After a quick brainstorming session (via a Google Doc shared to Twitter), here are 16 things teachers consider to be examples of professional autonomy.

  1. Ability to write their own lessons
  2. Input into their teaching schedule
  3. Plan their own assessments
  4. Choose their own professional development opportunities and an ability to design it – personalize the experience.
  5. Evaluation moving away from “drive thru” by administrators and into collaboration about professional goals with administrators.  
  6. Ability to access resources through the school network as they see fit (ie. not filtered)
  7. Ability to purchase resources for their classroom & manage own classroom budget
  8. Input into school safety plan
  9. Encourage to experiment with new pedagogical styles
  10. Ability to arrange their classroom as desired.  (Wall displays, seating arrangement to suit the desired class-room environment)
  11. Input into (and even control over) student course selections
  12. Use any tech including cell phones and student devices
  13. Change curriculum when it does not fit student needs
  14. Choice on textbook if you use one (or choice NOT to use a textbook)
  15. Trusted to exercise professional judgement in determining what grade to give a student
  16. Ability to collaborate with other teachers

In his book "Drive" Daniel Pink describes the fundamental characteristics which motivate people and personal autonomy is high on his list. For teachers (and other professions) this translates to professional autonomy while they are at work. We will work harder and be more effective if we are given the personal authority over our own sphere of possible influence. Should there be oversight of what teachers do? Definitely. Should this oversight include micro-managing teachers to the point of turning us into mindless automatons? Definitely not.

At the school I work at, many of these things are already true. I can honestly say that this a major reason why I love working at this school. The people I work with are amazing too, but I have worked with amazing staff when we didn’t have autonomy and it wasn’t a pleasant experience. You can put the most amazing teaching staff together, but if you don’t give them some control and allow them to use their professional judgement they will be powerless to act to make your school a better place. 

Check out what Daniel Pink has to say about motivation.