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date: 26 June 2017

Teaching Self-Efficacy

Summary and Keywords

Teaching self-efficacy refers to the beliefs that teachers hold about their instructional capabilities. According to Bandura’s social cognitive theory, individuals develop a sense of efficacy by attending to four sources of information: mastery experiences (i.e., performance attainments), vicarious experiences (i.e., observing social models), social persuasions (i.e., messages received from others) and physiological and affective states (e.g., stress, fatigue, mood). Personal and contextual factors also play a role in the development of teaching self-efficacy. Understandings of teaching self-efficacy, its sources and its effects, have been limited by poor conceptualizations and methodological shortcomings. Nonetheless, researchers have provided ample evidence that teachers with a high sense of efficacy tend to be more psychologically healthy and effective than teachers who doubt their capabilities.

Keywords: teachers, self-efficacy, social cognitive theory, sources, outcomes

Theoretical Framework and Description

Modern research on teaching self-efficacy is embedded in Albert Bandura’s (1986) social cognitive theory, which holds that human functioning is not limited to interactions between environmental stimuli and behavioral responses. Instead, it involves reciprocal interactions between behavior, the environment, and personal factors (i.e., biological, cognitive, and other internal events). These personal factors can influence individuals’ beliefs, which in turn inform their subsequent behaviors. Bandura (1997) argued that perceptions of self-efficacy, defined as “beliefs in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to produce given attainments” (p. 3), are especially central to the exercise of human agency. Self-efficacy has been found to predict the effort people put forth, how well they persevere when faced by obstacles, how effectively they monitor and motivate themselves, what they achieve, and the choices they make in life (Bandura, 1977, 1986, 1997).

In the field of education, researchers and lawmakers have long emphasized the importance of teacher effectiveness, and much of their work has focused on the relationship between teachers’ demonstrated competence (e.g., past performances, attainment of relevant knowledge, and skills) and their future success (e.g., Mishra & Koehler, 2006; No Child Left Behind, 2003). From a social cognitive perspective, this view is incomplete. As Bandura (1995) noted, “People's level of motivation, affective states, and actions are based more on what they believe than on what is objectively the case” (p. 2). Teachers’ competence, or efficacy, is undoubtedly necessary for their successful performance. However, their beliefs about their capabilities, or teaching self-efficacy, inform the degree to which they engage and persist in those performances. For example, Pfitzner-Eden (2016) found that preservice teachers whose self-efficacy rose during a teaching practicum became less likely to quit their teacher education program. This distinction between actual and perceived competence also helps to clarify why the term teacher efficacy is a misnomer for self-belief. Use of the term, once popular in teaching self-efficacy research, has decreased over time but can still be found in recent publications.

History and Measure

Pajares (1992) once described research on teachers’ beliefs as “messy” (p. 315) owing to poor conceptualizations and methodological shortcomings. Such problems continue to impede understandings of how teachers’ self-efficacy beliefs develop and influence their motivation and behaviors (Klassen, Tze, Betts, & Gordon, 2011; Zee & Kooman, 2016). Much of this can be attributed to the unique history of the construct.

The first measure of teaching self-efficacy preceded Bandura’s (1977) seminal article by a year. Created by RAND researchers (Armor et al., 1976), the instrument quantified teachers’ efficacy beliefs using two items: (1) “When it comes right down to it, a teacher really can’t do much because most of a student’s motivation and performance depends on his or her home environment” and (2) “If I really try hard, I can get through to even the most difficult or unmotivated students” (p. 23). The first item was used to measure the extent to which teachers believed that student motivation and performance fell outside of teachers’ control, and the second assessed the degree to which they felt that the ability to motivate students was within their control. This original measure of teaching self-efficacy was derived from Rotter’s (1966) locus of control theory rather than Bandura’s (1986) social cognitive theory. As Bandura (1997) noted, self-efficacy beliefs are conceptually and empirically distinct from locus of control beliefs. Whereas Rotter (1966) described behaviors as motivated by outcome expectancies, Bandura (1977, 1997) argued that outcome expectancies motivate behavior only when individuals first judge themselves capable of effectively performing the behavior. So whereas locus of control beliefs have to do with the relationship between behaviors and outcomes, self-efficacy beliefs reflect personal assessments of capability. The first item from Armor et al.’s (1976) study, for example, had little to do with appraising one’s teaching capabilities. Notably, the second item differed from the generalized expectancies described by Rotter (1966) and was more consistent with Bandura’s (1997) descriptions of self-efficacy. Similar items can be found in recent teaching self-efficacy scales, including Bandura’s (2006) own item assessing teachers’ belief that they can “get through to the most difficult students” (p. 328).

