Teacher Autonomy, Control, & the Grace of God

To what extent do teachers need control versus autonomy? To what extent should leaders seek others’ input, or simply be directive? Whether a school leader’s approach closely manages and controls teacher activity, or encourages high levels of autonomy and freedom, the trusted leader knows neither approach is successful without healthy and positive relationships. This discussion takes on a completely different nuance when considered from a Christian school perspective.

The international body of research pertaining to effective leadership in educational contexts is vital in informing leaders in all types of schools. Though these insights are relevant to effective leadership in religious schools, they are not entirely sufficient for the development of leaders in these schools. Religious schools have special characteristics of their own.[1]

One very “special characteristic” is that trusted Christian school leaders recognize their own sinfulness and need of grace. When leaders understand their need for grace, they are far more likely to interact with others in a graceful manner.

In classroom management and school-wide discipline, the maxim ‘rules without relationships lead to rebellion’ must be emphasized as teachers and administrators deal daily with their own sinful actions and attitudes, sinful students, broken and decaying buildings and equipment, and other realities of a fallen world. Sin is very real, but God’s grace is sufficient.[2]

Note that Drexler reminds us that God’s grace is sufficient! Understanding of the grace of God is the foundation of the Christian school leaders’ ability to manage compassionately their school. All types of management styles, practices, and protocols are employed with varying levels of administrative control; but in a Christian school, those leadership practices must be filtered through a Biblical worldview.

The trusted Christian school leader keeps in mind that the school has a professional and insightful faculty and staff (if the leaders have conducted their recruitment responsibly), who should have a large voice in determining the direction of school improvements. Trusted school leaders intentionally distribute their leadership without abdicating responsibility. Teachers have as much autonomy as possible.

Trusted leaders value their team’s expertise and deliberately seek opportunities to solicit input. However, it is also important to note that “Ultimately, teacher autonomy’s success as a strategy for K–12 improvement is dependent on whether groups of teachers seek autonomy and use it to advance teaching and learning” rather than advancing personal  agendas.[3]

©2016 Toby A. Travis, Ed.D.


[1] Michael Buchanan, Leadership and Religious Schools: International Perspectives and Challenges (New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2013), 166-169, Kindle.

[2] James Drexler, Schools as Communities (Colorado Springs: Purposeful Design Publications, 2007), 275-277, Kindle.

[3] Kim Farris-Berg and Edward J. Dirkswager, Trusting Teachers with School Success (New York: R&L Education, 2013), 256-257, Kindle.

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