How to Motivate Yourself and Your Teaching Staff

by Susanne Fuchsberger

What motivated me to write this article

The idea for this article came about during the IH inspection when the inspector, Lisa Phillips from IH Malta, asked me what I did to motivate myself after having worked as a DoS for more than a decade at the same school. At first Lisa’s question took me by surprise as I had never really reflected upon this. I had always taken it for granted that a job which involves having contact with so many people from all walks of life and which is as varied and challenging as a DoS position could never possibly become monotonous and that hence, as a DoS, one wouldn’t need any further stimulation or motivation to enjoy one’s job. However, Lisa’s question intrigued me and I found myself thinking more and more about what it is that keeps me interested in my job and will hopefully prevent me from turning into one of the stuck in their ways ‘dinosaurs’ that were discussed at the AMT conference in January 2016.

I began my quest into finding out what it is that makes me tick by having a random look at various websites and blogs related to teaching, academic management and motivation and was surprised to find a multitude of information on how to motivate students and comparatively very little material regarding how to motivate teaching staff and academic managers. As this year’s AMT conference featured a number of talks on coaching, mentoring and ‘nudging’, I assume that motivation, not only of students, but also of teaching and academic management staff, has recently become a topical issue in the field of language learning and teaching.

Intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation

Drawing on my own personal professional experience as a DoS, I would suggest that in general intrinsic factors such as job satisfaction, involvement in professional training, recognition by students as well as management, stimulating work and so forth, are at least as important, and to some very dedicated teachers perhaps even more important, than extrinsic motivation factors, such as pay and promotion.  Positive feedback from their students, a good working relationship with their colleagues and management and opportunities to develop are most probably amongst the factors that motivate teachers the most and turn them into ‘happy’ teachers that produce ‘happy’ students as Monica Green pointed out at the AMT conference.

IH London School Palermo, with one part time and 6 full time teachers, is a small school where it is relatively easy to create a working environment which facilitates teacher growth through professional dialogue with colleagues and management. The teachers know each other well and there is a lot of sharing in the staffroom. Then with a view to creating even stronger bonds and to encouraging them to develop their teaching by sharing their expertise with their colleagues and management in a more structured way, we piloted a mini research project in the academic year 2014/15, which was so successful that it has been made a permanent feature of our ongoing teacher development program.

How to set up the project

The projects are very easy to set up. The starting point is a teaching observation. During the post observation feedback I or the Young Learners Coordinator, together with the teacher, identify an area for improvement and suggest a research topic that addresses the issue in question, or the teacher him/herself comes up with ideas as to what s/he thinks would improve her/his performance.  The idea is to provide the teachers with occasions to reflect critically on their practice and to provide them with opportunities to try out new practices. When an action plan has been established it will be approved of by the owner of the school, Fabiola Cordaro, who discusses the outcome of the project at a later stage during the individual appraisal meetings that take place twice a year. The teachers then have about 3 to 4 weeks to work on their projects and finally present them to their colleagues during one of our weekly seminars.

The projects that the teachers have worked on have all been very different, depending on their personality, age, interests, their teaching experience and teaching style. Some have investigated various methodologies and theories, others have focused on the development of more practical skills. Using technology, teaching through drama, incorporating self-study with Edmodo, teaching reading skills to very young learners and using mobile phone apps in the classroom are just a few examples of recent research topics. What they have in common is that all of them have been very interesting and stimulating, not only for the teachers but also for me. Not having enough time for research because one is too busy with administrative tasks seems to be a common DoS complaint. The mini project seminars that our teachers give save me time and, more importantly, provide me with the opportunity to reflect and to be inspired.

How do the teachers benefit?

For the teachers, I would argue, there are a number of benefits, the most obvious one being that they research a topic that will develop them professionally. Furthermore, the project encourages them to take responsibility for their personal development as they are actively involved in designing an individual tailor made action plan that addresses their personal issues. As Daniela Martines, one of our teachers, put it: ‘The projects encourage teachers to become independent problem solvers by identifying areas for improvement they need to work on and seek out solutions for them.’

It is also a team building exercise as all members of the teaching staff are attending the seminar and get an insight into what their colleagues are doing. This is very important as teaching can be quite a lonely profession. Much of a teacher’s work takes place in a classroom that isolates her/him from the support of their colleagues.  Apart from the few occasions when a member of the academic management or a peer observes the class, the students are tested or complete a feedback form, teachers receive very little feedback regarding their performance, which can lead to insecurities and lack of motivation. Receiving positive feedback from colleagues could help to overcome these.

Lastly, the research projects provide a challenge, which, according to Frederick Herzberg’s ‘job enrichment theory’, is one of the most important factors in increasing productivity and job satisfaction.  Herzberg, a clinical psychologist and author of a number of publications on motivational theory, already argued in 1968 in his pioneering article entitled ‘One more time: How do you motivate employees?’ that people work better in an environment that provides scope for personal achievement, growth and recognition.  I think Herzberg would have approved of our mini projects which give the teachers ‘the confidence to be creative with new classes and to try out new ideas’ as Laura Lee, one of our teachers, put it.

Author’s Bio: Susan has been the DoS at IH London School Palermo since 2001. Before moving to Palermo, she worked for the University of Arts in London where she was a lecturer and co-ordinator in EFL, German and cultural studies. Susan has a Delta, a BA in History of Arts, an MA in Design History and more than 25 years of teaching experience.


Herzberg, F. (2008) One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees?  Harvard Business Press