Teacher autonomy: Distinguishing perceptions by school cultural characteristics

Nadine M Garvin, University of Pennsylvania


This study attempted to identify the ways in which teachers define their autonomy, specifically autonomy as it relates to control over pedagogy, curriculum, classroom environment, professional development, and assessment. The study also attempted to investigate whether or not school cultural characteristics and organizational structure mediates how teachers feel about their levels of autonomy. A relationship between the definitions and cultural characteristics was also examined. The question(s) addressed most specifically by the study were as follows: (1) How do elementary teachers perceive/define autonomy and what amount(s) of autonomy do they feel they have? (2) What school cultural characteristics, more specifically collaboration, professional development, and administrative influence; do teachers report their elementary schools have? (3) What are the relationships between teacher perceptions of their autonomy and their reported school cultural characteristics? An exploration of the literature on teacher autonomy revealed a body of work in which teacher autonomy is defined many different ways (Crawford, 2001, Pearson, 1995, Street and Licata, 1989, Rosenholtz, 1989, Ingersoll, 1994 & 1996). The study looked at these definitions of autonomy and classified them under different headings to be able to discern possible relationships between and among the types of teacher autonomy and the culture in which teachers operate. A survey instrument and interview protocols based on much of the previous research conducted on teacher autonomy, helped to explain these definitions. (Street and Licata, 1989, Kottkamp, Mulhern, and Hoy, 1987, Pearson and Hall, 1993, Friedman, 1999, Archbald and Porter, 1994). The study provided insight into teacher attitudes and perceptions toward collaboration and shared decision making in their schools. The research presents some thoughtful considerations regarding teacher autonomy. Overall, the findings indicate that the teacher participants in this study perceived themselves to have high levels of autonomy regardless of the school cultural characteristics in place in their schools. While the study did not present any overwhelming connections between three school cultural characteristics and teachers' perceived levels of autonomy, lessons learned from the study facilitate groundwork and questions for future study.

Subject Area

School administration|Elementary education|Teacher education

Recommended Citation

Garvin, Nadine M, "Teacher autonomy: Distinguishing perceptions by school cultural characteristics" (2007). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3255863.