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Self-Efficacy: The Ripple Effect

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by Howard.Hall Retrieved with permission from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/hoha/4413095364/sizes/m/in/photostream/

I was recently struck with an ah-ha moment as I was reading about the topic of self-efficacy.  Albert Bandura (the pioneer of the term) defines self-efficacy in this way:

 Perceived self-efficacy is defined as people’s beliefs about their capabilities to produce designated levels of performance that exercise influence over events that affect their lives. Self-efficacy beliefs determine how people feel, think, motivate themselves and behave. Such beliefs produce these diverse effects through four major processes. They include cognitive, motivational, affective and selection processes.

A strong sense of efficacy enhances human accomplishment and personal well-being in many ways. People with high assurance in their capabilities approach difficult tasks as challenges to be mastered rather than as threats to be avoided. Such an efficacious outlook fosters intrinsic interest and deep engrossment in activities. They set themselves challenging goals and maintain strong commitment to them. They heighten and sustain their efforts in the face of failure. They quickly recover their sense of efficacy after failures or setbacks. They attribute failure to insufficient effort or deficient knowledge and skills which are acquirable. They approach threatening situations with assurance that they can exercise control over them. Such an efficacious outlook produces personal accomplishments, reduces stress and lowers vulnerability to depression.

In contrast, people who doubt their capabilities shy away from difficult tasks which they view as personal threats. They have low aspirations and weak commitment to the goals they choose to pursue. When faced with difficult tasks, they dwell on their personal deficiencies, on the obstacles they will encounter, and all kinds of adverse outcomes rather than concentrate on how to perform successfully. They slacken their efforts and give up quickly in the face of difficulties. They are slow to recover their sense of efficacy following failure or setbacks. Because they view insufficient performance as deficient aptitude it does not require much failure for them to lose faith in their capabilities. They fall easy victim to stress and depression. (1994, introduction)

Photo by Sergiu Bacioiu Retrieved with permission from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sergiu_bacioiu/4178226353/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Self-Efficacy for students and teachers – a ripple effect

There are obvious and immediate applications of self-efficacy to the world of education.  What was the epiphany moment for me was the dawning understanding of the close connection between teacher and student self-efficacy.   Watson (2006) reports that “research indicates that the level of a teacher’s computer and Internet self-efficacy also effects student achievement and self-efficacy” (p. 155).   This concept can be moved beyond computer and internet to encompass all areas of education.  Bandura (1993) when connecting self-efficacy to education, makes the connection that:

The task of creating environments conducive to learning rests heavily on the talents and self-efficacy of teachers.  Evidence indicates that classroom atmospheres are partly determined by teachers’ beliefs in their instructional efficacy. …Thus, teachers who believe strongly in their instructional efficacy create mastery experiences for their students.  Those beset by self-doubts construct classroom environments that are likely to undermine students’ sense of efficacy and cognitive development. (p. 140)

 This really shouldn’t have been such a new revelation to me, but it has been significant in that it has provided a framework for me to understand the benefits and ultimately the vital importance of nurturing “strong teachers” or “master teachers”.  It is obvious that a teacher’s skill influences student success, but in my understanding, I had not made the next subtle leap to the conclusion that how a teacher feels about themselves and their ability to teach affects how a student feels about themselves as a learner.  It is not only a tangible outcome (represented by student results on assessments), but an affective outcome that influences how a student feels about themselves and their skills.  The pressure is on!

The ripple effect continues

Bandura (1993) points out that collective school efficacy works to influence teacher efficacy which in turn, affects student efficacy.  “…schools involve organizational interdependencies that contribute to teachers’ collective sense of efficacy” (p. 141).  On the same page, Bandura also states that:

 Strong principals excel in their ability to get their staff to work together with a strong sense of purpose and to believe in their capabilities to surmount obstacles to educational attainments. Schools in which the staff collectively judge themselves as powerless to get students to achieve academic success convey a group sense of academic futility that can pervade the entire life of the school. School staff members who collectively judge themselves capable of promoting academic success imbue their schools with a positive atmosphere for development.

 Leadership within the school is key, as is the school culture insofar as it impacts how teachers feel about themselves as learners and educators.  This would encompass all areas of teaching – facility with technology, core skills, etc.  (I would even argue that it goes up even one more level to the district level and how messages and organizational understandings are communicated to the school level).

And one step further

…And the ripple effect moves one step farther – to that of the parental level.  Bandura (1993) states that “self-efficacious parents regard education as a shared responsibility. The higher their sense of efficacy to instruct their children, the more they guide their children’s learning…In contrast, parents who doubt their efficacy to help children learn turn over their children’s education entirely to teachers” (p. 144). Bandura also concludes that there is evidence suggesting that a teacher’s sense of self-efficacy can influence the level of parental participation in their children’s educational activities. “Self-efficacious teachers increase parents’ ability to help their children learn”.

Putting it all together

It is amazing to see the interconnectedness of our sense of ability as learners within our school community.  Everyone has a vital role to play, and the way that we feel about ourselves and our skills is impacted by those around us.  Teachers, we have a heavy load!  It behooves us to take time for a perception check to examine our feelings of efficacy in our roles.  District level and school administrative teams need to examine their modes and means of leadership and how those messages (implicit and explicit) influence school culture and organizational efficacy.  How do we intentionally craft school and classroom culture?  How do we choose methods of communication that empower and enrich and encourage rather than tear down and discourage.  How do we send out our message and watch the ripples spread out?

Educators, I challenge you to thoughtfully and carefully cast your pebbles…they will have far-reaching effects!


Bandura, A. (1993). Perceived self-efficacy in cognitive development and functioning. Educational Psychologist, 28(2), 117-148. Retrieved from: http://www.centerforefficacyandresiliency.org/assets/docs/Perceived%20Self-Efficacy%20in%20Cognitive%20Development%20and%20Functioning.pdf

Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In V. S. Ramachaudran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of human behavior (Vol. 4, pp. 71-81). New York: Academic Press. (Reprinted in H. Friedman [Ed.], Encyclopedia of mental health. San Diego: Academic Press, 1998). Retrieved from http://www.uky.edu/~eushe2/Bandura/BanEncy.html

Watson, G. (2006). Technology Professional Development: Long-Term Effects on Teacher Self-Efficacy. Retrieved from http://marianrosenberg.wiki.westga.edu/file/view/WatsonGTechnologyprofessional.pdf