The concept of self-efficacy was pioneered by Albert Bandura (1925–) who characterized self-efficacy as the extent to which individuals believe they can organize and execute actions necessary to bring about a desired outcome. Self-efficacy is fundamentally concerned with the execution of control rather than the outcome action produces.
In 1984, Patricia Ashton (1946–) published a groundbreaking study that fundamentally expanded the concept of efficacy to include the extent to which teachers feel confident they are capable of bringing about learning outcomes. Ashton identified two dimensions of teaching efficacy: general, the extent to which a teacher believes her students can learn material; and personal, the extent to which a teacher believes her students can learn under her instruction. Ashton argued that teachers' beliefs
about their ability to bring about outcomes in their classrooms, and their confidence in teaching in general, play a central role in their abilities to effectively serve their students. Since then, studies of teaching efficacy and its inclusion in studies of teacher effectiveness have grown exponentially.
Subsequent understandings of teaching efficacy have refined Ashton's understanding of personal efficacy. In a seminal review of teacher efficacy, Megan Tschannen-Moran (1956–) and Anita Woolfolk Hoy (1947–) operationalized teachers' sense of control over student outcomes in the Teachers' Sense of Efficacy Scale (TSES) (Tshannen-Moran & Woolfolk Hoy 2001). Rather than thinking about efficacy as a proxy for a global sense of confidence, they defined teacher efficacy as teachers' perceptions of their resources and strategies for bringing about student behavioral and instructional outcomes. Rather than ask, “How much can you help your students think critically?” the TSES asks, “How much can you do to help your students think critically?” This minor change in wording illustrates a critical issue in teacher efficacy research: that teachers' sense of efficacy reflects the judgments they make about their capabilities given the emotional and instrumental resources they can gather in a specific context. Because teachers' judgments of their resources and strategies may vary across teaching contexts, Woolfolk Hoy argues that teachers' efficacy beliefs may not be uniform across all disciplines or even across all student populations. It is therefore important to account for context and discipline in order to accurately assess teacher efficacy.
Tshcannen-Moran and colleagues (1998) developed a model of teacher efficacy identifying the ways in which efficacy judgments result as a function of the interaction between teachers' analysis of teaching task in context and their teachers' assessment of their personal teaching capabilities as they relate to the task (see Figure 1). In addition, Bandura also identified four specific sources of efficacy beliefs: mastery experiences, vicarious experiences, verbal persuasion, and arousal. Mastery experiences are direct encounters with success through engagement in a behavior that brings about a desired outcome. For example, student-teachers who facilitate laboratory experiments in which students demonstrate conceptual understanding may believe their actions led to student learning. These judgments are likely to increase their efficacy for conducting lab experiments in the future. This may be why some studies have found a connection between teacher education course-work and pre-service teacher efficacy. If student-teachers watch experienced teachers successfully facilitate laboratory experiments, they might also develop a sense of efficacy because they saw how to implement the actions necessary to bring about students' success. This would be an example of a vicarious, or observed experience leading to higher efficacy.
When student-teachers do not have opportunities to observe, their mentor teachers might remind them of the teaching skills they have developed and provide them with specific suggestions. This would be an example of verbal persuasion, which appeals to the teacher's ability to bring about success. Finally, arousal is a physiological state involving the release of hormones that signal an individual to prepare for action. Arousal can be interpreted as both pleasant and unpleasant. On the one hand, the body's natural release of hormones while teaching can help teachers feel alert or excited to take on the challenges of the lesson. On the other hand, heavy release of hormones (as in the case of extreme nervousness) can be paralyzing rather than helpful.
Calibrating and Re-Calibrating Teacher Efficacy. There is little consistency across the literature regarding the stability of teacher efficacy over time; some studies indicate efficacy may increase over time and others suggest it may decline. What is clear is that teachers' efficacy judgments tend to calibrate when they move into new contexts. For example, Woolfolk Hoy and Burke-Spero (2005) found teacher efficacy declined as they entered the field. One explanation for possible initial declines in efficacy may be that when new teachers enter the teaching force, they encounter a “reality shock” as they confront the complexity of the teaching task. Carol Weinstein (1988) suggests this may indicate a tempering, or calibration of overly optimistic efficacy beliefs, or what she termed “unrealistic optimism.” Those who continue to feel incompetent are likely to leave the field, while teachers who remain in the field appear to experience a rebound in their efficacy judgments.
