Efficacy Leads to Change

“Efficacy is understood as the teacher’s belief that he or she has the ability to influence student learning.” (Bandura, Self-efficacy:  The Exercise of Control, 1997).

Continuing on the theme of making change happen…or creating such a culture of learning  that change is just automatic, I have been reflecting on the past.   What has been the impact of some of our learning? What worked? What didn’t? Why?

This however, has led to wondering about how our own personal sense of efficacy impacts the success of such learning and thus, how educator efficacy impacts student achievement.   In my reading and research, I have discovered this this is an incredibly complex concept; one that is impacted by a number of variables.  I have also realized that many people confuse “morale” with “efficacy”.

I am beginning to wonder…

  • If we increased our sense of personal efficacy,  could this begin to spread in our school (especially as we are so small) thereby increasing our collective sense of efficacy, which might lead to greater staff morale?
  • During the learning cycle, is efficacy the end result? Or does is grow throughout, based upon experiences? Is this why it is essential that leaders are in classrooms, so that they can reinforce practices and thus improve efficacy along the learning journey?

“Efficacy is understood as the teacher’s belief that he or she has the ability to influence student learning.” (Bandura, Self-efficacy:  The Exercise of Control, 1997). Much research has been done regarding the link between teacher efficacy and student achievement and collective teacher efficacy and the impact on a positive school culture.  Strong teacher efficacy has also been linked to student motivation to learn, higher self-perceptions, improved self-esteem and better self-management (research documented in online article “What is Teacher Efficacy and How does it Relate to Teachers’ Knowledge?”, Fives, 2003, pg. 22), as “teacher efficacy was found to be a belief that guides teachers actions and communication with students (Fives, 2003, pg. 22).

In “Assessing the Effects of Collaborative Professional Learning: Efficacy Shifts During a Three-year Mathematics Study” Bruce, Flynn and Ross (available online) state that,

… teachers who believe they are capable of supporting student learning, persist longer with challenging teaching strategies even when faced with obstacles (such as child poverty, or student learning disabilities) and, are more likely to experiment with high yield instructional strategies including student-centered approach…. Teachers with low efficacy believe that circumstances such as low socio-economic status of the student or a lack of resources are significantly more powerful influences over student learning and achievement than his or her teaching.  Importantly, high efficacy teachers produce higher student achievement, use effective classroom management strategies that support self-regulation, and build student confidence. (pg. 1)

In “Effects of Distributed Leadership on Teachers’ Academic Optimism and Student Achievement” by John Malloy (2012), he argues that “though knowledge and skills are important, perceived self-efficacy is needed to accomplish desired goals” (pg. 20).  “When people experience self-efficacy, they engage in certain activities because they have the confidence to do so. They engage in challenging activities for a longer period of time and preserver more often when facing challenges compared to those who may have the knowledge and skills but lack this belief in their own capability” (Wood & Bandura, 1989, in Malloy, 2012, pg. 20).

Thus I am interested in the factors that impact teacher efficacy.  How do we enhance teacher efficacy? What components are necessary?  What does this support and culture look like? How do I, as a leader, relentlessly ensure, that all of the educators, the learners, that I influence, feel a strong sense of efficacy? Is this how I continue to support a culture of learning in my school? in my district? 

I found answers to  these wondering in Bruce et.al’s (nd) research around the Collaborative Inquiry Learning in Mathematics  (CIL-M) projects that happened (and continue to happen) in Ontario. Bandura’s research (1997) is cited in this paper around the notion that there are four important sources of efficacy which include (in order of impact) mastery teaching experiences, vicarious experience, social and verbal persuasion and physiological and emotional cues (pg. 2). Basically, a mastery experience in the classroom is when we have a teaching experience that is particularly successful and is seen to have a positive impact on student learning, while is vicarious experience is watching another teacher have a mastery experience. “The three other sources of efficacy information identified by Bandura relate to opportunities to watch others of a similar skill level have mastery experiences (vicarious experience); the influence of peers and others in conversation with the teacher (social and verbal persuasion); and, feelings and reactions the teacher experiences during and after teaching situations (physiological and emotional cues).” (Bruce et al. pg. 2)  It is clear that we can promote efficacy daily in our buildings when the conditions are in place for such mastery experiences to occur. Here again, we see the role of the principal as a lead learner having an impact on efficacy when they are in classrooms involved in the learning!

