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Motivation, work satisfaction, and teacher change among early childhood teachers.

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. Thus, to understand the professional development of early childhood teachers, one must consider not only the individual teacher, but also the relationships and environments that influence who the professional is as a person.

In Bloom's model (2005) of the early childhood work setting as a system, a teacher's work life is nested within the subsystems of people, structures, and processes that constitute the early childhood work setting. These subsystems are nested within the overall work climate, which, in turn, is embedded in the larger political, social, and cultural contexts that influence the field of early childhood education. The teacher's professional growth is shaped by the complex interactions between herself and these overlapping systems and subsystems. Thus, to understand what motivates teachers to engage in professional growth experiences, it is imperative to understand not only the nature of the relationship between the teacher and subsystems, but also the ways in which the subsystems relate to each other and function as a whole.

Deci and Ryan's self-determination theory (1985, 2004, 2008) provides a useful framework for examining the ways in which individual and systemic factors influence teachers' motivation for professional development. According to self-determination theory, the extent to which an environment is autonomy supportive, controlling, or amotivating will influence the degree of intrinsic motivation an individual feels toward a given activity. It also will affect the degree to which extrinsically motivated behavior is internalized and integrated into one's sense of self (Deci & Ryan, 2008; Ryan & Deci, 2000). The social context includes not only the context within which the learning activity takes place, but also the larger social and political contexts within which the activity is embedded.

An autonomy-supportive learning context is characterized by the provision of positive, informational feedback, availability of choices, an optimal level of challenge, and a sense of community (Deci & Ryan, 2000, 2008). Autonomy-supportive contextual factors in classroom and school contexts include the degree of choice and control a teacher has in making decisions about curriculum, teaching methods, and scheduling; the degree of freedom he or she has to be creative and challenge himself or herself as a teacher; the degree of trust, respect, and positive informational feedback received from colleagues, administrators, parents, and children; and the extent to which connectedness between teacher and colleagues, parents, and children is facilitated or undermined.

It is well documented among elementary and secondary school teachers that the degree to which work contexts support the teacher's need for autonomy, competence, and relatedness greatly influence intrinsic motivation, work attitude, and job performance ratings (Assor & Oplatka, 2003; Baard, Deci, & Ryan, 2004; Reeve, 2002). Moreover, a wealth of literature has explored the socially constructed nature of these three concepts (Bandura, 1986; Clement & Vandenberghe, 2000; Hargreaves, 1993).

Although researchers have explored early childhood teachers' motivation for choosing early childhood care and education as a career (Kontos, Hsu, & Dunn, 1994) and their intention to stay in the profession (Torquati, Raikes, & Huddleston-Casas, 2007), early childhood teachers' motivation for professional development remains virtually unexplored. Instead, researchers have investigated a number of individual and organizational constructs related to motivation, including work satisfaction, organizational climate, and professional or organizational commitment. Bloom (2005) posited that organizational commitment is strongly related to motivation. She contended that teachers who believe they play an important role in a worthwhile organization feel motivated to perform at higher levels and thus take advantage of professional development opportunities. In self-determination theory terms, teachers whose need for competence and relatedness are satisfied have higher levels of intrinsic interest in their work and thus are more interested in professional growth opportunities. Although a direct link between motivation and organizational commitment has not yet been established, substantial evidence exists of a correlation between professional commitment and turnover (Stremmel, 1991), work satisfaction (Stremmel, 1991), work climate (Bloom, 1996), and overall program quality (Bloom, 1989b, 1996; Lower & Cassidy, 2007). Specifically, dimensions of work climates, such as the degree of decision making, supervisor support, and collegiality, all have been positively correlated with program quality (Bloom, 1989b, 1996). This is consistent with the self-determination theory claim regarding the importance of autonomy-supportive social contexts. What is needed is a clearer idea of how the social contexts involved in the professional development process interact to influence intrinsic motivation and the change process as a whole.

The purpose of the current study is to identify factors within the workplace that influence teachers' intrinsic motivation for a given professional development program, and to 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. The two major research questions are (1) What factors within the social context of early childhood teachers' workplaces are related to their motivation for professional growth? and (2) What are the ways in which motivation and work environment interact in the change process?