Teacher efficacy beliefs are one type of belief within a system of interrelated self-beliefs. Moreover, teacher efficacy beliefs emerge, in part, as a function of teachers' global and specific judgments about themselves within the context of their classroom. In the field of teacher beliefs, there has been a lot of debate about how best to study the relationship between teachers' beliefs about themselves and the impact of these beliefs on classroom learning. In part, this is because scholars from across a variety of research traditions developed frameworks for understanding self-beliefs, with each framework critiquing the level at which we should evaluate teachers' beliefs, the domains that matter, and which judgments inevitably lead to action. In an effort to delineate what teacher efficacy is and how it should be measured Table 1 outlines conceptual distinctions among the prominent programs of research on teachers' other self-beliefs.
Although teacher efficacy is related to self-concept, self-esteem, locus of control, and sense of responsibility, it is theoretically and empirically distinct from these constructs. On a global level, teachers hold beliefs about who they are in their classroom, their teaching self-concept, and how they feel about themselves in their classrooms, their teaching self-esteem. Teachers' self-concepts and self-esteem are considered global because they are broad, descriptive mental representations teachers hold about the work they do in their classrooms. In contrast, scholars studying teacher efficacy attempt to identify specific, task-related judgments teachers make about their ability to bring about task-specific outcomes.
Carl Rogers (1902–1987) defined self-concept as a personal understanding of the self relative to other people and environments but unaffected by tasks or contexts. Teacher self-concept goes beyond merely identifying characteristics, “I am a teacher,” to classifying those characteristics, “I am a good teacher.” Whereas self-concept is based upon comparative judgments, self-esteem is based upon affective judgments. Teacher self-esteem may be defined as the evaluation of each characteristic contained in teachers' self-concepts. For example, “I am good at motivating students” may be evaluated in terms of satisfaction, or the extent to which being a good teacher is desirable. Although self-esteem may change over time, it is not variable across tasks or contexts.
Scholars studying teachers' locus of control and their sense of responsibility are primarily focused on teachers' perceptions of their roles in student achievement. Role attributes are beliefs about the part a teacher can play in bringing about outcomes. Thomas Guskey (1950–) characterizes teachers' perceptions of control as based primarily in the teacher (internal) or other factors (external) and variable across situations. If control over an outcome is attributed internally, individuals are more likely to engage in a behavior. The critical distinction between locus of control and self-efficacy is the emphasis on product rather than process; locus of control asserts that individuals are motivated to act based upon perception of control over the outcome. If teachers believe control lies within the student (e.g., smart/dull) or other external factors (e.g. family/community), they may be less likely to engage in actions that bring about desired outcomes even if they feel they can successfully execute those actions.
Responsibility models address teachers' underlying beliefs about who should bring about outcomes. Teachers' sense of responsibility is both an internal and external orientation deriving from perceptions of professional/ ethical and personal/moral obligation. Perceptions of control and responsibility can impact teachers' efficacy judgments. In an environment where schools are becoming increasingly culturally diverse and where teachers are held strictly accountable for their students' success on standardized tests, teachers' ability to serve minority students and address politically sensitive issues is limited. Yet, many teachers are motivated to serve students who
need the most help (Winfield, 1986). Teachers may engage in activities designed to serve such students even when they do not feel efficacious or believe the outcome is outside of their control.
In light of so many different ways of defining teachers' beliefs about themselves, why is teacher efficacy such an important construct? Simply put, empirical studies have recognized teacher efficacy as a major predictor of teachers' competence and commitment to teaching—more powerful than self-concept, self-esteem, and perceived control. Four seminal reviews of the impact of teacher efficacy by Ross (1998), Goddard et al. (2000), Labone (2004), and Wheat-ley (2005) reveal consistent findings: teachers who report a higher sense of efficacy, both individually and as a school collective, tend to be more likely to enter the field, report higher overall satisfaction with their jobs, display greater effort and motivation, take on extra roles in their schools, and are more resilient across the span of their career. Moreover, the extent to which shifts in teacher efficacy take place as teachers transition into new contexts appears to depend upon the level of support in the context; greater support from administrators and colleagues buffers against declines.