The authors have concluded that “one way to disrupt efficacy levels is to provide high quality, powerful, professional learning experiences” (pg. 2).  So what does this type of professional learning look like?  I appreciated that this research is from a math perspective, however the description of effective professional learning stuck with me as it resonated much of what we have discussed (but have we always put this knowledge into practice?).  It think that it is important to note that we aren’t just speaking about professional development,  which makes me think of a one-off session, but of professional learning, which is ongoing in nature, and not done to us, but alongside us – and involves internal motivation and a learner mindset.

In order for professional learning to be maximized, educators must be given the chance to:

  • Develop their conceptual understanding by actually doing the work that they are giving to students
  • Analyze examples of classroom practice (student work)
  • Collaborate with their co-learners
  • Be modelled for by a presenter who has exemplary practice
  • Apply their learning in their classrooms, engage in reflection and receive feedback during the learning session regarding the impact of the instruction (models of co-teaching and co-learning)
  • Focus on specific curricular content
  • Focus on student impact – including how to present the curricular content to students, anticipate misconceptions and have an understanding of the learning in terms of the trajectory that it may follow
  • Exercise teacher choice in identifying the learning needs to be addressed and the mode of delivery.

(Adapted from Hill, “Professional development standards and practices in elementary school mathematics”, 2004, in Bruce et al.)

As a very small school district, this list has me wondering…what aspects can /do we make work? What aspects are based upon a larger model of professional learning?  How can we increasingly make our professional learning more job-embedded?  If we followed all of these components for effective PD, would this make a difference for the sense of efficacy for all educators? Or are there other factors that need to be considered…like our internal growth mindset/learner mindset?

What I have learned is this…I need to consistently exercise my internal, learner mindset and be an active and ongoing participant in learning – so that I too can experience mastery – either directly or vicariously.  If I don’t, then the culture of my organization may suffer as my lack of efficacy will have an impact upon those with whom I work.  I need to commit to learning all the time and to practicing this learning with my teachers – in organized system professional learning, school professional learning and in my own personal learning. I also need to engage in ongoing reflection with those who are in the classroom as this emotional piece is critical.  The components of effective professional learning are within each of our grasps through inquiry funding, through TLLP funding, and through the opportunities to work with Student Work Study Teachers. We need to orchestrate these mastery experiences…and we all have a role in this if efficacy is going to result! I will do my part – the list of components for effective PD is now posted on my bulletin board.

3 responses

  1. As I read through the blogs this week I think about a couple of things. One is with regards to my need to keep up on my learning of technology and how to support the staff. I link this piece to the piece on efficacy because the use of technology can support student learning. It is a reflective piece about how can I support teachers in their belief in student learning. As I was reading I was seeing the link between efficacy and growth mindset. I too am challenged with the job embedded piece and how to keep learning moving without it being overwhelming.
    I am very interested in vicarious experience because I think quite often as leaders that we have an honour to have vicarious experiences through the lens of our exemplary teachers. This creates dialogue and learning for all and is impactful for the students. Most recently our schools in the area have applied for TTLPs. It is providing such a great opportunity for staff professional learning and an enhancement of teacher efficacy and belief in student learning. The premise of a TTLP is to bring new technology and or strategies to the students learning or teacher learning. A great opportunity for everyone!


  2. Nicole I am standing on my chair screaming “YES” as loud as I can without waking up the neighbours! With this blog you have managed to hit it out of the park! It is well researched and absolutely relevant to our collective problem of practice. This is a must read for all staff! Thank you, thank you, thank you!


  3. Instead of my own response I would like to illustrate some of the things I have heard over the past year about how professional learning has been evolving at SGDSB . “I like working through the work as a team before giving it to students”, “I don’t want to miss the next session because my students need this”, “learning in this format allows me to take risks”, “administration has really worked hard on the conditions for learning and I feel safe to say what I need to learn more about and to ask for help…in the past I was not the type that would share my experiences as I did not feel any safety”. Many responses from teachers have been directly related to self-efficacy when they have been participating in our learning sessions. Our Junior and Primary math sessions are clear examples of professional learning as per the bullets above. What a powerful piece Nicki. The need for principals to learn side by side is essential for our schools.


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