The first research question is addressed through statistical analysis using data drawn from the Intrinsic Motivation Inventory (IMI; Ryan, 1982) and the Early Childhood Job Satisfaction Survey (ECJSS; Bloom, 1989a). The ECJSS comprises five facets of work satisfaction: coworker relations, supervisor support, nature of the work itself, working conditions, and pay and opportunities for promotion. The co-worker relations facet concerns the quality of relationships with colleagues and degree of mutual respect and trust. This is clearly similar to the self-determination theory notion about the need for a sense of community in the social context. Supervisor support has to do with the perceived quality and quantity of feedback and support from the supervisor as well as the perceived overall competence of the supervisor. Like the co-worker relations facet, the supervisor support facet addresses the need for a sense of community. However, it also involves the individual's need for competence. As such, one would expect to find a strong positive relationship between this facet and intrinsic motivation. The nature of the work itself has to do with the degree to which a teacher's job is intrinsically interesting and satisfies one's need for recognition, innovativeness, and competency building. It includes the amount of autonomy, control, challenge, and variety a teacher experiences on the job, as well as the size of the workload and time allotted to complete it. The provision of choice is a key element in the self-determination conception of autonomy-supportive environments. Thus, one would expect to find a strong relationship between the nature of the work itself facet and intrinsic motivation. The working conditions facet includes the structure of the work experience and the context in which work is performed. Although the relationship between intrinsic motivation and this facet is less clear, a possible connection using the self-determination theory lens is that less structure or less clarity about work roles may make it difficult for teachers to identify and/or meet criteria for judging their performance. This could undermine their feelings of competence and, in turn, their intrinsic motivation (Deci & Ryan, 2008; Ryan & Deci, 2000). The pay and opportunities for promotion facet concerns perceptions about policies regarding compensation and advancement opportunities, including perceptions about the adequacy, fairness, and equity of such policies. Previous research has shown that though this facet is a source of dissatisfaction among child care workers, the individual's level of pay was not a significant predictor of any aspect of job satisfaction (Bloom, 1988, 1996), nor has it been shown to be a significant predictor of teachers' likelihood of leaving the field (Kontos & Stremmel, 1988; Torquati et al., 2007) or levels of emotional exhaustion (Stremmel, Benson, & Powell, 1993). Although low pay is a serious source of dissatisfaction for the early childhood workforce, self-determination theory would argue that it is not directly connected to one's need for autonomy, competence, or relatedness. Therefore, it does not facilitate intrinsic motivation. In fact, extrinsic rewards such as merit-based pay raises undermine intrinsic motivation by facilitating a more external perceived locus of causality and thus a reduced sense of autonomy (Deci & Ryan, 2008; Ryan & Deci, 2000). In the current study, then, one would not expect to find a positive relationship between this facet and intrinsic motivation.

The relationships between intrinsic motivation and the five facets of work satisfaction were assessed using linear regression analysis. The hypothesis is that positive correlations will be found between intrinsic motivation and four facets of work satisfaction as measured by the ECJSS--supervisor support, coworker relations, the nature of the work itself, and working conditions. The results of the quantitative analysis are complemented by qualitative analysis of data drawn from the teacher interviews. The purpose of the qualitative analysis is to address the second research question concerning the ways in which teachers' motivation and their perceptions of their work environments influence the change process.


Background and Setting

The participants in the current study were part of a 2 1/2-year research project to evaluate a professional development program built around the use of an integrated and coherent preschool curriculum called ScienceStart! This curriculum is an inquiry-based program of learning that emphasizes hands-on exploration of the everyday world science as the key to building language, early literacy, age-appropriate skills, and a rich knowledge base.

A typical lesson is structured using a cycle of scientific reasoning, as illustrated in the following example:

1. Reflect and Ask: At circle time, Kate (the teacher) asks the children to look out the window and see if the wind is blowing or not. She asks them how they know that the wind is blowing. She then reads The Wind Blew by Pat Hutchins and asks questions to help children connect their earlier observations of the wind with what's happening in the story. Then she shows the children a pinwheel and asks them what it is and what they might do to make it move.

2. Plan and Predict: The teacher guides a discussion in which the children talk about ways of making the pinwheel move and how to make it move faster or slower. They talk about how they could make it move inside the classroom and predict what might happen if they take it outside in the wind.

3. Act and Observe: At center time, the children experiment with pinwheels by blowing on them, and by using air pumps and small, handheld fans. Then they take them outside for more investigations. Throughout, Kate guides the activities by providing verbal descriptions of what is happening and asking open-ended questions.

4. Report and Reflect: Afterward, the children make charts comparing how different sources of air (e.g., fan, pump, a person's breath, wind) affected the speed of the pinwheels.


Researchers recruited participants through advertising and by contacting administrators at child care, preschool, and universal prekindergarten program sites. Researchers met with administrators who indicated that they, and their staff, were interested in participating, to give them an overview of the program prior to enrollment.

Data for the current study are drawn from Academic Year 2. The sample consisted of 37 teachers and 40 teaching assistants currently working in early childhood classrooms. Only one of the teachers was male. Nine teachers had master's degrees, 12 had 4-year degrees, 9 had Child Development Associate credentials (CDA), 4 had attended college for a year or more, and 3 had high school diplomas. Five of the teaching assistants had 4-year degrees, three had CDAs, five had attended a year or more of college, and 24 had no formal education beyond high school. Eight teachers worked in classrooms that were made up primarily of children from middle-class socioeconomic backgrounds, seven teachers worked in classrooms comprising children from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds, and 22 teachers worked in classrooms composed primarily of children from working-class socioeconomic backgrounds. Twenty-one teachers worked in Universal Prekindergarten (UPK) classrooms, three worked in Head Start classrooms, and 13 worked in child care center classrooms.


The teachers and paraprofessionals participated in a professional development program for either one or two full academic years, depending upon the treatment group to which they were assigned. The program comprised monthly workshops and on-site support visits. Workshops consisted of lecture, discussion facilitated by the professional development providers, and hands-on activities. During on-site support visits, the professional development provider observed the teacher in action, modeled new techniques when appropriate, discussed any issues that teachers had concerns about, and offered suggestions for continued improvement. The approximate length of each visit was 3 hours. Researchers solicited feedback from teachers regarding the program quality through written evaluation forms distributed at the end of every workshop, and through interviews conducted with a random subset of teachers at the end of each academic year.