The conflicting influences of these two theoretical frameworks ultimately contributed to flaws in the measurement and conceptualization of teaching self-efficacy (Henson, 2002). Emerging from Bandura’s (1977) framework, Gibson and Dembo’s (1984) Teacher Efficacy Scale represented an attempt to combine the two perspectives of the construct and became the dominant instrument for approximately 15 years (Tschannen-Moran, Woolfolk-Hoy, & Hoy, 1998; Henson, 2002). Gibson and Dembo’s (1984) scale was composed of two subscales to measure personal teaching efficacy (thought to be consistent with self-efficacy) and general teaching efficacy (thought to be consistent with outcome expectations). In subsequent research, scholars raised many questions about the scale’s validity and reliability, including that personal teaching efficacy and general teaching efficacy were empirically similar to the internal and external loci of control measured by the original instrument (Guskey & Passaro, 1994; Henson, 2002; Tschannen-Moran et al., 1998). Nevertheless, the Teacher Efficacy Scale and related measures (e.g., Science Teaching Efficacy Belief Instrument, Enochs & Riggs, 1990) continue to be used in teaching self-efficacy research (e.g., Gencer & Cakiroglu, 2007; Gurvitch & Metzler, 2009; Lumpe, Czerniak, Haney, & Beltyukova, 2012).

Tschannen-Moran et al. (1998) called for a new understanding of teaching self-efficacy that was more consistent with social cognitive theory. Borrowing from Bandura’s (1997) definition, they identified teaching self-efficacy as “the teacher’s belief in his or her capability to organize and execute courses of action required to successfully accomplish a specific teaching task in a particular context” (Tschannen-Moran et al., 1998, p. 233). Subsequent measures of teaching self-efficacy have typically been designed, like Bandura’s (2006) own scale, to assess teachers’ capabilities with regard to specific competencies (e.g., Brouwers & Tomic, 2001; Skaalvik & Skaalvik, 2007; Tschannen-Moran & Woolfolk Hoy, 2001). The most popular of these is Tschannen-Moran and Woolfolk Hoy’s (2001) Teacher Sense of Efficacy Scale, which is composed of subscales to measure teachers’ perceived capabilities to utilize different instructional strategies, manage a class effectively, and engage their students. The composite score can be used as a measure of teachers’ general sense of efficacy, but researchers can also use the scale to evaluate teachers’ beliefs regarding a specific competency (e.g., teaching self-efficacy in classroom management).

Researchers must continue to explore whether the three competencies identified in Tschannen-Moran and Woolfolk Hoy’s (2001) scale reflect the full range of capabilities teachers consider in evaluating their effectiveness. For example, teachers might also value their ability to create a positive climate (Bandura, 2006), serve as mentors (Morris & Usher, 2011), cope with changes and challenges (Skaalvik & Skaalvik, 2007), or teach in culturally responsive ways (Siwatu, 2007). Because different teaching self-efficacy scales measure different competency beliefs, scholars must use caution when generalizing across studies. Teaching self-efficacy, like other efficacy beliefs, has been operationalized at various levels of specificity. Researchers have focused on teachers’ general sense of efficacy (e.g., Guo, Justice, Sawyer, & Tompkins, 2011) or, as previously discussed, their beliefs about specific competencies (e.g., Skaalvik & Skaalvik, 2007; Tschannen-Moran & Woolfolk Hoy, 2001).

Bandura (1997) maintained that measures of teaching self-efficacy should be subject-area specific. This is particularly critical when studying individuals who teach multiple subjects because teaching self-efficacy can vary across instructional domains. For example, Buss (2010) found that preservice elementary teachers felt more capable to teach reading than science. For the purposes of some investigations, it may be necessary to further specify the domain and task in evaluating teachers’ beliefs. In these, teaching self-efficacy may be assessed as the capability to use a particular pedagogical method (e.g., Smolleck & Yoder, 2008) or meet the needs of certain groups of students (e.g., Ruble, Toland, Birdwhistell, McGrew, & Usher, 2013). To optimize the precision and practical usefulness of findings, researchers should choose a level of specificity that is well aligned with the behaviors, outcomes, and other beliefs to be measured (Pajares, 1996; Wyatt, 2014).

