Autonomy: the ability to feel independent and able to act on the world in a way that matches one’s desires

Competence: the ability to feel effective in what one does

Relatedness: the ability to feel connected with others and a sense of belonging

These three psychological needs or “nutriments” are the central tenets of Ryan and Deci’s Self-Determination Theory[1]. This theory suggests that in personal and professional settings, the meeting of these needs is necessary for individuals to thrive.

Research has shown that workplaces which foster self-determination have high numbers of satisfied employees, who play a key role in delivering organisational success[2]. Schools embarking on instructional coaching often overlook this when designing and implementing programmes. The outcome can be that coaching is seen by teachers as ‘just another initiative’ and the opportunity to develop teachers’ intrinsic motivation to improve themselves professionally is lost, meaning in turn that the impact of the programme is reduced.

The ideas behind Self-Determination Theory underpin Educe’s approach to instructional coaching, representing a central design feature of our ICIC (Instructional Coaching In Context) programme. At the heart of this is the ICC Coaching Cycle (see figure). Each stage of the cycle is designed to facilitate a focused, incremental approach to professional development, through an approach which both recognises the importance of, and engenders, self-determination in teachers. In this blog we explore ways in which the first stage of the ICIC Coaching Cycle does this.

 Unlike some other approaches to instructional coaching, the ICIC Coaching Cycle does not launch straight into identifying areas of teaching practice to be developed. With the ‘What Matters’ stage it begins with the coach providing an opportunity for the teacher to reflect on their professional drivers – What matters most for them as an educator? What matters most for the children they educate? What matters most for them in their practice? This helps establish, from the very beginning, a relationship which is about the coachee and their priorities, rather than the coach’s agenda; an important way to create a sense of autonomy in the teacher.

This stage of the ICIC Coaching Cycle also provides the teacher with an opportunity to appreciate themselves and what they achieve as a professional. The coach uses questions to encourage the coachee to do something that does not come naturally to many teachers: to reflect on the positive impact they have in the classroom every day.  Allowing them to focus in on their strengths, before moving on to thinking about how to build on these, feeds a teacher’s sense of competence,

Finally, drawing on research which shows that instructional coaching partnerships have a more profound effect when coach and coachee experience a truly trusting and psychologically safe relationship, the ‘What Matters’ stage includes a ‘contracting element’, designed to create just this. By exploring and then committing to follow the ICIC REGARD values (Respectful, Empathetic, Generous, Affirming, Robust, Dauntless), coach and coachee are creating the foundations for a meaningful and impactful working relationship, which feeds into the teacher’s experience of relatedness.

In this blog, we have focused on just one stage of the ICIC Coaching Cycle and explored how its design helps to foster self-determination in teachers. The remaining elements of the cycle and the wider ICIC programme also play a part in enabling coachees to experience autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Indeed, ICIC’s approach to measuring impact includes a survey which teachers are invited to complete at intervals, allowing schools to track how their team is experiencing the programme from various perspectives, including its impact on their feelings of self-determination and motivation.

To find out more about ICIC, please email

[1] Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25, 54–67

[2] Rigby CS, Ryan, RM. Self-determination theory in human resource development: New directions and practical considerationsAdv Develop Human Resourc. 2018;20(2):133-147. doi:10.1177/1523422318756954

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