Teacher Efficacy: Why It Matters and How Administrators Can Help
Efficacy—or a teacher’s level of confidence about their ability—can greatly depend on past experiences or on their current school culture. A bad classroom experience or negative work environment, for example, can quickly sour a teacher’s confidence. Conversely, witnessing student growth and working in a collaborative environment can boost a teacher’s belief in their ability and improve performance. As you can imagine, school leaders play a critical role in developing teacher efficacy within their school community. Here, we’ll explain the importance of teacher efficacy and how administrators can help teachers feel valued, confident, and successful.
What is teacher efficacy?
Teacher efficacy is when a teacher believes in their own ability to guide their students to success. For over thirty years, researchers have explored the link between teacher self-efficacy and student achievement. Research suggests that teachers with a strong sense of self-efficacy tend to be better planners, more resilient through failure, and more open-minded and supportive with students. Collective efficacy is when a staff of teachers believe that together they can inspire growth and change in their students.
Why teacher efficacy matters
According to Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning by John Hattie, collective teacher efficacy has the greatest impact on student achievement—even higher than factors like teacher-student relationships, home environment, or parental involvement.
That might seem surprising, but it actually makes sense. A teacher who lacks confidence is less likely to push students, try new methods, or push through difficulty. When teachers are confident in their ability, persistent through challenge, and innovative in their practices, students can really benefit. Anita Woolfolk, a psychologist specializing in childhood education, noted that “teachers who set high goals, who persist, who try another strategy when one approach is found wanting—in other words, teachers who have a high sense of efficacy and act on it—are more likely to have students who learn.”
Efficacy can also play a role in teacher retention strategies, keeping educators motivated to remain in their career.
So, what can school leaders do to build teacher efficacy in their school?
How administrators can build teacher efficacy
Make teachers true stakeholders
Empowering teachers to take on leadership roles gives educators a true stake in their school. When teachers have a role in making important school decisions, feel their voices are heard, and can actively participate in building school culture, efficacy is raised. Top-down, overly evaluative leadership models can lower teacher self-efficacy and ultimately demoralize teachers, negatively impacting classroom achievement. When teachers and leadership work together toward mutual goals, so grows a shared belief in the direction of the work and the ability to effect change with students.
Praise and share the good
Yes, teachers are just doing their job, but a bit of encouragement goes a long way toward building a culture of strong teacher efficacy—and remember, praise isn’t just about patting someone on the back. Effective praise in schools is authentic recognition of a teacher’s hard work and the resulting student successes. It’s also about sharing that work with others as a model of excellence. Teachers who feel valued and see positive outcomes for their students are more likely to persist in their efforts. A school that routinely recognizes the efforts and accomplishments of its teachers builds a community that believes in its members, collaborates, and continually pushes to do more. That’s some powerful collective efficacy.
Collaborate and listen
Building a collaborative environment is key toward building collective and individual teacher efficacy. Teachers need to know what’s happening in other classrooms to build trust and confidence in each other’s ability to guide students to success. They also need time to share their ideas with each other and to work together toward building school-wide best practices. Leaders can assist by providing co-planning time, exhibiting models of excellence, and hosting norming exercises for teachers to build and revisit a collective school mission. And of course, it goes without saying, when teachers are sharing their ideas with you, actively listen; actively show that you care about their insights and opinions, and ask questions.
Acknowledge the hardships
The demands of teaching can be overwhelming. It’s easy for educators to feel like they’re drowning in paperwork, lesson planning, grading, teaching multiple courses and the many extracurricular activities they generally take on. A leader who truly understands and acknowledges the workload helps teachers feel like they’re not just endlessly treading water. When a leader doesn’t assist teachers who feel overwhelmed, they can lose their sense of efficacy. They may feel like they’re failing, and may blame themselves for not keeping up. Classroom instruction, in turn, is sure to be affected. How you can help: empathize with your teachers, listen when they ask for help, and do what you can to help them manage their responsibilities. If you do, you’re more likely to have teachers who feel valued and supported in getting things done.
Provide useful professional development
Nothing feels more counterproductive than useless Professional Development (PD) meetings. A school’s staff members are all at different points in their careers, possess varying levels of experience, and have likely sat through many workshops on any day’s meeting’s topic. When teachers receive PD on topics over and over, they can feel unrecognized and stagnant, lowering their sense of efficacy. But there’s another way! Utilizing the experience of your staff and allowing teachers to self-elect PD topics, run training sessions, and share their own work can lead to teachers who are active participants in their development, rather than passive receivers. This builds a culture of efficacy amongst staff who genuinely work together to improve their practice.
Want more ideas? Check out these books on building teacher efficacy.
Collective Efficacy: How Educators′ Beliefs Impact Student Learning
Jenni Anne Marie Donohoo
Leading Impact Teams: Building a Culture of Efficacy
Paul J. Bloomberg and Barb Pitchford
Leading School Teams: Building Trust to Promote Student Learning
David M. Horton