Recently I spoke at the Bett conference in Abu Dhabi about teacher motivation and what schools and teachers can do to increase employee motivation. In Drive, Dan Pink advocates ‘Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose’, suggesting schools and teachers should be more focused on engaging teachers in their learning through self-direction. Learning is not something that can be done to you, it is something that we need to seek for ourselves. Teachers have a high need to be able to self-direct their own learning and a need to feel challenged and fulfilled.

  • We need to feel our work is important
  • We need to feel as though we are able to make a difference
  • We need to feel good at what we do, that our work is appreciated and we belong and feel part of a team

If your teachers have a void in their motivation then you will never have a great school it is as simple as that, nothing is more important than your people and making them feel valued. Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist who created the Hierarchy of Needs. This theory put forward the idea that humans must have their basic needs met in order to pursue their own personal growth and development. Maslow’s needs can be applied to employee engagement, see the picture below.



Picture courtesy of

  • Survival– We know this is a basic need. This includes the need to have a job, a salary that pays the bills, and a sense of financial independence.
  • Safety– When we have a job, we need to know that this is secure.
  • Belonging– People need to feel like they’re part of a team, that they are a part of something bigger. As employees, humans need to know their individual contributions are valued by their employer. If your school  is setup around team principles, then this sense of belonging and “camaraderie” should come almost naturally.
  • Importance– This need dovetails into the “belonging” need in the sense that individuals need to feel like they’re important to a team and the overall organisation. This need is quite prevalent inside of organisations such as busy schools, where the need to engage employees on a personal level becomes harder for higher level management.
  • Self-Actualisation– Most employees have some level of ambition and want to achieve more than where they’re currently positioned. Giving them opportunities for growth, learning, leadership and advancement gives them all of the tools they need to begin to self-actualize within your school’s walls. When they reach this point, and are taking full advantage of the tools made available to them, they inspire others along the way and create a ripple effect of employee engagement.

How do we encourage more staff to reach the levels of self actualisation? How do we get them to go the extra mile? A combination of ensuring needs are met and behavioural nudges.

  1. If our outstanding teachers feel like they don’t need to improve or aren’t motivated to learn, then perhaps it is time for us as a profession to raise the bar and redefine what it means to be an outstanding educator.?Hargreaves and Fullan in professional capital suggest that teaching like a pro means you are continuously inquiring into and seeking to improve your teaching and seeing yourself as part of the wider teaching profession and contributing to its development. This clearly a definition beyond someone who just gets outstanding results.
  2. There is no limit to learning and as we are the role models to our young learners, for me engaging with PL is a credibility issue, if I was about to have an operation, I would expect that the doctor was uptodate with the latest in medical research, if I needed a lawyer to represent me in a court of law, then I would expect they knew the most uptodate versions of that law and as teachers we should be engaging with the most up to date thinking on how we learn.

It is about creating that mindset shift to recognise that PD is not something that should be bolted on but it should be part of our daily practice. Also accepting that some staff will need behavioural nudges .Important also that leaders give teachers the time, space and support with the tools they need to innovate and collaborate. Curriculum making way for teaching and learning, rather than the other way round.

”TALIS data show that teachers benefit from collaboration with their colleagues, whether in professional development activities or team teaching. While collaboration may require adjustments to teachers’ schedules, the benefits to teachers’ practices – and to teachers’morale – are likely to outweigh any administrative inconveniences.” OECD TALIS 2013

What tools should we be using to innovate and how can we promote collaboration?

 There has been a rise in recent years of teachers taking charge of PL at grassroots level through Twitter, Educational blogging and Teach Meets. Twitter has completely changed my outlook, increased my knowledge on pedagogy and leadership like no other medium I have encountered. For me it embodies what professional learning should look like:

  • Continuous- rooted in your everyday practice. For your own learning to have an impact on the student’s learning it should be sustained
  • Autonomous- Owned by you, driven by you, you decide when, where and how much
  • Personalised- You tailor it to your areas of interest, subject specific pedagogy
  • Encourages self reflection- it makes you think
  • Best of all it is free and available 24/7 you do not even have to get out of bed, professional development in your pyjamas!
  • A great way to connect with like minded educators, get practical advice and share innovative ideas and resources

How do you get staff involved? Through educating them about the benefits of using it and producing guidance for beginners, a sustained mentoring approach to the use of social media.

In my own school teachers use it for consuming and learning, we’ve created our own hashtag #DESClearn to share relevant articles to our community and also a great way to share success about your school. Using Twitter is a two part process. The first part is as a consumer, where you follow people, read their tweets, and learn from them. Also think about how you can share and contribute to others learning. You get what you give! The more you feed into the community, the more you will get back from it and the more it will become useful to you.

Similarly the proliferation of thoughtful education bloggers has probably done more for the professional development of teachers that follow them than any other kind of traditional inset. I have learnt a great deal that I might otherwise have missed from current ideas about good practice to educational research and policy. Writing a blog is also a great tool for reflection. Another fab way to share your ideas, resources, reflections.

Further to developing collaboration online, Teach Meets have seen an increase in offline collaboration. Teach Meets involve getting 100 or so educators into a room, 3hrs of free CPD by teachers for teachers. People sign up to present for 2 or 7 minutes, sharing their good practice, practical innovations and personal insights into teaching.

What impact does a Teach Meet have?

Our SPARK ignites:

  • Fun and Confidence – There is a tangible effect on wellbeing, the Teach Meet bounce, an incredibly positive atmosphere and energy, there is something about having 100 passionate teachers in a room that makes anything seem poosible!
  • Creativity and innovation – thought provoking , whether presenting or taking away new ideas you can use in your classroom the next day.
  • Overcoming the OK PLATEAU- the evidence which suggests that after a few years of teaching you reach a plateau, experience alone after this point does not make you any better, but taking control of your own learning, attending Teach Meets, reading blogs, undertaking some research are ways to revitalise your teaching practice.
  • Collaboration – Great Teachers are great learners and this is a fab tool for collaboration, sharing best practice and next practice- allows individuals to build up a knowledge and learning network with other teachers beyond their schools.

PL is not an add on, once you have that mindset change, everything on the outside will change along with it. Engage with tools that put the continuous into your continuing professional development, Twitter, blogging, teach meets, engaging with with a PLC both on and offline. When you have the right people around you, you elevate your capabilities as an individual. People influence your emotions, your motivation, your actions, so engaging with the right people around you, with the right mindset means your learning and that of your students will fly.

For leaders- Top Ten Tips for staff motivation


Teacher Motivation