Quantitative Data Collection

At the conclusion of the professional development program, participants were asked to complete questionnaires and offer feedback about the professional development program and their work environments. Questionnaires were administered at one of the final meetings of the year. Teachers and teaching assistants not in attendance at this meeting were mailed the survey, along with a self-addressed stamped envelope. Thirty-four of the 39 teachers completed the survey and 20 of 40 teaching assistants completed the survey. Thirty-three surveys were completed in person, whereas the rest were completed by mail.

Qualitative Data Collection

A subset of 10 teachers was randomly selected to participate in phone interviews scheduled at their convenience. Teachers were contacted by phone or in person and asked if they would be willing to participate in an interview regarding their experiences as a participant in the professional development program. They were told that the interviews would be audiotaped for research purposes. After consenting to participate, an interview date and time was scheduled at their convenience. One author conducted all of the interviews and audiotaped them, using a phone audiotape recorder. Teachers were asked a series of loosely structured, open-ended questions regarding their professional background: how they became involved the current professional development program; the ways in which their administration supported them in the current professional development program, as well as their professional development in general; their experience with various aspects of the professional development program; and how those experiences affected them. The length of the interviews varied from 20 to 40 minutes. All of the audiotapes were transcribed for analysis. The data consisted of transcripts and field notes from the 10 interviews, as well as analytical memos. In addition, two of the participants had been interviewed in-depth 5 months prior to the end of the project. Transcripts from these interviews also were used in the analysis.

The analytic process was based on immersion in the data and repeated sortings, codings, and comparisons, as is characteristic of the grounded theory approach. The analysis included several levels of data transformation. The first level occurred after each teacher interview when field notes and audiotapes were transcribed. The second level involved line-by-line open coding of the transcripts. Strauss and Corbin (1990, 1998) described open coding as that which "fractures the data and allows one to identify some categories, their properties, and dimensional locations" (p. 236). This process was followed by the identification and definition of categories, or axial coding. Descriptive terms were created to label common patterns or themes, and the researcher met with other researchers to verify the authenticity of these terms. Terms then were categorized. A category was created only when sufficient evidence warranted a new category. The final step involved selective coding. Selective coding is "the integration of concepts around a core category and the filling in of categories in need of further development and refinement" (Strauss & Corbin, 1998, p. 236). Codes and categories were sorted, contrasted, and compared until saturated. To increase validity, the authors met periodically with other researchers on the team to discuss the analytic process and reach consensus on categories and overarching themes.


Intrinsic motivation. Teachers' intrinsic interest in the professional development program was measured via the standard 22-item version of the IMI (Ryan, 1982). The IMI, a multidimensional measurement device that has been used in several experiments related to intrinsic motivation and self-regulation (e.g., Deci, Eghrari, Patrick, & Leone, 1994), uses a 7-point Likert-type scale format (1 = not true at all, 7 = very true) to assess participants' subjective experience related to a target activity--in this case, the professional development program.

The IMI has four subscales: Interest/Enjoyment, Perceived Competence, Perceived Choice, and Pressure/Tension. The Interest/Enjoyment subscale comprises seven items and is considered the self-report measure of intrinsic motivation. The other three subscales each contain five items. Subscale scores are calculated by averaging across all of the items on that subscale. Scores for each subscale range from 1 to 7. All items on the IMI have been shown to be factor analytically coherent and stable across a variety of conditions and settings (e.g., Tsigilis & Theodosiou, 2003). The general criteria for inclusion of items on subscales have been a factor loading of at least 0.6 on the appropriate subscale and no cross loading above 0.4. Loadings typically exceed these criteria. Overall consistency (Cronbach's alpha) for the instrument is .85, with alpha coefficients for each the four subscales ranging from .68 to .84. Scores for the Interest/ Enjoyment subscale were used in the analyses.

In the current study, the IMI was modified slightly to fit the specific activity. In every item, the word task was replaced with "professional development program." For example, item #3 of the IMI, which reads, "I felt that it was my choice to do this task" was changed to "I felt that it was my choice to participate in this professional development program." Psychometric analyses of the modified version indicated that it was factor analytically coherent (see Table 1). Overall consistency (Cronbach's alpha) for the modified version was .86, with alpha coefficients ranging from .73 (Pressure/Tension subscale) to .90 (Interest/Enjoyment subscale).

Work climate. The ECJSS (Bloom, 1989b) was used to assess the degree to which participants felt their work climate, in general, supported autonomy. This instrument assesses work attitudes as they relate to five facets of work satisfaction that Bloom identified through earlier research as being most important in early childhood work settings: co-worker relations, supervisor support, the nature of the work itself, pay and opportunities for promotion, and general working conditions. Overall consistency (Cronbach's alpha) for the instrument is .89 and subscale intercorrelations range from. 16 to .44. Thus, it appears that the subscales measure different, albeit related, characteristics of an individual's job. The ECJSS includes 10 questions for each subscale. Questions were evaluative and presented in a 5-point Likert-type scale format (1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree). The maximum score for each subscale is 50. A low score on any subscale represents negative attitudes toward the job facet. The ECJSS does contain a discrepancy component. Individuals were asked to rate on a 5-point Likert-type scale the extent to which their existing job resembled their ideal. Ratings for each facet ranged from 1 (not at all like my ideal) to 5 (just like my ideal).


