How School Goals Affect Teacher Motivation and Burnout Rates

How School Goals Affect Teacher Motivation and Burnout Rates

“[S]chool administrators should pay attention to the goal structure at school and be aware of what signals they communicate to teachers about educational goals and values” (Skaalvik and Skaalvik 158).

In the United States, nearly 40 percent of teachers leave the profession within five years (Skaalvik and Skaalvik 154). Research has shown that this high teacher turnover rate is attributable to high levels of stress, time pressure, and discipline problems, among other things (153). In their paper, “Motivated for Teaching? Associations with school goal structure, teacher self-efficacy, job satisfaction, and emotional exhaustion,” Einar M. Skaalvik and Sidsel Skaalvik argue that school-wide goals also play a significant part in influencing teachers’ job satisfaction and motivation to stay in the teaching profession.

According to Skaalvik and Skaalvik, school goal structures are either learning goal oriented, performance goal oriented, or a mix of the two. The authors explain that with a learning goal structure, student success is measured by improvement and goal attainment: “Schools with a strong learning goal structure emphasize understanding and improvement, recognize student effort, and consider mistakes to be a natural part of the learning process” (153). With a performance goal structure, student success is measured by test performance and social comparisons to other groups of students (in other schools or other nations): “In contrast, schools with a strong performance goal structure emphasize achievement and test scores rather than effort and improvement” (153).

For this study, Skaalvik and Skaalvik examined how these school goal structures influenced teacher burnout and motivation. 760 elementary school and middle school teachers across 22 different schools in Norway participated in the study. The participants filled out a questionnaire that covered a number of topics, including teachers’ perceptions of the school goal structure, teacher self-efficacy (“individual teachers’ beliefs in their own ability to plan, organize, and carry out activities that are required to attain given education goals”), job satisfaction, time pressure, emotional exhaustion, and motivation to leave the teaching profession (154-155).

The Findings

  • Teachers at schools with learning goal structures:
    • reported higher levels of self-efficacy, feeling that they were able to organize activities/lessons that would help achieve the educational goals of the school
    • had higher levels of job satisfaction, due to higher levels of self-efficacy
    • felt less emotional exhaustion compared to teachers at performance oriented schools
    • felt less time pressure
    • reported less motivation to leave the teaching profession
  • Teachers at schools with performance goal structures:
    • reported lower levels of self-efficacy, feeling less able to carry out activities/lessons that would meet the school’s educational goals
    • reported lower levels of job satisfaction due to lower levels of self-efficacy
    • felt more time pressure
    • felt more emotional exhaustion
    • reported higher levels of motivation to leave the teaching profession

“The perception of a learning goal structure was associated with lower motivation to leave the profession…In contrast, the perception of a performance goal structure was associated with higher motivation to leave” (157-158).

  • General associations:
    • time pressure was linked to emotional exhaustion
    • time pressure and emotional exhaustion were linked to increased motivation to leave the teaching profession
    • teachers who who experience emotional exhaustion and time pressure are at higher risk of burnout

Skaalvik and Skaalvik remark that a performance goal structure creates an environment that may breed teacher dissatisfaction. Teachers within this goal structure may not only have unreasonable workloads, but also higher levels of anxiety because of “social comparison and…because student achievement cannot be fully controlled by the teacher” (153). Finally, they note that teachers’ experiences under performance goal structures may be improved if the school integrates a learning goal structure as well. And as as word of caution, Skaalvik and Skaalvik note that the experiences of teachers under learning goal structures may be worsened if a performance goal structure is also implemented.


Paper Title:  Motivated for Teaching? Associations with school goal structure, teacher self-efficacy, job satisfaction, and emotional exhaustion

Authors: Einar M. Skaalvik (NTINU Social Research, Norway) and Sidsel Skaalvik (Norwegian University of Science and Technology)

Full Paper: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0742051X16307855

Published: Teaching and Teacher Education, Volume 67, 2017, Pages 152-160


Photograph: Thanks to Bernard Hermant on Unsplash

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