The ABC of Motivation in Teacher Education: Supporting Psychological Needs and Developing Autonomous Motivation for Teaching among Pre-service Teachers

Apr. 26, 2017

Dr. Haya Kaplan is the Head of the Center for Motivation and Self-Determination and Head of Growth Recourses - Kaye Induction Unit, at Kaye Academic College of Education, Israel

Some studies indicate that the teaching quality of in-service teachers is associated with their initial motivations to teach when they were pre-service teachers. Previous studies also show that the most prevalent reasons of pre-service teachers for choosing teaching as a career are autonomous, but teachers choose to engage in teaching for extrinsic reasons as well. Regarding in-service teachers, previous research revealed that teachers who experience a sense of autonomy in their work tend to support their students’ autonomy and promote their autonomous motivation for studying. These findings align with the notion that autonomous motivation for learning is an adaptive type of motivation. Hence, it may be deduced that a quality teacher is one who acts from a sense of autonomy, i.e., out of identification with the teaching profession.

This description points to the need to address the issue of pre-service teachers’ motivation from their first year of study. It is important to preserve the positive autonomous motivation to engage in the teaching profession, with which a considerable proportion of pre-service teachers arrive, but also to create the conditions to facilitate internalization processes of the teaching profession, so that the extrinsic motivations typifying some pre-service teachers become autonomous. Self-Determination Theory (SDT) and its educational implications can serve as a platform to lead such processes in teacher education institutions (Ryan & Deci, 2017).

According to SDT, people have three innate and universal psychological needs, i.e., Autonomy, Belongingness and Competence, which are the ABC of quality motivation. Fulfillment of these needs contributes to students’ optimal development, functioning, and wellbeing. SDT draws a distinction between controlled and autonomous motivation. Controlled motivation refers to behaviors performed with a sense of pressure and compulsion. Autonomous motivation comprises types of motivation typified by a high level of self-determination and a sense of volition and choice. Behaviors stemming from controlled motivations can become self-determined through an internalization process, an active process wherein beliefs, values, and behaviors that were originally motivated by extrinsic motivation become an integrative part of the self. This is an identity-formation process, which is a meaningful process in teacher education.

How can internalization be enhanced? A large body of research reveals that educators’ need-supportive behaviors promote students’ autonomous motivation, well-being, and high-quality engagement and enhance internalization processes (Ryan & Deci, 2017). Relatedness support includes teacher behaviors such as expressing affection, devoting time and resources, and a non-competitive learning structure. Competence support is typified by teacher behaviors such as providing optimal challenges, immediate and non-evaluative feedback, and assistance in coping with failure. Autonomy support includes absence of coercion, affording opportunities to choose, supporting relevancy, encouraging personal initiatives, and more.

In order to create a need-supportive environment for pre-service teachers, it is important to present the SDT approach, enhance its internalization among the higher education institution’s staff, and teach them ways to implement the approach while they are teaching.

An example of implementing SDT in a teacher education institution can be found at Kaye Academic College of Education in Israel. Growth Recourses – Kaye Induction Unit adopted SDT as a main approach in various activity cycles – group work, mentoring development, schools and municipality-wide interventions, and more.

Kaye Induction Unit’s main aims are to increase the percentage of beginning school and kindergarten teachers remaining in the teaching profession, support their psychological needs, strengthen their autonomous motivation in teaching, and encourage the teachers to be self-determined and proactive. The unit also emphasizes creating an optimal environment for the absorption and professional development of beginning teachers through multisystem work rooted in an ecological approach and a model of academy and field partnership. We have developed the SDT-based workshop model and methods (self-determination pedagogy).

The present article highlights one of the most important tasks facing teacher education institutions, i.e., to create a psychological need-supportive environment for pre-service teachers as a means of improving the quality of teachers. For specific details, please contact the author of this article.

Suggested reading
Roth, G., Assor, A., Kanat-Maymon, Y., & Kaplan, H. (2007). Autonomous motivation for
teaching: How self-determined teaching may lead to self-determined learning. Journal of
Educational Psychology
, 99(4), 761-774.
Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2017). Self-Determination Theory. Basic psychological needs in
motivation, development, and wellness.
The Guilford Press, New York, London.

Updated: Apr. 26, 2017