motivation for professional growth and change in teaching practice. Fifty-four early childhood teachers and teacher assistants participated in a yearlong professional development program comprising monthly workshops and on-site support visits. Quantitative analysis of motivation and work attitude surveys, coupled with qualitative analysis of teacher interviews, addressed two major research questions: (1) What factors within the social context of early childhood teachers' workplaces are related to their motivation for professional growth? and (2) What is the relationship between early childhood teachers' motivation for professional growth and change in teaching practice? Results indicate that three facets of work satisfaction were significant predictors of intrinsic interest in professional development: supervisor support, the nature of the work itself, and co-worker relations. The qualitative analysis reveals ways in which interactions between motivation, professional development activities, and work environment support or undermine change.

Keywords: early childhood teachers, motivation, professional development, self determination, teacher change, work satisfaction


In the United States, less than 40% of lead teachers of 3- and 4-year-olds in center-based early childhood programs have a 4-year college degree. In fact, 62% have no early childhood education training at all (Early & Winton, 2001). When one adds center-based teacher assistants and teachers of infants and toddlers, as well as child care staff working in family child care homes, the percentage of staff without formal training is even higher. In an attempt to address this need, the Bush administration unveiled its early childhood initiative Good Start, Grow Smart in January 2002. The initiative set new regulations for the professional development of early educators. In some cases, such as Head Start, participation in formal professional development is mandatory (Good Start, Grow Smart, 2003). However, simply providing opportunities for professional development does not guarantee teacher growth, as is evidenced by the overall lack of consistent success of professional development programs in promoting lasting teacher change (Cassidy, Hicks, Hall, Farran, & Gray, 1998; Grace et al., 2008; Hiebert, 1999). Some teachers take advantage of every opportunity to learn new things and continually experiment with their teaching methods, whereas others seemingly have no interest in furthering their growth. Why teachers respond differently to professional development opportunities is not yet well understood. The purpose of the current study is to identify factors within the workplace that influence teachers' intrinsic motivation to engage in professional development activities. Specifically, we explore the validity of self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 1985, 2004, 2008) as a framework for understanding the ways in which perceptions of the workplace interact with intrinsic motivation in the change process.


Systemic approaches to understanding the factors involved in promoting and sustaining professional change have gained much support in the education literature. Bronfenbrenner's (2004) bioecological theory of human development, for example, provides a framework for examining how knowledge, activities, and communities emerge together as part of the process of workplace learning. In this perspective, human interactions and meanings form part of the workplace context itself, as systems interconnect and nest within the larger systems in which they act. An individual's own biology is a primary environment promoting her development. The interaction between a teacher's biology, her immediate community environment, and the societal landscape shapes her professional growth. …

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