Monday, February 6, 2012

Teacher Autonomy and the Status Quo

In an earlier post I touched on the importance of professional oriented educators to improve student learning and school outcomes. One way that principals can cultivate a professional school climate is to provide teachers with autonomy. Through some of his work, Richard Ingersoll found that school outcomes, with regard to both teachers and students, improve when teachers have real decision making authority over the social issues that occur in schools. Ingersoll found these positive outcomes when teachers had the autonomy to contribute their perspectives. This is just one piece of evidence that readily comes to mind to support providing teachers with the autonomy to make a real difference in student learning. Empowered teachers are better teachers who will challenge the status quo and push student learning forward. Autonomy does not suggest that principals throw teachers out on an island (or central office administrators doing the same to building level administrators for that matter) and tell them to "just get it done." Administrators need to support their teacher and administrator colleagues as they become more autonomous.

Administrators who desire to cultivate an autonomous school or district climate not only need to support other educators when needed, but they also need to know when to back off to give educators a chance to take some risks to push it forward. Autonomy must be cultivated because it is a skill. Unless your school is filled with a load of educators who prefer to be directed from a Theory X management perspective, educators should challenge each other to practice autonomy. This is not an easy task, so when you begin to struggle, ask your colleagues and administrators the challenging questions to help you become more autonomous. That's right, ask for help so you can become more autonomous. Sounds counter intuitive, but a certain degree of dependency is needed to practice autonomy in education. And, I seriously doubt that any administrator worth his or her weight would tell a fellow educator to, "just get it done."

Here is a challenging question for this blog's readers: How can educators handle those colleagues who are not ready for the rigors of autonomy? Please join the discussion.


  1. Excellent and thought provoking post Sam. Interesting point you make about needing a degree of "dependency" to become more "autonomous." I agree with this statement and believe it sends a strong message that you can be autonomous, but not alone. It challenges educators to ask for help, direction and assistance to solve problems. For those of us who think they can do things alone, often end up alone - teamwork is key in education.

    1. I appreciate you joining the discussion, Bill. You make a great point in that teamwork is the key to education. We have to work together to improve everyone's sense of efficacy as autonomous educators. Let's avoid the "island effect" by asking the tough questions and responding as honestly as we can.