Saturday, February 11, 2012

How Can the Five Job Characteristics Help Motivate Teachers?

How Can the Five Job Characteristics Help Motivate Teachers?thumbnail
The Five Core Job Characteristics can motivate teachers.
Just like anybody else, teachers want to feel respected by their employers and to believe that the work they do makes a difference. In any university's teacher training program, young, hopeful educators will discuss their vision of making a difference with students as one of their main motivating factors. Teachers who have been on the job for years also are motivated by these characteristics even if they do not use these exact terms when they discuss their job satisfaction.

By exploring the comments teachers make, the job characteristics that motivate them can become clear to administrators and others concerned with teacher motivation.
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  1. What are the Five Core Job Characteristics?

    • In 1976, motivational researchers J. Richard Hackman and Greg R Oldham defined five characteristics in jobs that people felt highly motivated performing had in common. If defined in terms of teaching, they look like this:
      Skill Variety: This means there is a perceived variety and complexity of skills and talents required to perform the job.
      Task Identity: Which means the teacher perceives her work's place in the district's larger plan.
      Task Significance : The job is perceived to affect the well-being of others.
      Autonomy: The teacher perceives an opportunity to employ personal initiative in order to do the work.
      Feedback From the Job: The teacher feels that he gets accurate information about his job performance.

    Skill Variety

    • A teacher motivated by Skill Variety may say something like this: "People don't understand what I do. They think I just grade homework, give tests, and enter grades."
      This disgruntled teacher will go on to explain how he creates assignments and lesson plans designed to teach students a skill while meeting state learning standards for students at his grade level.
      This teacher perceives and values his position's skill variety. He keeps striving even though he thinks others do not notice his position's complexity. His perception of his administration's seeming lack of awareness can wear on his motivation over time. This can become critical when an administration makes hiring and firing decisions based on salary level and number of years of service alone.
      To combat this, a school district administration and a community that applauds its teachers for all their "hard work" can make this teacher feel more valued. Recognizing individual teachers for their successes and for the times they do more than grade homework and give tests helps teachers stay motivated based on the perception of skill variety in their position.

    Task Identity

    • A teacher motivated by task identity may make comments like this: "I work in a good school district. Our students graduate with a solid education."
      This teacher sees her place in the big picture and will be motivated by her contribution to the district's larger goals. When each grade level clearly feeds into the next and teachers do not feel completely separated and unable to communicate between levels, teachers will work together to make sure that one grade's curriculum leads into the next.
      Communication between grades and buildings creates a big-picture view. This can be enhanced when administration allows time for teachers to meet and discuss needs and perceptions between grades and between schools. The elementary school should meet and discuss student preparedness with the middle school, and the middle school should do the same with the high school. When this occurs, each teacher sees how the work he performs fits into the entire task of educating the student, creating meaning for that teacher's struggles.

    Task Significance

    • Teachers know that their work is important, but it doesn't hurt to have others agree occasionally. The teacher with the "If you can read this, thank a teacher," bumper sticker on his car is motivated by Task Significance.
      Some teachers are driven by this characteristic. They have an eye to the future. This factor is probably the one that keeps teachers in the classroom. When students repeatedly complain about how "stupid" the assigned tasks are, teachers' unconscious perceptions of task significance become worn. If that same teacher has an administration that ignores the workload created by a teacher's classroom duties, cutting back on materials and planning time, that teacher begins to believe that her efforts in the classroom do not count, and task significance is lost.
      To help a teacher stay motivated by task significance, a school district or parent/teacher organization can try to find ways to remind teachers that they have an important impact on their students' lives. Making planning time and materials a priority would help. Some schools have used a yearly letter writing campaign from students to teachers who have had a positive influence on them. Keeping track of alumni and reporting what those students have achieved in their adult lives also helps teachers remember the significance of their task.


    • In an era when laws, standards, and political agendas dictate what needs to happen in the classroom, teachers feel less control over what they can do. The teacher motivated by autonomy may exclaim, "I am a professional. I know what it takes to do my job." This teacher wants to be given the assignment, the time, and the material knowing that he will be held accountable for accomplishing the district's clearly stated goal.
      When school administration feels the need to manage every aspect of a teacher's planning period or the way that teacher spends all time allotted to instructional development, he will lose sight of the feeling that the administration respects his professionalism. Parents who second guess teachers and undermine the teacher's decisions also diminish a teacher's feeling of autonomy.
      An administration that can responsibly release power to teachers to perform their jobs, respecting their ability to recognize situations and respond to them accordingly, creates that feeling of autonomy teachers need to feel like respected professionals.

    Feedback From the Job

    • Everyone likes a job well done. A teacher who is motivated by feedback will talk about student performance saying things like, "Look at how well my students are doing. Tommy is better at writing papers than he was when he arrived in my class, and everybody really seems to be understanding what we're doing." Teaching comes ready made to deliver feedback from the job. It comes in the form of test scores, homework grades, student attitudes, and parent and administrator reactions. When most or all of these are clear, so is the motivation engendered by them.
      When students are unmotivated despite a teacher's best efforts to modify instruction and reach them, the year can become long and hard. If teachers only hear negative feedback from the administration and "no news is good news," a teacher's perception of feedback from the job is uncertain and most likely negative.
      While no one can completely control a classroom's motivation to learn or make students study, parents and administration can strive to give teachers at least as much positive feedback as negative feedback. People who work with children are advised to give three positive comments for every negative one. This goal works with school employees as well. Be honest, but upbeat, and teachers will remain motivated by feedback from their job.


    • When all these characteristics have been met, the teaching climate should be quite comfortable and teachers should be very motivated and should be experiencing the meaningfulness of their work, feeling responsibility for what they do, and knowing the results of their work as well. All this will result in satisfied teachers and better educated students.

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  • Photo Credit teacher & students image by Luisafer from


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