Date Approved


Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department or School

Leadership and Counseling

Committee Member

David Anderson, PhD

Committee Member

Jaclynn Tracy, PhD

Committee Member

Murali Nair, PhD

Committee Member

James Berry, PhD


Background: The current high stakes standardized testing mandate, wherein school funding and other resources depend on successful student test performance, makes student motivation especially important. This study seeks to examine factors affecting K-5 teachers’ ability to recognize different types of student motivation behaviors and identify corresponding interventions. The study focuses on an aspect of motivation known as goal orientation, which has been found to manifest in two basic types: ego orientation and task orientation.

Purpose: The study assesses the relationship between elementary teachers’ goal orientations and their teaching environment, and their ability to recognize ego- and task-oriented behaviors and interventions.

Setting and Subjects: All K-5 teachers from schools in the Eastern Upper Peninsula Intermediate School District in Michigan.

Data Collection and Analysis: The survey consisted of background questions followed by a series of scenarios of student avoidance behaviors, after which respondents were asked if they were familiar with such behaviors, and then asked to select from a list of interventions. The scenarios were designed to depict the ego- and task-oriented avoidance behaviors. The interventions were taken from the commonly used Guide to Behavioral Interventions and organized into ego- or task-oriented approaches. Respondents were asked to select from lists of both types of interventions.

Findings: The results showed that 57% of respondents successfully identified the respective orientations in behaviors and interventions. Success was correlated to teaching approaches that include interaction between teacher and student and collaboration on individual learning goals, to teachers’ receipt of professional development, and to teachers who themselves tend toward task-orientation. The slim margin of overall success on the survey points to significant challenges in policies and practices contrary to those correlating to success.

Conclusions: The study suggests the descriptive and practical utility of the ego, and task, goal-orientation models. For educational leaders, the survey points to the importance of motivation as a subject in teacher preparation and professional development, and the efficacy of policies for teaching philosophies that enable teacher-student interaction and collaboration on individual learning goals. Ironically, the pressure and method of standardized testing often militates against the practice of more individuated, task-oriented teaching models.

Implications on research: Further research includes expanding the study’s demographic sample as well as examining motivation in different subjects and circumstances. In addition, further examination is needed of the way in which standardized testing forces teachers to adopt approaches counter to the best practices suggested by the study.