The Motivation and Engagement Snapshot focuses specifically on the three core psychological needs connected to internal motivation; autonomy, belonging, and competence. The survey is designed to be a snapshot, offering a quick look at these three core needs. The survey may be given to faculty/staff and/or students in grades 9-12.

About the Survey

Schools want to develop students who show up as their best selves because it is the kind of person they are, not because they are just following the rules. Schools also want employees who are intrinsically motivated to be the very best at their job. This survey measures a school’s effectiveness at infusing their culture with the three core essentials to an environment which inspires the development of internal motivation: autonomy, belonging, and competence.

The survey instrument measures the elements of self-determination theory. Self-determination is a core characteristic of student and adult success. Popularized by authors such as David Streight, and based on the research of Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan, the survey measures the three elements of self-determination: autonomy, belonging (also referred to as relatedness), and competence. “Self Determination Theory is centered on the belief that human nature shows persistent positive features, that it repeatedly shows effort, agency and commitment in their lives that the theory calls ‘inherent growth tendencies.’” (Ryan and Deci, 2000, p. 68)

“According to Deci and Ryan, the key to promoting and sustaining more self-determined forms of motivation is through need fulfillment. According to the theory of motivation known as the Self Determination Theory, all human beings, regardless of culture, have three innate psychological needs: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Autonomy refers to the need for volition or choice. Competence refers to the need to feel a sense of mastery. Relatedness refers to the need to have close reciprocal and caring relationships with others, and to feel that one belongs.” (Ebontempi, 2019)

Does your faculty and staff feel like they have the knowledge and skills to be good at their job? Do students and teachers feel like they fit in at your school? How can schools grow and change to develop a culture and environment that satisfies these needs? School leaders may assume that they know and understand how students and staff feel in these areas. This instrument offers the ability to collect timely information and insight into these areas.


Autonomy may be defined as a feeling of choice and voice in one’s environment. Autonomy is about having input, flexibility, and freedom. It is not a lack of boundaries. It is appropriate structure and support coupled with personal freedom. “Autonomy is about an individual’s perception of having a certain amount of say over his or her life and significant issues in it.” (Streight, 2014, p. 26)

Autonomy is a core psychological need and key to developing internal motivation, but it is often misunderstood. Autonomy is often simplified as “freedom”. Autonomy is about freedom within guardrails. Freedom to choose how we do a project or who we want to work with. Freedom to design our own goals and determine our success or failure. Guardrails are the accountability that makes autonomy feel motivating. Too much freedom is overwhelming and stressful. None of us work effectively when we are overwhelmed and stressed. As you lead others to change a behavior or accomplish a goal, it is helpful to incorporate a healthy balance of both autonomy and accountability.

Example of student survey prompts: “At school, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.” “My ideas can help make my school a better place.”

Example of faculty and staff survey prompts: “At work, my opinions seem to count.” “When it comes to work, I feel like I have choices in how I do my job.”

Optional, open ended questions include: “What makes you feel like you have choices in the way you work?” and “What would make you feel like you have more freedom of choice at school?”


Belonging is about feeling connected to others, being cared for by those others, and having a felt sense of relatedness. This is all about perception. Do the teachers like me? Do they value my thoughts and ideas? Do my colleagues accept me as I am? Do I feel like an important part of the school community? Do the students, faculty and staff feel like they have supportive relationships at school?

“According to research conducted through the CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health, students feel more connected to their school when they believe that the adults and other students care about who they are as individuals. A feeling of connectedness and belonging at school is an important protective factor for youth, as well as a predictor for better academic outcomes, such as higher rates of participation in classroom and extracurricular activities. Creating an environment where students feel comfortable to be themselves is an important step in increasing engagement.” (Bernate, 2019)

Example of student survey prompts: “There are people at school who really care about me.” “There are people at school who encourage me to do my best and be my best self.”

Example of faculty/staff survey prompts: “I have received personal feedback about my overall job performance in the last month.”

Optional, open ended questions include: “What makes you feel connected at school?” and “What would make you feel more connected at school?”


Competence is confidence in one’s abilities to meet challenges. Competence is all about optimal challenge. When people find something too easy, they get bored and disengage. When they find it too challenging, they become anxious and won’t perform as well. Again, this is their own perception of their competence, not their actual ability.

Faculty and staff that can’t use their strengths, or don’t feel challenged are more likely to leave for a job that offers these opportunities.

Example of student survey prompts: “In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise from at least one person at school.” “Things I learned to do at school make a difference and will have an impact on the greater community one day.”

Example of faculty/staff survey prompts: “My job is challenging, but I feel that I am, and will continue to be, successful.” “I have all the skills and resources I need to be good at my job.”

Optional, open ended questions include: “What makes you feel like you are successful in your work?” and “What do you need to feel like you can achieve great things at school?”

The Survey

The SAIS Motivation and Engagement Snapshot is a brief survey that can be completed in about ten minutes. It may be deployed to students, faculty, and staff simultaneously, or you can choose to survey just one group. The survey is deployed via a direct weblink and can be completed on any web enabled device. Responses are anonymous. Demographic information collected for disaggregation of the student group includes gender, grade level, number of years associated with the school, and optionally race and ethnic identity. Demographic information collected for disaggregation of the faculty/staff group includes number of years associated with the school, total number of years in education or department, and primary division or department in which they works.

Survey Costs:
Member School – Faculty/Staff $200
Member School – Students in grades 9-12 $200
Member School – Staff and Students $300
Non-member School – $500 flat fee

References and Relevant Research

Bernate, C. (2019). Research insights: Where we belong. Independent School, 78(4), 38–41.

Ebontempi. (2019, May 21). Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation: Implications in School, Work, and Psychological Well-Being. Retrieved from

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68-78.

Streight, D. (2014). Breaking into the heart of character: self-determined moral action and academic motivation. Portland, OR: Center for Spiritual and Ethical Education.