Improving Teaching through heightened self efficacy

Self efficacy, what is it? And why is it important for teachers?

Many teachers (and the population generally) turn their nose up at research, thinking that it is something conducted in a lab with limited real world applications. Having done an entire research-based degree (psychology), I can empathize with this view.

Recently however, I have come across some interesting and very relevant research on self efficacy which can really help us in the classroom and in the staffroom. Self efficacy relates to someone’s beliefs that they can accomplish something or succeed in a particular domain or at a particular skill. Whilst it is generally considered more specific than confidence, it might be helpful for present purposes to be discussed as confidence in a particular area.

Research on self efficacy in teachers has found that teachers with high self efficacy, that is, teachers who are confident that they can assist their students in achieving the outcomes and bring about change in their students, are more likely to:

-value student autonomy in the classroom
-allow more student directed learning
-praise than criticize students
-persevere with low-achieving or behaviorally challenging students
-raise student achievement levels
-try new strategies, resources and materials
-be more flexible in the classroom

I don’t know about you, but to me, these teachers seem to be overall more successful teachers, and the students seem to benefit immensely from having a teacher high in self efficacy.

Great! But how do we lift the self efficacy of teachers?
I’ve looked around for research on this topic, but the most I have found is on boosting student self efficacy. Although some of this information is helpful, there seems to be to be other solutions which are relevant to boosting the self efficacy of teachers in your workplace:

help each other out: teaching is renowned for being a collegiate profession, though many people think this is declining with the emphasis on standardized testing. The more you can assist each other in sharing resources and ideas, the more likely teachers are to feel in control and on top of their workload, leading to a feeling of mastery.

give someone in your workplace a compliment: we all know that teaching can be difficult because it is sometimes thankless. Just commenting on how effectively a teacher in your workplace handled a situation, or the rapport they have with a difficult student, or the way they are always so organized, could be a boost for a teacher who feels as though they are struggling.

reduce emphasis on standardized testing as a means for assessing teachers: I know I’m probably dreaming with this suggestion, but consider the impact of low standardized test results for a teacher who is already feeling as though they lack the ability to help their class reach appropriate achievement levels.

But we already have enough to worry about as teachers…

The consequences of low self efficacy include the unwillingness to try new materials or teaching strategies, low self esteem, and can be as dire as dropping out of the profession, or mental health issues. Instead of blaming these teachers for reverting to a ‘safety blanket’ of traditional teaching practices, we should be looking to give these teachers experiences of success, and slowly build their perception of themselves as great educators in order to maximize learning experiences for students in their classes.

In an environment like teaching, where there is constant talk of a need to “change” our mindset as teachers and move to more student centered modes of instruction and encourage C21st skills in our students, teachers can be made to feel as if they are to blame-they aren’t doing enough (to quote @EduSum “Don’t tell me my classroom is broken!”). It can be overwhelming, even for someone who considers themselves competent. If we want to wield change in our profession, this blame culture must go. We must boost self efficacy by empowering teachers, making them and their contributions feel valuable, and recognizing the diverse range of skills which exist within the profession. If teachers have this high self efficacy, they will be more willing to try new things in the classroom, including relinquishing the control which student centered learning requires and integrating more technological tools and applications in their teaching. What seems to be a forced change will come naturally.

Let’s look after one another-tell another teacher they are great today!

Badura et al. 1977
Kagan, 1992
Smylie, 1988
Woolfolk & Hoy, 1990


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Dragging the universities up to speed. | lforner pingbacked on 6 years, 6 months ago
  2. Project #pstn: engaging pre-service teachers in the Twitterverse | Chat with Rellypops pingbacked on 5 years, 11 months ago


  1. * kelli says:

    Thank you for this post – I think you are on to something very important here. Many people feel like they are being fake, or forced, when they give a workplace compliment, but it is so easy to do and cam really make someone’s day!

    As an English teacher I think it is also really imortant for teachers to feel confident as readers and writers in their own right. Unfortunately, the teaching week is so demanding that finding time for these things – especially writing – is hard to find. Likewise, art teachers should find time for art, history teachers should find time for inquiry etc.

    Good luck finding information on teacher self efficacy in the future – maybe you will pioneer this field?

    | Reply Posted 6 years, 7 months ago
  2. * The Ed Buzz says:

    I love this and am going to share it with my leadership team. Thanks for the great insight – like we always say “fix the problem – not the blame.” Thanks reinforcing that thought.

    | Reply Posted 6 years, 7 months ago
  3. Good post Lauren. Of all things that stick to mind with research on self-efficacy, this one stands out: high-achievers are more accurate with regards to self-efficacy, i.e. they are able to better predict their ability to succeed at something.

    I think this is true for everyone. It comes with knowing oneself. So while I agree with all of the suggestions you have above, they are reliant upon others. Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for social learning and peer support. However, here’s another way: promote self-reflection through journals and blogs; it is a good way for individuals to know oneself better and thus improve self-efficacy. And you with this blog model – and promote – such self-reflection.

    | Reply Posted 6 years, 7 months ago
  4. How simple it is to do some of those things you mentioned regarding improving self-efficacy? A workplace that appreciates the efforts and positive work of staff is much more conducive to better outcomes for all than one that tends to only feedback the negatives.

    Nice post!

    | Reply Posted 6 years, 7 months ago
  5. Take 2: (wireless issues today!)

    I agree, teaching can be a very isolating profession and thank-less at times. Even though heart-felt thanks and appreciation is lovely and welcomed, we need to keep in mind teaching is very much a service orientated field and we do it for the kids. Educators who believe this are active teachers who initiate change within their students learning environments, regardless of external measures. It is a shame, often that schools are so busy that others forget to reach out and support each other (either by word of encouragement, suggestion/advice, sharing of resources or time). Mentoring is a handy tool at any level of teaching. The important point, from a purely psychological standpoint is that collaboration between educators allows for affirmation and renewal of passion and educational ideas. Your teaching career will be blessed with your mature insights AND your background in psychology. One of my greatest wishes is for this blend to squirm its way into educational settings more and more!

    | Reply Posted 6 years, 7 months ago

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