As easy as ABC? A novel psychological approach to teacher agency: exploring the influence of affect on behaviour and cognition.

  • Karen Porter

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


Despite recognition that agency matters for teachers’ effective performance, psychological theories underlying agency have not been clearly established to date. This thesis addresses the deficit in understanding teachers’ choices to act by examining potential constructs related to agency. The thesis begins by reviewing existing theories of agency, motivation and emotions, and highlighting issues with existing research. Next, four studies are described. The first involved thematic analysis of interviews with thirteen teachers in Scottish schools about their experience of teaching during the Covid-19 pandemic. The second study surveyed 500 teachers using standardised questionnaires related to emotion, self-efficacy and agency, and resulting data were analysed using structural equation modelling and latent profile analysis. The third study involved interviewing seven teachers over four months to consider the impact of awareness of emotion on their beliefs and actions. The fourth study involved reflection on the author’s experiences as a student, teacher and researcher, examining relationships between emotional experiences, beliefs and actions. Emerging findings included that: (i) the emotional percepts of CARE, CURIOSITY, COOPERATION and CHALLENGE individually and collectively influenced teachers’ beliefs about their efficacy and choices available to them to act; (ii) deliberate inaction and collective action are forms of agency; (iii) individual differences in levels of emotional percepts reflect self-efficacy and agency levels; (iv) modes of agency differ
depending on teachers’ beliefs about choices available for action; and (v) awareness of percepts facilitates reflection, leading to cognitive and behavioural change, notably improved self-care. Theory is advanced by identifying the role of emotional percepts as a route to, or driver of, teacher agency, proposing awareness of emotional experience as an effective route to action. Findings offer the potential to improve teachers’ agency as continuing changes in circumstances affect them and their students. Future studies should examine practical benefits of the theory for teachers and students.
Date of Award29 Nov 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorDavid Ian Donaldson (Supervisor) & Paula Jean Miles (Supervisor)


  • Agency
  • Motivation
  • Emotion percept
  • Teachers
  • Teaching
  • Psychological theory development

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