Individual Teacher Efficacy. Teachers with higher levels of efficacy are more likely to learn and use innovative strategies for teaching, implement management techniques that provide for student autonomy, set attainable goals, persist in the face of student failure, willingly offer special assistance to low achieving students, and design instruction that develops students' self-perceptions of their academic skills. Moreover, Woolfolk Hoy and Davis (2005) argue that teachers who feel efficacious about their instruction, management, and relationships with students may have more cognitive and emotional resources available to press students towards completing more complex tasks and developing deeper understandings. This is because teachers with a high sense of efficacy may be less afraid of student conflict and more likely to take greater intellectual and interpersonal risks in the classroom.
Teachers' Collective Sense of Efficacy. Collective teacher efficacy is “the perception of teachers in a school that the efforts of the faculty as a whole will have a positive effect on students” (Woolfolk Hoy, et al., in press). Hoy and Miskel (2008) argue that a school's system of shared beliefs binds the teachers together and gives the school a distinctive identity. Like self-efficacy, collective efficacy is associated with the tasks, level of effort, persistence, shared thoughts, stress levels, and achievement of groups. Studies have demonstrated that higher aggregate teacher and collective efficacy is associated with increased rates of parental involvement, increased school orderliness, teacher innovation, teacher familiarity with colleague's courses, reduced suspensions and dropout rates, and higher achievement across elementary and secondary schools. In a series of studies Roger Goddard (1966–) and colleagues found the collective efficacy of a school had a greater positive impact on student achievement than the locale of the school (i.e. urban, suburban, rural) and individual student demographic variables (e.g. race, gender, socio-economic status).
The literature on teacher efficacy has important implications for the induction of new teachers and the professional development of practicing teachers. Broadly, research on teacher efficacy can help teachers think about the ways in which they approach tasks in their classrooms including how accurate they are in identifying the challenge level of tasks and the extent to which they try to break down complex, challenging tasks into something more manageable. Teachers can think about the ways in which they attempt to structure their teaching tasks (e.g. selecting activities, employing new strategies/methods) in such a way that allows them to both grow professionally and feel competent. Moreover, teachers need to be reflective about the areas where they feel most and least competent. How do discrete experiences of success and failure shape their beliefs about their ability to carry out similar behaviors in the future? Teachers need to be aware that feeling incompetent may lead them to avoid important classroom tasks. Over time, teachers may purposely make decisions to avoid certain schools and students or even avoid examining data as a way to protect their sense of self. When faced with feelings of failure, teachers need to engage in active help seeking aimed at building their efficacy through mastery experiences or observing colleagues.
Preservice and Early Career. The task of teacher education is, fundamentally, to develop competent and confident teachers. Preservice teachers with little or no teaching experience may lack a sense of efficacy, and program developers need to think carefully about how to structure entry into the field in a way that promotes mastery. On the other hand, if all of their early experiences lead to success, pre-service teachers may enter the field with a false, or uncali-brated, sense of efficacy because it was developed without the demands of running one's own classroom, dealing with parents and teachers or managing student problems. In a seminal paper by Rohrkemper and Corno (1985), teachers were cautioned not to ignore the value of “functional failure.” They encouraged teachers to create context in which students can learn from mistakes and learn to persist even when unsuccessful. Their work also has important implications for teacher educators, encouraging programs to rank task difficulty, complexity and frustration of field placements for student-teachers.
Experienced and Veteran Teachers. Throughout their careers, practicing teachers must strive to maintain a “competent teacher” identity while continuing to serve their students. This can be challenging particularly in light of the increasing complexity of the teaching task (Woolfolk Hoy, Davis, & Pape, 2005). Some scholars argue that teachers with higher sense of efficacy may be more prone to experience burnout because they tend to set higher standards and expectations (Fives et al., 2007). Faced with rapid changes in student populations and reform movements, practicing teachers may feel threatened and, in lieu of seeking professional development to build mastery, may engage in behaviors designed to preserve their sense of self. While it may preserve sense of self, resistance to change may come at the cost of serving important populations of students. For this reason, it is important for administrators to consult teachers prior to and during reform movements to identify the types of professional development experiences necessary for building mastery, carefully monitoring and adjusting the level of arousal, and providing the feedback that persuades teachers they can be successful (Gregoire, 2003). Several studies suggest practicing teachers' efficacy can be enhanced through participation in action research (Henson, 2001), reviewing lessons with colleagues (Puch-ner & Taylor, 2006), regular feedback on their goal pursuit (Labone, 2004), and self-reflection that helps identify and interpret mastery experiences while developing self-regulatory skills.
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