Every person is built to develop themselves and has a natural need for relationship, autonomy, and competence.

Published July 5th 2023
Author: Ageeth van der Velden

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Citaat van Prof. Dr. Luc Stevens founder of foundation NIVOZ: The Dutch Institute for Education and Educational Affairs. 


If you work in education, you are undoubtedly familiar with the CAR model. A model in which competence, autonomy, and relationship represent the three basic psychological needs for student development and motivation.


Prof. Stevens argues that if the need for relationship ('others appreciate me and want to interact with me'), the need for autonomy ('I can do it myself, although not always alone') and the need for competence ('I believe and take pleasure in my own abilities') are sufficiently met, there is well-being, motivation, commitment and a desire to learn. If this is short-changed by educators - including teachers - then task retention and motivation problems predictably arise at school.


What is important here is that it is visible and tangible that the teacher is doing and saying the right things at the right time, even in the eyes of the students. This phenomenon, in which it is not about the competencies of the teacher, but mainly about who he/she is, Stevens calls "Pedagogical Tact."


Teaching from your heart!

I was reminded of this CAR model when reading the articles by an interview with Bar Linders in response to her book "Teaching from the Heart and Teaching from the Heart using three ingredients: a positive approach, giving space, and providing a framework.


"Many a teacher/teacher will recognize the feeling of stepping into the classroom from the love of the profession and the youth. Unfortunately, many also know when you no longer teach from the heart but from ratio, teaching methods, rules, and order. From necessity. We shouldn't want that because that causes cramps in the most important muscle we have, and just like in top sports, you can't continue with cramps."


Space to be who you are, gives space to teach from your heart!


Back to Professor Stevens' quote: "Every human being is built to develop himself and has a natural need for relationship, autonomy and competence.


Every single person! So also teachers, administrators, support staff, and other educational personnel. For them, these three are the basic psychological needs for personal development and motivation. Those who know the CAR model also know what this requires of the teacher towards the student. Translating this once to the relationship between teacher and educational institution, we arrive at the following formulation:



Teachers want to show what they can do and see themselves as effective. That requires challenge. This is only possible if the work environment is tailored to the teacher's capabilities and (basic) needs. Mental or physical absence when presence is expected, not wanting to participate (anymore) in (new) initiatives, underperforming, and not daring are often signs of alignment problems. An educational institution that takes the development of its teachers thoughtfully provides space for the teacher to set appropriate learning goals and achieve achievable results for them. A combination of high (and realistic) expectations and availability for help and support is a reasonable basis for developing a sense of competence.



Autonomy refers to the feeling of being independent. Teachers want to feel like they can do things themselves. To be able to decide for themselves, to make their own choices. This is only possible in an environment where the teacher's individuality is respected. Teachers need to distinguish themselves and make their own choices. Providing safety, space, guidance, and support where necessary and guaranteeing the connection with others is the answer. Individual freedom is essential in relation to the other and is encouraged, as is carrying one's own responsibility.



Teachers need relationships, a sense of being part of a community and belonging. Although there are conflicts in a community and people have to be considerate of each other, they feel safe. There is a sense of shared responsibility for a good atmosphere, and when things get tough, teachers can count on the support of their supervisors and colleagues. Listening, offering trust, acting when necessary, creating inviting conditions, being a good example, challenging, and supporting are essential conditions for building good relationships.

How wonderful it would be if this is or became a reality. What a space this would give for the teachers within education to develop and be fully themselves!

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