Autonomous Teachers and Teacher Autonomy

(Published in Learner Autonomy in Language Learning (, December 2012)

Note: The statement below launches Topic 5 in the ReNLA Research Agenda Project. Please feel free to join in with discussions and research work in this area and to share your ideas and findings via the ReNLA website or via AUTO-L, the Research Network’s email discussion list at AUTO-L[at]JISCMAIL.AC.UK, if you are a member of the ReNLA,  Comments in the comment box below are also very much welcome.

Xuesong (Andy) Gao, University of Hong Kong

Paginated PDF version

Research on learner autonomy has generated a vast amount of findings that can inform language teachers’ professional practices when promoting learner autonomy. It has become a crucial matter for language teacher educators to consider what kind of autonomous teachers we want to foster, how we may foster new generations of autonomous teachers and how we may support their integration of learner autonomy in their professional practices. To this end, we may discuss the following issues;

1) Autonomous teachers and good teachers: We often talk about the need to have ‘autonomous teachers’ in order to promote learner autonomy. As a teacher educator, I always believe that ‘good teachers’ are those who will cultivate and promote autonomy among learners. However, are they the same in the students’ or parents’ or other stakeholders’ perceptions? Even we have some sort of consensus that good teachers are autonomous teachers, but then what makes ‘autonomous teachers’ unique from ‘good’ teachers’?

2) Societal/contextual influences on ‘autonomous teachers’: A plethora of publications have examined the issue of culture/context and autonomy. I was wondering if we can consider cultural/contextual influences on what attributes ‘autonomous teachers’ should be like and how these teachers could exercise their autonomy in their professional practices. In particular, I have developed great interest in exploring the representations of ‘good’ teachers in the mass media (in particular, popular culture).

3) Teachers’ prior learning experiences and teacher autonomy: there is an assumption that teachers who have experienced autonomy have a more favorable disposition towards the promotion of autonomy in their professional practices. Autonomous learners, if they are willing to become teachers, are more likely to become autonomous teachers who will foster a new generation of autonomous learners. The equation is exciting but it may seem to be simplistic as well. It may require a different set of skills for language learners and teachers to exercise autonomy in the learning and teaching process. In particular, many language teachers in various contexts have to cope with both tasks of learning and teaching. They often have to struggle alone with confusing messages from various sources, including experts, senior teachers, administrators, parents and other stakeholders who may have totally contradictory opinions.

These issues can be examined in a variety of ways. For instance, interviews and questionnaire methods can be administered among teacher educators, parents and students to gauge the differences of views concerning good teachers and autonomous teachers. Media analysis can be done to examine how good teachers are portrayed and how they affected individuals’ perceptions. In-depth and biographical interviews can be conducted with teachers to find out how they address  the challenging tasks of learning and teaching (or a longitudinal ethnographic inquiry).

If you are interested in exploring the aforementioned issues, let us work together. Please let us know which contexts and what kind of teachers you want to focus on as well as how you would like to examine these issues (in terms of methodology).

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Tanya  |  January 14, 2013 at 7:18 am

    I am interested in exploring prior knowledge and experiences of “good” or “expert” learning advisors and how this knowledge can be used to inform or influence advising practices. I think this is an area that can help in the training of new advisors. In previous research, I conducted stimulate recall interviews with advisors of 1-4 years experience and through content analysis of data, common themes emerged. It would be interesting to see results of advisors who have been advising for 10+ years.


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