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Job support to increase teacher engagement

Helping teachers become committed to the teaching profession is important at a time when turnover rates and retention problems are a reality for many schools in Australia and many countries around the world.

Commitment to the teaching profession refers to the teachers’ sense of connectedness and investment in the profession. When teachers feel committed, it is good for their wellbeing. A higher level of work engagement also affects the teaching practice of teachers through more supportive and effective teaching.

It is therefore important to find ways to support teacher engagement – not just for individual teachers, but also for students and schools. This is my current study published in Social Psychology of Upbringing (Collie, 2021b) went on a search.

Three supports and one challenge

The study looked at three employment promotions that were relatively viable for schools to determine whether they were associated with greater teacher engagement. The supports were:

  • Helpful feedbackwhich relates to the teachers’ feeling that the feedback they received on the job was helpful in improving their teaching practice, including classroom management, content knowledge and teaching strategies.
  • Input in decision makingthat reflects the teachers’ feeling that they are given adequate opportunities to have a say in decisions about their school.
  • Leadership discipline support, which refers to the way principals work with teachers to help with class management or with discipline issues.

It also looked at a common professional challenge teachers face: student disruptive behavior. This refers to student behavior that makes effective learning difficult (e.g., shouting, being loud and disturbing).

The data for the study comes from the OECD’s Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) 2013, which involved 12,955 teachers at 827 schools in four countries: Australia, Canada, England and the United States.

It was expected that the teachers’ experiences with the three work aids were associated with more engagement, while the experiences with the professional challenge were associated with less engagement.

The study also looked at whether job aids could play a more important role in supporting teachers’ engagement when they are experiencing high levels of disruptive behavior. This was based on the idea that teachers who experience disruptive behavior may need to rely more on job aids to manage or deal with the disruptions in the classroom. In other words, when support is readily available in the workplace, teachers are likely to feel more supported and the challenging behavior may in turn be less detrimental to their engagement.

What were the findings?

When teachers felt they received helpful feedback that improved their teaching practice, they became more committed to their profession. Similarly, teachers reported having more influence in decision making and there was more support for leadership discipline, they reported greater engagement. It is likely that teachers will feel more supported in their work and have some influence on their work through helpful feedback, participation through input, and guidance on discipline issues – both of which are important in building commitment to the work.

As expected, the opposite was found for disruptive behavior: when teachers experienced more disruptive behavior, they reported less commitment to their profession.

Another important finding was that helpful feedback appeared to be especially important when teachers were experiencing highly disruptive behavior. This finding suggests that helpful feedback could be a way to reduce the undermining role of highly disruptive behavior in teacher engagement.

In particular, the study results in Australia, Canada, England and the USA were similar, suggesting that these work aids play a similar role in different countries.

Implications for teachers and managers

This study provides ideas on three tools that appear helpful in increasing teacher engagement. In terms of best practice recommendations, optimizing the effectiveness of feedback is one way schools may want to focus. To achieve this, research has shown that feedback should be targeted, specific, behavioral, and evidence-based (Brinko, 1993).

It is also important to give teachers authentic opportunities to participate. This may include school leaders seeking staff involvement in school policy, attending to teachers’ needs, and joint coordination of professional learning (Collie, 2021a). Teachers’ influence on decision-making can also help school processes and policies help teachers feel more supported about challenging student behavior.

For disruptive student behavior, professional learning that focuses on building class management skills and positive teacher-student relationships are promising approaches (Spilt et al., 2012).


Brinko, KT (1993). The Practice of Providing Feedback to Improve Classes: What is Effective? The magazine for higher education, 64(5), 574-593.

Collie, RJ (2021a). COVID-19 and Teacher Somatic Load, Stress, and Emotional Exhaustion: Examining the Role of Mains and Buoyancy in the Workplace. AERA Open, 7th.

Collie, RJ (2021b). A tiered study of teachers’ professional engagement: the role of work resources and disruptive student behavior. Social Psychology of Upbringing, 24, 387-411.

Spilt, JL, Koomen, HM, Thijs, JT, & Van der Leij, A. (2012). Supporting Teachers’ Relationships with Disruptive Children: The Potential of Relational Reflection. Bonding & Human Development, 14th(3), 305-318.

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