The actions of school leaders engender working conditions that can play a role in positively (or negatively) affecting teachers’ motivation, well-being or professional practice. The purpose of this paper is to explore how leader actions might bring about positive teacher outcomes through meeting teachers’ psychological needs at three distinct levels: the intrapersonal, interpersonal and organizational.
Using a sample of over 1,500 teachers from 73 schools in a large, high-poverty, urban Midwestern school district, the authors applied a multilevel path analysis to the study of the relationships between the intrapersonal, interpersonal and organizational dimensions of teacher psychological needs and the teacher affective states of burnout, organizational commitment and intent to leave the school and/or profession.
Whereas the intrapersonal dimension works primarily through burnout, the findings suggest that the interpersonal dimension (teacher–principal interactions) primarily functions to cultivate organizational commitment among teachers. At the organizational level, cultivating a trusting, enabling work environment where teachers can build on existing knowledge and skills had a demonstrated relationship to collective teacher burnout and organizational commitment, but only to the degree that these actions serve to build collective teacher efficacy.
In addressing existing deficits in support for teachers’ psychological needs within a school, school leaders have a significant mechanism through which to affect the attitudes and emotions of teachers which precede turnover behavior. However, addressing teacher psychological needs should be thought of as multidimensional – no single dimension (either the intrapersonal, interpersonal or organizational) alone will be sufficient. Principals should expect to work both one-on-one as well as collectively with teachers to address school working conditions which support their psychological needs as learners.
Prior studies examining the various working conditions of schools have included many common constructs, but the authors demonstrate how self-determination theory could be used to unify these seemingly unique characteristics of school working conditions with respect to how they support (or thwart) the psychological needs of teachers. The authors also empirically test the relationship of these dimensions to a wide-range of commonly-used teacher affective outcomes.