The Knowledge

Research: What is self-efficacy and why does it matter?

28 Jun 2021, 5:00

National Thank A Teacher Day matters, writes Cat Scutt, but the concept of self-efficacy means there are good reasons to celebrate school staff more regularly and meaningfully

Published in 2014, the Why Teach report found that two of the main reasons people go into teaching are to make a difference, and because they think they’ll be good at it. It’s worthwhile, therefore, making sure we explicitly ensure teachers have the chance to feel successful in their roles.   

An incredibly challenging 15 months have certainly highlighted what a difference teachers and schools make to children’s lives. But that narrative has been too easily negated by some journalists and politicians choosing to create an unfounded rhetoric of teachers ‘failing’ their pupils. So the last few weeks of term present an ideal time to let our teachers know we recognise what an amazing job they’ve done.

Building self-efficacy

Interestingly, teachers with higher self-efficacy ̶ their sense of competence in their role ̶ tend also to be more effective. Of course, it might be that this is simply a case of teachers being self-aware; perhaps those who are more effective just know that they are! 

Improving our schools relies on the everyday recognition of what our colleagues do

But research suggests that it is more of a two-way relationship than that. There is an argument that teachers who are more confident feel better able to make decisions based on what is most effective for their pupils, rather than what they think is expected of them.  

This applies at a whole-school level, too. Schools with higher levels of collective teacher efficacy – where teachers believe that they and their colleagues are doing a good job – also have better pupil outcomes.

An issue of workload

Knowing we make a difference is what makes teaching such a rewarding career, but it can also make it easy to feel there is always more to do. With ever-growing demands on teachers’ time and personal resources (looking at you, TAGs!), workload can spiral out of control.

In that context, being able to recognise the limits of what you can be held responsible for can be difficult, but being able to self-regulate and maintain work-life boundaries is vital to avoiding burnout.  

As school leaders, maintaining teacher job satisfaction and retaining staff  requires us to ensure colleagues’ workloads are manageable as well as genuinely contributing to improved outcomes. Ultimately, doing what is right for students involves both.

Supporting retention of early career teachers

Early career teachers face a particular challenge. We know there is an incredibly steep learning curve in the first three years of a teaching career. Effectiveness in terms of impact on pupil outcomes increases rapidly during this time, before slowing later in teachers’ careers.  

Unsurprisingly, given the link between self-efficacy, job satisfaction and retention, this is also a time when retention is poor. Too many teachers leave before they have a chance to develop and really feel good at their jobs. Interrupting the vicious cycle that leads to this exodus is both a moral and a practical imperative, and is likely to involve providing a great deal more support for new teachers.  

The Early Career Framework is not yet well understood, but once rolled out it has the potential to play a big part by ensuring that all teachers are entitled to time, support and opportunities for development. But the role of mentors will continue to be key, not just as ‘instructional coaches’, but as sounding boards, commiserators, celebrators and champions, supporting not just their charges’ effectiveness, but their job satisfaction too

Celebrating and championing our teachers

Making sure teachers feel confident in their practice, and celebrating and championing both individual teachers and the profession as a whole, is more powerful than we often realise. Talking them down is too, which makes it particularly irresponsible on the part of politicians and journalists, who should know better.  

A growing list of expert teaching qualifications is encouraging, and this week’s National Thank a Teacher Day is important too. But retaining teachers and continually improving our schools relies on the everyday recognition of what our colleagues do and the difference that makes – and we all play a part in that.

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