Fitness to teach is all about motivating teachers to love their job-Part 1

Managing the performance

When the Teaching Council brought up the Fitness to Teach legislation in the most negative way possible, I started to think if this was the best way to motivate and sustain a high standard teaching profession.

The Teaching Council( who are us, by the way) will identify the appropriate mechanism for a teacher to address shortcomings identified in their professional practise, conduct or medical fitness, giving them the opportunity, where appropriate, to improve their performance and give confidence in their ability to teach effectively. In very serious circumstances, it may prove necessary to remove the teacher from the Register.

Harold likes performance management for teachers and red ties.
Harold likes performance management for teachers and red ties. (image found on Seomra Ranga)

Ireland seems to be one of the few countries in Europe that use performance management within the system effectively. Harold Hislop, Schools’ Chief Inspector says that “this lack of teacher appraisal was at odds with the Irish civil and public service where annual Performance Management and Development Reviews are commonplace.”

The words “performance management” are enough to strike fear into any Irish primary school teacher, often citing the way that the UK has gone, basing a teacher’s worth on standardised teaching results. However, it doesn’t need to be this way.

The discussion needs to be on motivation in the workplace and how and what motivates teachers to improve outcomes for their pupils over a long teaching career. Let’s be nice and professional to each other.

What is performance management?

It sounds scary, doesn’t it? Teachers are probably imagining the principal or inspector standing over them and judging their work and worse using standardised testing to decide whether they get a pay rise of whether they get fired.  This sort of performance management has not worked, the kind where performance in teaching is solely based on standardised teaching results and an area I think will not be included should the Department of Education go down the route of performance-related pay and management.

To define it simply, performance management (PM) includes activities which ensure that goals are consistently being met in an effective and efficient manner. It can focus on the performance of an organisation, a department, employee, or even the processes to build a product of service, as well as many other areas.

All we have at the moment in terms of performance management in Irish, primary schools is the Inspector and loosely the SSE. The Inspector carries out probation, reviews and whole school evaluation. However, the inspector usually arrives in to inspect performance and then gives whole school observations and feedback and leaves it up to the school, principal and staff to find the motivation to achieve these goals.

Self-actualisation is key to good motivation levels and general happiness and optimism in an individual and whole school community. All research points to self-actualisation and responsibility are what motivates not only teachers but workers in general. You feel great when you have set yourself a target, big or small, and you achieve it.  So, motivation and self-actualisation are connected strongly. But, what if a teacher or some teachers are not motivated anymore or never were.


What motivates teachers or workers? A teacher initially may be motivated by perceived  merits of the profession like long holidays, pay, permanency and working with children. However, research shows time and time again that these things do not motivate teachers in the medium to long term.

“Teacher motivation is based in the freedom to try new ideas, achievement of appropriate responsibility levels and intrinsic work elements.” Sylvia and Hutchinson, 1985.

Surely, pay-related performance would motivate. Everyone says this to me when I bring up motivation. Again, research disagrees with this. Though, teachers will report that their biggest motivator is money when experiments are carried out to see how they are motivated, we see that money does not motivate. An increased salary does not make anyone happier in their job. It needs to be coupled with more than money and I will discuss this further below. Sylvia and Hutchinson also found that merit-pay was actually counterproductive to teachers.

It always seems that those who are always the most unhappy are those who focus on spending their money. Money, and spending it, are not enough to sustain the human spirit. Are we more than this?

I know that money is important, and can be something to spur you on, if you lack enough for a decent civilised existence, or you are saving for a house or a holiday, but beyond this, money is not for the vast majority of people a sustainable motivator in itself.

So, teachers aren’t motivated by money then, what are we motivated by? The godfather of the theory of motivation in the workplace is Frederick Herzberg’s and his book ‘The Motivation to Work’ revealed a lot about how employees engage with motivation. He was the first to establish theories about motivation in the workplace and his survey work, originally on 200 Pittsburgh engineers and accountants remains one of the most referenced in motivational study.

“The absence of any serious challenge to Herzberg’s theory continues effectively to validate it.” (

Herzberg also found that the things that maintain or satisfy an employee(hygiene factors) were different to the true motivators. The You can see a nice visual of this here.

His research proved that people are motivated to achieve ‘hygiene’ needs because they are unhappy without them, but once they get them, the effect wears off quickly – satisfaction is temporary.

So, the government and schools need to understand that teachers are not ‘motivated’ by addressing ‘hygiene’ needs such as policies, relationship with principal, work conditions, salary, status and security.

Teachers are only really  motivated by enabling them to reach for and satisfy the factors that Herzberg identified as real motivators, such as achievement, the work itself, responsibility, advancement and professional development, etc., which give a far deeper level of meaning and fulfilment. True job satisfaction is derived from higher-order needs like social responsibility, esteem and actualisation.

I’ve given you a whistle-stop tour of Herzberg and his theory of motivation. Next week, I’ll look at how that and actualisation can help teachers could keep their motivation levels high throughout their whole career.

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