The Confidence to Improve: Why Teacher Efficacy Matters.
-Dr. Ron L. Woodard
Assistant Superintendent, Maury County Public Schools
The era of high stakes testing and accountability reached new heights under the federal legislative authority of “No Child Left Behind”. As a result, schools today still continue to be held to scrupulous measures of accountability for the success of all children. Thus, teacher performance is non-negotiable. I am a firm believer in high expectations and accountability; these ideals drive the demand for great schools. However, many policy makers and school leaders have not stopped to measure the impact that the more aggressive push for achievement has had on teachers. If higher expectations and levels of performance are to become the norm, then classroom teachers must possess the ability to produce the desired outcomes. This ability is called “efficacy”. Efficacy is defined as one’s power or capacity to produce a desired effect. Simply stated, we often call this “confidence”. Efficacy takes on a deeper meaning when we consider it within the confines of academic instruction. According to Dr. Anita Woolfolk, leading researcher and expert on Efficacy studies from Ohio State University, “Teacher Efficacy” refers to a teacher’s confidence in his/her ability to reach the most difficult students and help them to achieve at a high level (Woolfolk, 1998). In the pursuit of any goal, at times we simply miss the mark. As a former teacher, I know how hard teachers work to provide lessons and academic content to ensure that students are learning. Long hours, late nights and giving up weekends have become the norm for many teachers in an effort to balance the workload. So, educators are devastated when they don’t get the student performance results that they are expecting. This becomes more challenging when you factor in poverty and the difficulty of helping students perform at grade level who may be one or more years behind academically. In a national study on Teacher Effectiveness outcomes, the overwhelming majority of teachers indicated that student failure and the lack of mastery despite numerous attempts to close the gap, detrimentally impacted their ability to believe that they could reach all children. A study from the Journal of Experimental Education also indicated that Teacher Efficacy significantly impacted the level of commitment that teachers have towards the profession and it impacted their decision to leave the profession altogether (Coladarci, 1992). This finding is essential because national trends show that more than 50% of all teachers opt to leave the profession within the first five years. It is amazing to analyze the degree to which a teacher’s confidence in their ability to educate students can impact their overall decision to stay or leave the profession. Invariably, teachers want to feel like they are making a difference. The perceived ability to make a difference increases employee job satisfaction. If we view efficacy under the lens of the “X-Model of Employee Engagement”, here is what we will find… Employees who experience more satisfaction in their work make greater contributions to the organization. As a result, the organization exponentially increases output and performance; thereby reaching and potentially exceeding its goals on a much faster trajectory. That being said, all schools should have highly efficacious and motivated teachers serving our children on a daily basis.
One of the most challenging aspects of teaching involves increasing the performance levels for students who may be one or more years below grade level. Research has demonstrated that teachers with higher levels of teacher efficacy are motivated to persist when faced with setbacks and are more willing to exert extra effort to overcome difficulties (Knobloch & Whittington, 2003). Albert Bandura is regarded as the father of Efficacy studies. According to Bandura, Teachers with low instructional efficacy believe there is little they can do if students are unmotivated. Bandura insists that if teachers believe they have no power to produce results, they will not attempt to make things happen. He insists that outcomes are always a product of human actions, and the outcomes people anticipate depend largely on their judgments of how well they will be able to perform in given situations (Journal of Instructional Psychology, 2000).
In order to be successful, all schools need highly effective and efficacious teachers. Naturally, the magic question is where do we find these teachers? The answer is simple. You don’t find them, you grow them from within. Here are a few strategies to help improve and promote Teacher Efficacy:
·Participation in high-quality, on-going job-embedded professional development
·Increase professional collaboration and team building through
(PLC’s, Team meetings, planning days, and Teacher In-service sessions)
• Teachers Voice Concerns-“What works/What’s Broken”- Create a culture where teachers feel comfortable sharing critical information with the school administration
• Peer Observations - Share positive feedback [Vicarious Experiences]
• Provide Rewards/Recognition-Small Tangible Incentives and Tokens of Appreciation