Teacher autonomy in the classroom

This is an update to a blog prompted by the #UKEdChat held on the 7th April 2016.The issue of Autonomy in schools is once again in the news thanks to this TES piece from Mary Bousted

It is my thoughts based on my experience only. An audio version is included below.


I believe an autonomous teacher can only exist in a school with confident leadership. Maybe I should add a caveat. Autonomous teachers can only thrive in a school with confident leadership.

Autonomous teachers can only thrive in a school with confident leadership..jpg

By autonomous teacher I mean, an independent teacher who is happy (and supported) to not need to ask for permission when they have an idea. Not necessarily a maverick pushing boundaries, but a trusted professional who is free to develop their pedagogical practice in a way that is best for their learners.


An autonomous classroom cannot be micromanaged. Why? Because once you as a teacher are forced to defend, and support every decision, you start to lose the motivation required to be successfully autonomous. You will probably doubt yourself. If you work in a school where every idea that counts comes from above, where your voice isn’t listened to you will not be able to thrive, and develop a classroom ethos that reflects you. Ultimately this will reduce the enjoyment you get from teaching, it will stifle your innovation and ability to be the best teacher you can be.

One of the reasons I went for my first leadership position was to regain the autonomy that had been eroded from me as a teacher under a previous manager. Really my motivation was not to have someone telling me what to do on a day to day (even hour to hour) basis.

As I work in SEN it is essential that I and the teachers in my department have the confidence to act autonomously in all areas of classroom management. Unless you are in a challenging class for extended periods, and know the students in depth why do you have the right to dictate strategies? I will suggest ideas, support and ensure procedures are followed but I will never control teaching style, lesson content, or timings. I will be visible and the teacher (as I am as a teaching member of the leadership team) will be accountable for the safety care and education of their children. I need them to be confident and happy that they are trusted to make informed professional decisions in the best interests of their students.


Part of this is ensuring the teaching staff are confident. I believe the best way to do this is to model expectations and support, support, support my staff at all times. Autonomy requires resilience. Because not everything will go right. A classroom is a dynamic environment, constantly reacting and adapting to challenges. I need teachers and leaders who will acknowledge mistakes, but also see them as an opportunity to develop further. Often it can be  tempting to use an error to impose more and more control over your team. It is not it is an opportunity to step up and work together to learn from these issues.

And that brings us to the main requirement for autonomy – seeing yourself as a professional, capable learner.recite-ivwn9z.png



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