Results of Quantitative Analysis

Thirty-four teachers and 18 teaching assistants completed questionnaires. The response rate was 87% for the teachers and 50% for the teaching assistants. The difference in response rates may be due to the fact that the majority of the teachers completed their surveys during their final meeting while teaching assistants received and returned their surveys by mail. Table 2 presents the means, standard deviations, and sample sizes for each of the variables in the study. Although participants' level of education ranged from a high school diploma to a master's degree, the mean level of education was a bachelor' s degree. They had an average of 6.5 years of experience (SD = 5.33) working in early childhood settings. The mean level of intrinsic interest in professional development was 5.46 (on a 7-point scale) (SD = 1.15). The means for each facet of job satisfaction (on a 50-point scale) were as follows: co-worker relations 40.85 (SD = 7.62), supervisor support 40.02 (SD = 7.79), nature of the work itself 40.69 (SD = 5.63), working conditions 37.54 (SD = 6.84), and pay and opportunities for promotion 31.54 (SD = 7.13).

Multiple regression analysis was performed to test the hypothesis that intrinsic interest in professional development would positively relate to the four facets of work satisfaction, as measured by the ECJSS. Intrinsic interest was the dependent variable. Supervisor support, nature of the work itself, coworker relations, working conditions, pay and opportunities for promotion, and job title (teacher or teaching assistant) were the independent variables. Teachers and assistant teachers were combined for this analysis to increase the sample size and therefore the statistical power. Paired t tests revealed that the two groups did not differ significantly on any of the variables, except for education level and pay. A significant regression equation was found, F(6, 41) = 15.511, p < 0.001, with an [R.sup.2] of 0.694. As seen in Table 3, two facets of work satisfaction--supervisor relations (p < 0.05) and nature of the work itself (p < 0.01)--were significant predictors of intrinsic interest, as was job title (p < 0.05). In addition, a third facet of work satisfaction--co-worker relations--approached significance as a predictor of intrinsic interest (p = 0.063). Working conditions and pay and opportunities for promotion did not predict intrinsic interest.

As a follow-up, two separate analyses were run for teachers and teaching assistants to investigate differences by job title. The results are presented in Tables 4 and 5. Interest was the dependent variable, and the five facets of work satisfaction were independent variables. The nature of the work itself was a significant predictor of interest for both teachers (p < 0.001) and teaching assistants (p < 0.05), and supervisor support approached significance for both groups (p = 0.079 for teachers and p = 0.074 for teaching assistants). Although co-worker relations approached significance for teachers (p = 0.082), it was not a significant predictor of interest for teaching assistants. In addition, pay and opportunities for promotion was a significant predictor (p < 0.05) of interest for teaching assistants, but was not significant for teachers. A possible explanation for these differences is the small sample size (n = 18) for teaching assistants. Collinearity between supervisor support and co-worker relations is also an issue.

A power analysis was conducted for regression analysis. Formulas presented in Cohen, Cohen, West, and Aiken (1983) were used. These formulas provided the sample size necessary to detect, with a specified level of power, a value of [R.sup.2] for a model with k independent variables. Power of at least .80 was desired. [R.sup.2] values ranging from .1 to .5 were determined to be of interest. Calculations were performed for a minimum of five independent variables and a maximum of eight. The results appear in Table 6. The results in this table demonstrate that a sample size of 50 with eight independent variables, as in the present regression analysis, is adequate to detect an [R.sup.2] of .40 or larger with power equal to .90 and an [R.sup.2] of .30 or larger with power equal to .80. [R.sup.2] s of .3 and .4 are considered medium level. Although [R.sup.2]s of. 10 or .20 are usually preferable, [R.sup.2]s of .30 to .40 are considered acceptable in many cases. Given that this is a new line of research, the findings can be considered a contribution to the literature. Future research, however, should include sample sizes of at least 75 to detect higher [R.sup.2]s.

In summary, results of the quantitative analysis confirm the hypothesis that supervisor relations and nature of the work itself (as well, as, possibly, co-worker relations) significantly influence teachers' motivation for professional growth. Qualitative analysis of teacher interviews builds on these findings and contributes to an understanding of how teachers' perceptions of these three aspects of their work environment, along with other factors, work to facilitate or undermine the change process.

Results of Qualitative Analysis

The qualitative data suggest that teachers' intrinsic motivation for the present professional development program can be conceptualized as seen in Figure 1--a dynamic state influenced by interactions between teachers' personal background, their work context, the context of the professional development program, and their perception of changes in the children in their care.

Motivation. Categories that emerged from the interview data as significant influences on teachers' experiences in the professional development program, and the change process in general, included motivation to teach and motivation for pursuing professional development. Teachers described their motivation for teaching in either active (e.g., "It's just something I always wanted to do") or passive terms (e.g., "I fell into it"). Teachers' motivation for engaging in professional development ranged on a continuum from extrinsic to intrinsic, with three major categories emerging: (1) engaging in professional development to fulfill job requirements, (2) engaging in professional growth to benefit their students, and (3) engaging in professional development as a means of challenging or improving oneself. For the most part, teachers who described their reasons for teaching in active terms also gave intrinsic reasons for pursuing professional growth. Louise,1 for example, is a UPK teacher in an urban child care program. She said that she "fell into" teaching. When asked about professional development, she commented, "I have a certain number of hours [to fulfill]; I had some limited choice within what's offered." The following excerpt describing her future plans even more clearly illustrates the emphasis on extrinsic reasons for professional growth activities: "I'm not enrolled in any master's program yet. That's something I will be doing in the future, the very near future; my service has almost run out [her certification will be expiring]."


