The roles of need-supportive social contexts and autonomous motivation in teaching and learning: A self-determination perspective

Joseph Yap HAW

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Theses


Self-determination theory (SDT) foregrounds the critical role of need-supportive social contexts for optimal functioning. Such social contexts facilitate the satisfaction of basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. The satisfaction of these needs is conducive to the development of autonomous motivation which then leads to optimal functioning and well-being. In the school setting, school leaders and classroom teachers are the typical providers of these need-supportive social contexts. Despite the large SDT literature, there is a lack of research on how SDT’s core assertion generalizes across socio-cultural and economic contexts as much of the existing research has focused on Western middle-class settings. Furthermore, much of the SDT literature has focused on teachers and their need-supportive teaching practices. Less research has been conducted on the role of school leaders in facilitating the satisfaction of teachers’ basic psychological needs. Such a gap has critical implications since the way teachers are supported by their school leaders may influence the way they support the students. To address these critical gaps in the literature, this doctoral thesis aimed at investigating the role of need-supportive contexts in facilitating optimal teaching and learning. Particularly, it focuses on two types of need-supportive social contexts: need-supportive teaching and need-supportive leadership. This thesis examined what need-supportive teaching can do for students and what need-supportive leadership can do for teachers. This research was conducted in the form of four independent yet inter-related studies. Study 1 examined the generalizability of need-supportive teaching and its associations with students’ academic achievement via autonomous motivation across eight world cultures using the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) data (76 regions; N = 578,168). Study 2 used the 2018 PISA Philippine data (N = 7,233) and investigated whether need-supportive teaching’s association with academic achievement held across different socioeconomic strata. Study 3 tested the association of need-supportive leadership with need-supportive teaching practices and the association of need-supportive teaching with student engagement using teachers (N = 581) and student (N = 2,283) samples from 14 high schools in the Philippines. Study 4 employed both variable- and person-centered approaches to investigate the association of need-supportive leadership with teachers’ wellbeing (N = 611). Study 1 found that need-supportive teaching was positively associated with achievement via intrinsic motivation. These results were broadly generalizable across eight cultures. Study 2 found that the positive role of need-supportive teaching on academic achievement was generalizable across socioeconomic strata. Study 3 demonstrated that need-supportive leadership was positively associated with need-supportive teaching via teachers’ autonomous motivation. Furthermore, need-supportive teaching, in turn, was positively associated with student engagement via students’ autonomous motivation. Study 4 suggested that need-supportive leadership also facilitated teacher well-being via autonomous motivation. The study’s person-centered approach found two teacher subgroups in the sample that respectively exhibited high and low need support. The two groups were significantly different in their autonomous motivation and well-being profiles. Altogether, the studies make key contributions to SDT. They provide evidence of SDT’s universality claim using fine-grained operationalization of cultures. Furthermore, they provide an integrative SDT perspective on both teachers and students and what facilitates their motivation and flourishing in teaching and learning. The research offers practical suggestions for teachers and school leaders. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Education
Awarding Institution
  • The Education University of Hong Kong
  • LEE, Wing Sze Wincy, Supervisor
  • KING, Ronnel Bornasal, Supervisor
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Theses and Dissertations
  • Thesis (Ed.D.)--The Education University of Hong Kong, 2022.


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