Teacher autonomy: Why do teachers want it, and how do principals determine who deserves it?

Dennis Patrick O'Hara, University of Pennsylvania


Personal experience as both a classroom teacher and an administrator suggests that teachers need a great deal of autonomy if they are going to be life-long learners, and effective in the classroom if they are to be life-long learners, decision makers, leaders, and are to provide effective instruction for all students. However, in allowing autonomy, leaders must be cautious, constantly monitoring whether teachers are using their autonomy for the good of their students, or if teachers are hiding behind autonomy---using it as a shield from progress. What is intriguing about teacher autonomy is not the belief that it is necessary, but that it is a double-edged sword. In allowing and providing autonomy for teachers, one must be certain those who desire autonomy have good intentions. As important as autonomy is, there is the potential for teachers to misuse it. The researcher sees autonomy as a potential obstruction to progress. As a leader, how can one be sure that a teacher, left to his/her own devices and permitted to be completely autonomous, is using his/her autonomy for good? For this research study, data were gathered through formal interviews of a carefully selected sample of K--12 teachers and principals over several months and then analyzed by first grouping responses to the question of why teachers want autonomy, and then characterizing teachers according to their descriptions of their best professional development experience and successful lessons. The results show that professionals in the field, both principals and teachers identify positive and negative reasons for teachers wanting autonomy. Additionally, characteristics that will help principals identify which teachers deserve autonomy were discovered.

Subject Area

School administration|Teacher education

Recommended Citation

O'Hara, Dennis Patrick, "Teacher autonomy: Why do teachers want it, and how do principals determine who deserves it?" (2006). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3227718.