Denise, another UPK teacher, fell in the middle of the continuum. When asked about her reasons for teaching, Denise responded, "I always knew I wanted to teach school." She described her reasons for pursuing professional development opportunities in the following way: "I try to find new conferences based on the needs pertaining to my classes ... one that I went to this year was on discipline, which was really important for me." For Denise, professional development was a way to meet the needs of her children.

In contrast, Kate, who began her career in elementary education but switched to early childhood education because "I knew nothing about early childhood and at that point I decided to take that challenge," engaged in professional development activities to gain greater knowledge and understanding:
   I looked into it and found that they had master's degree
   programs in early childhood and figured that would basically help
   me answer most of my questions and hopefully try to get rid of some
   of the frustrations that I was feeling, because ... I just had some
   experience but I didn't have any underlying knowledge of ... early

Karry, a veteran teacher who chose to teach because "I tried it and said, 'Oh, yeah, this is what I wanna do'," engages in professional development for rejuvenation: "I find it very exciting; it puts a little bit of zip into what I do."

Motivation within the context of professional development activities. Teachers' motivational states influenced the way they experienced the professional development program. For example, several of the teachers found the content of the workshops to be largely a review of what they already knew. Teachers like Louise, whose motivation for participating was largely extrinsic, viewed the workshops as uninteresting and a poor use of time: "The presentations I didn't think were very valuable. They seemed to me to be a review of what we already know.., you know, that's two hours I could be working in my classroom." Teachers like Kate, on the other hand, were intrinsically motivated to participate, and thus developed strategies for making the workshops more challenging for themselves: "Like I said, at the beginning I was frustrated with some of the training, but as I went on, I was using those trainings more as ... opportunities for me to beg, borrow, and steal ideas that people have been doing."

Perceptions of the work environment. Teachers' perceptions of their work environments interacted with the professional development experience in ways that either sustained or undermined their attempts to change their practice. Salient subcategories included support, choice/control, and collegiality. Closer analysis of each of these categories shows they are closely related to the work satisfaction facets of supervisor support, nature of the work itself, and co-worker relations, as defined by the EJSS. As the regression analysis indicated, teachers' perceptions of these facets strongly influenced their motivation for professional growth.

Consistent with findings in the quantitative analysis, administrators emerged as important sources of support for teachers as they attempted to implement change. Moreover, the degree to which teachers felt supported in their work and their efforts to change varied widely. The subcategories that emerged from administrative support included positive informational feedback, materials/funding, time, and support for professional development. Only four teachers reported that their administrators offered support in the form of specific comments, suggestions, or advice. In general, teachers perceived a lack of supervisor awareness ("she's hardly ever in the classroom") and lack of specific feedback about teaching practices and classroom activities.

Lack of time outside the classroom for planning and preparing teaching activities was an issue for all teachers. However, support provided within the context of the professional development program appears to have offset that issue:
   In the complicated world of early childhood, you don't have very
   much time and your weekends are very valuable, you know, whether
   they're spent in a library planning, or what not.... It was just
   nice not to have to go and buy all that stuff, spend all that time.

Administrative support for professional development came mostly in the form of release time, alerting staff to professional development opportunities, providing in-services, and, in some cases, providing some compensation. In general, teachers perceived a lack of guidance where their professional growth was concerned. No one reported having conversations with supervisors about long-range (or even short-range) professional growth goals or plans.

The degree of control or choice they experienced in their daily work life also influenced teachers' perceptions of the professional development program and their desire to change their practice. Findings regarding this category provided support and a clear understanding of why the EJSS item nature of the work itself was found to be such a strong predictor of teachers' motivation for professional development. Satisfaction with the degree of influence or control one has in decision making regarding center policies, processes, and curricular decisions, as well as the degree of freedom one needs to be creative and to challenge oneself professionally, is a central component in that particular EJSS facet.

A key issue in this area concerned the degree of choice teachers had in the decision to participate in the professional development program. Five teachers reported either choosing or actively seeking out this professional development program, whereas the remaining five felt they had either limited choice or no choice in the matter. Louise was an extreme example of how lack of choice can influence teachers' motivation, as well as the ways in which they experience professional development activities. She was clearly resentful about her lack of control in this situation. She mentioned her lack of say in the decision six times during the 20-minute interview. She attempted to drop out of the program, but her director would not allow it. Louise found the workshops to be of no value, other than providing an opportunity to talk with other teachers. She resisted the on-site support providers' attempts to work with her: "She (the administrator) went over it with me and Cassie (an onsite support provider) and tried to come up with a compromise, but it didn't really work for me." Ultimately, Louise believed that the program had no impact on her practice at all.

In addition to disliking the lack of control over decisions about her professional development, Louise also indicated that she had no role in determining center/program goals or in hiring decisions. A number of other teachers indicated that they, too, lacked control in these areas and would like to have more influence. One area in which teachers did have autonomy was in deciding how curriculum would be implemented and in daily planning. Some describe this in a positive way ("I do my own thing"), whereas others seem to experience it as a form of abandonment ("we are left on our own.").

