Bowen family systems theory and its relationship to teachers: Does differentiation of self predict teacher job satisfaction?

Noal Baxter Cochran


Educational leaders are charged with maintaining the academic success of students, the faith of stakeholders in the educational process, and the growth of the educational profession. These objectives have become difficult during a time of noticeable discontent among the stakeholders of educational systems. The discontent is noted strongly among the ranks of teachers who continue to cite decreased job satisfaction as they face increased internal and external accountability pressures, declining resource availability, and reduced familial support. The resulting teacher job dissatisfaction has led to an increased need among the leadership of educational systems to develop an understanding of the issues related to the recruitment of students into teacher education programs, the new teachers' initial training, and teacher retention. This research examined the role of individual teachers' relational development as a determinant of teacher job satisfaction in an attempt to find a predictive trait that could be of future use to educational leaders in teacher training, recruitment, and retention. The concept of differentiation of self as developed by Murray Bowen's family systems theory was used as the developmental marker within this research model since it provides a measure of emotional versus intellectual governance as well as individuation versus corporate belonging. This study examined whether differentiation of self as measured by the Differentiation of Self Inventory--Revised (Skowron & Friedlander, 1998; Skowron & Schmitt, 2003) with the sub-categories of emotional reactivity, fusion, emotional cutoff and the ability to act from the I-position had any predictive relationship on teacher job satisfaction as measured using the Teacher Job Satisfaction Questionnaire (Lester, 1984, 1987) with the subcategories of supervision, colleagues, working conditions, pay, responsibility, work itself, advancement, security and recognition. The results indicated the subcategories of colleagues, working conditions, responsibility, and security could be predicted by the subcategories of differentiation of self. The findings of the research have the potential to be used by educational leaders in the development of teacher training programs, teacher recruitment efforts, and teacher retention programs through an improved understanding of the role individual developmental health plays in the level of subsequent job satisfaction experienced by the teacher.