Teacher self-efficacy: the power of putting teachers first

Teacher self-efficacy (TSE) is a measure of how confident and successful teachers feel, and their belief in their capacity to make a difference with students. It encompasses a broad set of capabilities that include content knowledge, pedagogy, behaviour management, and relationships with students and colleagues. Research in self-efficacy largely stems from Albert Bandura’s work in the 1970s, and includes ongoing research into the impact of various stressors on teacher performance.

How do we measure TSE?

Various tools have been used to measure teacher self-efficacy. One of the most common is Megan Tschannen-Moran and Anita Woolfolk Hoy’s Teacher Self-Efficacy Scale (TSES), which includes self-assessment questions on a 9-point scale for teachers including:

  • How much can you do to control disruptive behavior in the classroom?
  • To what extent can you craft good questions for your students?
  • How much can you assist families in helping their children do well in school?
  • How much can you do to improve the understanding of a student who is failing?
  • How well can you provide appropriate challenges for very capable students?

The full version of the scale – which has both a long and short form – can be found here: https://wmpeople.wm.edu/site/page/mxtsch/researchtools

What puts TSE at risk?

The pressures on teachers can be overwhelming. Administrative duties, assessment and feedback, communications with families, and factors such as whole school professional learning initiatives and state and federal level expectations all impact on a teacher’s time and wellbeing. With so many external pressures on teachers, it’s easy to understand how a sense of self-efficacy can be pushed to the bottom of the pile.

With little time to spare to reflect on their own practice teachers can find themselves trapped in a cycle of trying to meet other people’s expectations, without being able to take stock of personal goals for development. A recent article in The Conversation https://theconversation.com/want-to-improve-our-education-system-stop-seeking-advice-from-far-off-gurus-and-encourage-expertise-in-schools-165320 explored the problems of an education system which values the ‘consultocracy’ and external benchmarks from overseas like PISA over the individual lived experiences of teachers.

Teacher self-efficacy – that belief in one’s own power to teach – can be undermined by constant changing policies and programs informed by global agendas. When this happens, teachers feel silenced and undervalued, contributing to burnout and attrition.

TSE and burn out

Studies have gone further into exploring the importance of TSE in mitigating stress and burnout. The contributing factors to stress and ultimately attrition – with anywhere between a fifth and a third of the teachers leaving the career early [ref] – can be managed by improving a sense of self-efficacy.

Teachers with higher TSE feel more in control despite external pressures and performance criteria. They are more confident with their teaching practices, less likely to blame students for classroom issues, and more likely to proactively seek solutions and collaborate on solving problems. And this ultimately benefits not only the teachers themselves, but the students, the school, and the system as a whole.

So how do we improve TSE?

There’s no simple answer to improving teacher self-efficacy. There have been many studies investigating how Professional Learning opportunities can improve TSE. However, the barriers to quality Professional Learning, first among them a lack of time, are the same factors which also contribute to stress and burnout.

Whole-school, state, and system-level PL initiatives that try to enforce a ‘one size fits all’ approach to teacher learning do not improve TSE. On the contrary, PL conducted outside of school hours, led by external consultants and experts, and not woven into the teachers’ individual experiences in the classroom minimise teachers’ knowledge and reduce their feelings of self-efficacy.

Just like our students, the path to improving teacher self-efficacy lies in individualised Professional Learning, based around a teacher’s own goals, strengths, and capabilities. While this is harder for schools to scale it will ultimately lead to greater improvement, and teachers who are less stressed, more motivated, and more likely to stay in the career.

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