Collegiality included peer sharing, problem solving, collaboration, and encouragement. Clearly, it is similar to the co-worker relations facet of the EJSS. Most teachers described peer interaction as brief exchanges about classroom activities. Only one teacher reported collaborating with colleagues on goal setting and curriculum planning. Conversely, several teachers reported lack of interest and encouragement on the part of their colleagues. Shelly, for example, expressed frustration at the lack of support from other teachers in her school:
   I mean, they'll listen to what I have to say, but I don't get a
   general interest from any of them that they're like--'Wow, that
   would be great. How can I do that?' I think they're pretty set in
   their ways, kind of don't want to change, and that's probably one
   of the hardest things we're having to deal with.

Issues relating to lack of collegiality contributed to the emergence of another subcategory: isolation. Teachers describe feeling physically isolated ("the Pre-K program is very separate from the rest of the building"), socially isolated ("I must say I feel like our program is separate quite a bit from the rest of the school ... it's almost like we're not part of this school sometimes"), and professionally isolated (" 'cause a lot of times, we're.., in our own little space with nobody to talk to, and it's so helpful to talk to other people about little problems that you're having or sharing ideas"). The most salient category within the context of the professional development program was peer sharing. All of the teachers indicated that connecting with other teachers, sharing ideas, and (in some cases) problem solving and collaborating with them was the most valuable part of the program. It appears that the collegiality that was encouraged and facilitated within the context of the professional development program helped sustain teachers' motivation to continue attempting to change their practice.

Change. Two subcategories of change emerged from the data: change in children and change in teachers. The three most salient subcategories emerging in the changes in children category were vocabulary, reading and writing, and initiative. Teachers reported that children's vocabulary increased as a result of using the science-based curriculum, particularly their use of science-related words. Shelly: "We would never have used terms such as 'opaque' and 'translucent' and 'transparent,' and the children really, really picked up on that vocabulary that.., it seemed that I noticed more complex words they were using."

Teachers also indicated that children were more interested in reading and writing, and they displayed greater knowledge of books and improved writing skills.

We were talking about plants and parts of plants and how a seed grows, so I found this little booklet and the kids drew flowers, and the kids were sitting there and they were reading them, you know, because we talked about colors and we talked about parts of the plant and flowers. They were very excited about making the book, so that's been a lot of fun, because some of the kids that really didn't seem interested in that before really are now. (Karry)

The teachers also described increases in children's willingness to speak up, take risks, and ask questions.

For many teachers, seeing the children in their classrooms change as a result of their attempts to implement new practices served as a key motivator in their continued change:

Initially, when I looked at some of the activities, I thought 'there's no way.' I did them because I had to and I was really amazed at the child's response to them.., so even though I've had my doubts.... the reactions and experiences the children have gotten out of them ... have proven worthwhile. (Jocelyn)

When I started to implement it and it started to work, then that's what took me to the next step. (Kate)

Four subcategories emerged with respect to teachers' perspective of the change process: change in view of the child as a learner, use of inquiry approach, understanding science, and attitudes. Teachers' view of the child as a learner changed in one of two ways: change in teachers' view of how a child learns or change in teachers' view of a child's capabilities. Some teachers indicated that they had adopted an inquiry-based method of planning (planning wheel provided by the professional development program). Some teachers indicated not only that they adopted inquiry based planning, but also that the inquiry approach characteristic of the program had become an automatic way of thinking and talking across classroom activities.

The above category and the final category--greater openness to new ideas--emerged only among the three teachers who displayed high levels of motivation and felt their work environment provided adequate support, choice, and collegiality:

Researcher: "Yeah--if I had asked you, like, 3 years ago what is science, what would you have said?"

Kate: "I probably wouldn't have thought of it on a preschool level first of all.... When I think science, I think chemistry, you know, you're at a table.., things like that.., but now, it's more exploration, it's more discovery, and it's more of ... there's more science going on in a classroom, I think, than any other thing, because those kids are discovering constantly. So I think that that's a view that really has changed for me."


The results suggest that teachers' perceptions of the workplace and of the professional development context itself influenced their intrinsic motivation for the professional development program. In addition, the degree to which teachers felt that the children in their care changed as a result of their efforts served as a powerful motivator to continue their professional growth efforts. Using self-determination theory as the framework, it is possible to examine how the various systems interact to influence teachers' intrinsic interest in the professional development program.

One would expect to find that the degree of choice, level of challenge, and sense of community within the work context and the context of the professional development itself would be important influences on teachers' motivation for this professional development program. Findings from the quantitative and qualitative analyses offer support for this notion.

First, the quantitative data suggest a strong positive empirical relation between intrinsic motivation and the nature of the work itself facet of work satisfaction for teachers and teaching assistants. Nature of the work itself is a facet that includes one's satisfaction with the degree of influence or control one has in decision making regarding center processes and curricular decisions, as well as the degree of freedom one needs to be creative and challenge oneself professionally--key components in an autonomy-supportive environment as defined by self-determination theory. Thus, it is not surprising that teachers and teaching assistants who indicated higher levels of satisfaction with this facet of work satisfaction also displayed higher levels of intrinsic motivation. This finding was supported by the qualitative data. In general, teachers reported that they did not have as much influence in decision making regarding center policies and processes as they would like. Teachers who were more satisfied with the degree of choice in their work environment also exhibited higher levels of intrinsic interest in the professional development program.

The positive correlation between intrinsic motivation for the professional development program and perceived supervisor support lends support for the importance of self-determination theory's notion of positive informational feedback. The supervisor support facet includes the perceived quality and quantity of feedback and support from the supervisor, as well as the teacher's perception of the supervisor's overall competence. In self-determination terms, this facet involves the need for relatedness and competence. Qualitative data support this finding. Less than half of the teachers interviewed believed that their supervisors were aware of what was going on in the classroom or provided specific feedback about teaching practices and classroom activities. Moreover, conversations specifically about short- or long-term professional goals simply didn't take place.

These findings are consistent with prior research indicating a strong empirical relation between supervisor support and work satisfaction (Ross, 1984), an inverse relationship between supervisor support and rates of burnout in early childhood teachers (Stremmel et al., 1993), and a positive correlation between quality of administrative practice and overall program quality (Lower & Cassidy, 2007). Lower and Cassidy (2007) pointed to a shortage of programs available to prepare early childhood administrators for their leadership role, and a lack of clarity about early childhood administrators' responsibilities. They advocated requiring 4-year degrees for administrators.

In the initial analysis, the correlation between intrinsic motivation and co-worker relations approached significance, but was not as strong as hypothesized. However, the follow-up analysis revealed that co-worker relations was a significant predictor of intrinsic motivation for teachers, but not for teaching assistants. Collinearity with supervisor support and lack of statistical power, due to the small sample size for teaching assistants (n = 18), may account for this result.

In general, teaching assistants displayed lower levels of intrinsic motivation for the professional development program. This is not surprising, given Bloom's (1989b) findings that differences in levels of early childhood workers' professional orientation corresponded to their role in the organizational hierarchy. What was unexpected, however, was the finding that pay and opportunities for promotion was a significant predictor of intrinsic motivation for teaching assistants. It was not a significant predictor of intrinsic motivation for teachers. Although it is possible that, once again, small sample size and collinearity account for this finding, it's also possible that the two groups are different in this respect. In general, teacher assistants are more subject to extrinsic forces in the work place than teachers are. They are subordinates to teachers in terms of salary and benefits and are, for the most part, treated as such. That is, they have little to no input in decisions regarding center policies and processes, daily curriculum planning, or often even with whom they work. They are also far more likely to have no choice concerning participation in professional development activities. Indeed, in the current study, several of the administrators required teaching assistants to participate. It may be that this lack of control contributes to an overall focus on external factors when it comes to the workplace, thus raising the significance of pay as a predictor of interest in professional growth. Alternatively, it may be that the teaching assistants who are paid more also work in environments that are, in general, more supportive of the staff's interest in and pursuit of professional growth. Further study using larger samples and interviews of teachers and teaching assistants is needed to explore this question.

Qualitative analysis reveals several key findings that illustrate the ways in which motivation and work climate interacted with the context of the professional development program itself. One striking finding is that half of the teachers reported feeling they had little or no choice regarding the decision to participate in the program. Either their administrator required them to participate, or they felt they needed to participate to fulfill state or workplace requirements regarding the number of hours of professional development. To varying degrees, these teachers were resentful about having to participate; consequently, they displayed less intrinsic motivation. This has serious implications for the process by which early childhood teachers are recruited to participate in professional development programs, and for the process by which administrators guide their staff in making decisions about professional development.

Perhaps the most significant finding that illustrates the ways in which interactions between work and professional development sustain intrinsic motivation concerns the relationship between teachers' perceptions of changes in the children in their care and teachers' motivation to continue their efforts in the professional development program. When teachers perceived changes in the children as a result of their participation in the professional development program, they were strongly motivated to continue their efforts toward change in practice. A possible explanation in self-determination terms is that seeing changes in the children that they perceived to be a result of their participation in the professional development program increased teachers' feelings of competence and thus their intrinsic motivation for the professional development program. Future research should explore the ways in which teachers formally and informally assess child outcomes, as well as the ways in which they interpret these assessments in terms of their teaching practice.


The small sample size of the current study limits the statistical power in the analyses. Thus, it is possible that some of the independent variables, such as education level and work experience, that were not found to be significant predictors in the regression models may actually be significant. This issue needs to be addressed in future studies. Moreover, the data is correlational, due the fact that it was all collected at one time (at the end of the project), thereby limiting the ability to assert causal relationships or note changes over time in teachers' responses to interview questions. Also, though other researchers on the team participated in the analysis, the teachers themselves were not given an opportunity to review the analysis and refine or alter categories. Their participation in the analysis would have increased the validity of the findings. Additionally, teaching assistants were not interviewed in the current study. Thus, the findings can be applied only to teachers. Finally, findings are qualified by the fact that many of the teachers and teaching assistants did not perceive their participation in the professional development program as voluntary. This issue could be addressed in future studies by conducting individual interviews with participants prior to their enrollment in the professional development program. Such interviews would provide a "pretest" measure of participants' intrinsic interest and insight into the number and degree of extrinsic motivators that may be influencing their decision to participate.


Findings from the current study indicate that teachers' motivation for professional growth influences--and is influenced by--the interactions between the individual teacher, the context of the professional development activity itself, and the teacher's work environment. Given that federal mandates regarding the number of hours of participation in professional development already reduce the level of choice that early childhood teachers have with regard to professional development, it is crucial for administrators and designers of professional development experiences to structure the work and professional development contexts in ways that empower teachers.

The contexts of professional development activities themselves should encourage individuals to engage in learning activities that are at an optimal level of challenge, offer choices, and build a sense of community (Deci & Ryan, 1995, 2004). Moreover, activities should be structured to help teachers build an understanding of the ways in which they influence and are influenced by the systems within which their work is embedded. Results of the qualitative analysis indicating that changes in child behavior motivate teachers to continue their efforts to modify their practice suggest that an effective starting point would be to focus on the ways in which children's behavior affects and is affected by teachers' classroom practices. Helping teachers learn a variety of methods for assessing children's growth, and building an understanding of the connection between child and teacher change, provides a meaningful way for teachers to begin to understand the relations between themselves, their work environment, and their attempts to change their practice.

Work environments must be structured to facilitate interest in professional growth and be supportive of teachers' attempts to change. First, administrator support should be provided in the form of positive informational feedback concerning teachers' classroom practice and professional development goals. Second, positive co-worker relations should be facilitated by structuring physical layout, planning time, and program policies and processes in ways that promote trust, respect, and collaboration. And, third, autonomy should be facilitated by assessing the ways in which decisions are made regarding center programs and policies--particularly, decisions concerning what professional development opportunities.

DOI: 10.1080/02568541003635268

Submitted March 19, 2009; accepted June 27, 2009.


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Brigid Daly Wagner and Lucia French

University of Rochester, Rochester, New York

The research reported here was supported by an Early Childhood Educator Professional Development award to the second author from the U.S. Department of Education, Grant Number S349A01071.

Address correspondence to Brigid Daly Wagner, Warner Graduate School of Education and Human Development, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY 14627. E-mail:


(1.) For confidentiality purposes, all names used here are pseudonyms.
Eigenvalues and Percent Variance Explained for Factors in the
Modified Version of the Intrinsic Motivation Inventory

Factor               Eigenvalue   % of Variance

Interest/Enjoyment      6.93          31.49
Choice                  4.16          18.92
Competence              3.05          13.84
Pressure/Tension        1.82           8.23

Means and Standard Deviations for Variables in the Study

Variable                                   M         SD      N

Education                             B.S. degree   ...     54
Experience                             6.5 yrs      5.33    54
Interest                               5.46         1.15    50
Co-worker relations                   40.85         7.62    50
Supervisor support                    40.02         7.79    50
Nature of the work itself             40.69         5.63    50
Working conditions                    37.54         6.84    50
Pay and opportunities for promotion   31.54         7.13    50

Facets of Work Satisfaction as Predictors of Interest

Independent Variable   B parameters    SE     t value   p value

Constant               -0.274         0.748   -0.366    0.716
Supervisor relations    0.049         0.019    2.601    0.013 *
Work itself             0.075         0.022    3.445    0.001 **
Co-worker relations     0.037         0.019    1.912    0.063
Working conditions      0.010         0.019    0.536    0.595
Pay                     0.015         0.015    0.983    0.331
Job title              -0.464         0.211   -2.198    0.033 *
Education level         0.186         0.068    0.085    0.993
Experience              0.351         0.231    1.519    0.137

[R.sup.2] = 0.694, F(8, 50) = 15.511, p < 0.001.

Facets of Work Satisfaction as Predictors of Interest: Teaching

Independent Variable   B parameters   SE      t value   p value

Constant               -2.515         1.586   -1.586    0.139
Supervisor relations    0.047         0.025    1.32     0.074
Work itself             0.082         0.034    2.38     0.032 *
Co-worker relations     0.054         0.056    0.954    0.359
Working conditions      0.007         0.039    0.182    0.858
Pay                     0.060         0.027    2.235    0.045 *

[R.sup.2] = 0.702, F(5, 18) = 5.655, p < 0.01.

Facets of Work Satisfaction as Predictors of Interest: Teachers'

Independent Variable   B parameters    SE     t value   p value

Constant               -1.278         0.875   -1.461    0.157
Supervisor relations    0.044         0.024    1.837    0.079
Work itself             0.150         0.035    4.321    0.000 **
Co-worker relations     0.039         0.021    1.817    0.082
Working conditions     -0.028         0.021   -1.191    0.245
Pay                    -0.014         0.019   -0.737    0.468

[R.sup.2] = 0.744, F(5, 34) = 13.953, p < 0.001.

Power Values for Phase I Power Analysis

Power    k    [R.sup.2]   Minimum n

80%      5       .10         122
                 .20          57
                 .25          45
                 .30          37
                 .40          25
                 .50          19
80%      6       .10         130
                 .20          61
                 .25          48
                 .30          39
                 .40          28
                 .50          21
80%      7       .10         137
                 .20          65
                 .25          57
                 .30          41
                 .40          30
                 .50          22
80%      8       .10         145
                 .20          70
                 .25          55
                 .30          45
                 .40          32
                 .50          25
90%      5       .10         154
                 .20          72
                 .25          56
                 .30          45
                 .40          31
                 .50          22
90%      6       .10         164
                 .20          77
                 .25          59
                 .30          48
                 .40          33
                 .50          24
90%      7       .10         173
                 .20          81
                 .25          63
                 .30          52
                 .40          36
                 .50          24
90%      8       .10         181
                 .20          86
                 .25          67
                 .30          54
                 .40          38
                 .50          29
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Author:Wagner, Brigid Daly; French, Lucia
Publication:Journal of Research in Childhood Education
Article Type:Report
Date:Apr 1, 2010
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