Sources of Teaching Self-Efficacy

Bandura (1997) proposed that self-efficacy beliefs are derived from at least four sources of information: enactive mastery experiences, vicarious experiences, social persuasions, and physiological and affective states. Enactive mastery experiences, or past performance accomplishments, are considered to be particularly powerful sources of self-efficacy (Bandura, 1997; Usher & Pajares, 2008). In the absence of direct experience, individuals may rely more on vicarious experiences in which they witness the successes and failures of others. And social persuasions, or messages that individuals receive from others, are particularly influential when perceived to be sincere and credible (Schunk, 1984; Pajares, 2006). Finally, physiological and affective states, including stress, fatigue, anxiety, and mood, are also theorized to contribute to self-efficacy beliefs. Bandura (1997) stressed that interpretation plays a large role in how individuals process the sources.

Unfortunately, methodological shortcomings in the literature have obscured what is known about how teachers develop a sense of efficacy (Morris, Usher, & Chen, 2016). Attempts to validate a scale of all four hypothesized sources have been undermined by (1) small sample sizes, (2) failure to find a satisfactory factor structure, and (3) low subscale reliabilities (e.g., Kieffer & Henson, 2000; Morris & Usher, 2013; Poulou, 2007). Moreover, items used to measure the sources have often been written in ways that are limited or inconsistent with social cognitive theory. For example, some scholars have assessed social persuasions in terms of interpersonal support (e.g., Capa Aydin & Woolfolk Hoy, 2005; Woolfolk Hoy & Burke-Spero, 2005). Another common mistake is to measure vicarious experiences in terms of referential comparisons with others, which Bandura (1986) argued were based on multiple sources of information (e.g., O’Neill & Stephenson, 2012; Poulou, 2007). Although research on the sources has been plagued by such methodological limitations, valuable insights can be gleaned when integrating findings from these studies with the broader teaching self-efficacy literature.

Mastery Experiences

Of the hypothesized sources, mastery experiences have received the most attention in quantitative studies. Most commonly, these have included items to assess general satisfaction with past performances (e.g., Tschannen-Moran & Woolfolk Hoy, 2007) or amount of teaching experience (e.g., Ruble, Usher, & McGrew, 2011). Neither of these is an appropriate measure of mastery experience, which is “predicated on the outcomes of personal experiences” (Zimmerman, 2000, p. 88). Scholars who have instead focused on instructional outcomes typically report that teachers’ self-efficacy beliefs are indeed informed by their accomplishments. As Guskey (2002) noted, teachers’ perceptions of success are often based on what their students do. For example, instructors may feel more capable after seeing their students succeed in school or in their later endeavors (Guskey, 1987; Morris & Usher, 2011). Teachers may also infer that they are effective when their students are on-task and engaged (Guo et al., 2011; Mottet, Beebe, Raffeld, & Medlock, 2004; Ross, Cousins, & Gadalla, 1996). And when students consistently demonstrate their understanding of the material in class, their teachers can become more self-efficacious as a result (Gabriele & Joram, 2007; Phan & Locke, 2015). Thus, with few direct and objective measures of success available to them, teachers often define their mastery in the context of their perceived influence on students.

Vicarious Experiences

The influence of modeling on teaching self-efficacy has typically been examined in the context of preservice or novice instructors and their mentor teachers. Researchers have reported conflicting findings with regard to the correlation between inexperienced teachers’ self-efficacy and their exposure to effective or self-efficacious mentors (Capa Aydin & Woolfolk Hoy, 2005; Knoblauch & Woolfolk Hoy, 2008; Rots, Aelterman, Vlerick, & Vermuelen, 2007). But when interviewed, many teachers have indicated that their early experiences watching skillful mentors profoundly influenced their sense of efficacy (Gunning & Mensah, 2011; Morris & Usher, 2011; Siwatu, 2011a). The relationship between such vicarious experiences and teaching self-efficacy may be explained, in part, by the extent to which individuals gain valuable pedagogical strategies and content knowledge from their observations (Mills, 2011; Palmer, 2011). Even symbolic models, such as filmed case studies, can influence young teachers’ sense of efficacy by arming them with tools they can use in their future teaching (Bautista, 2011). As Bandura (1997) noted, vicarious experiences are also more powerful when the model is perceived to be similar in some way. It is perhaps for this reason that instructors who see their peers teach can become more self-efficacious as a result (Bruce, Esmonde, Ross, Dookie, & Beatty, 2010; Heppner, 1994).

Social Persuasions

The influence of a social persuasion on teaching self-efficacy beliefs largely depends on when it was received, how it was delivered, and who provided the message. Namely, social persuasions are particularly powerful in the early stages of teachers’ careers, when they have had few opportunities to evaluate their own accomplishments (Milner & Woolfolk Hoy, 2003; Morris & Usher, 2011). And as previously noted, persuasions are most effective when they are specific and perceived to be sincere. For this reason, teachers’ self-efficacy beliefs can be informed by the evaluative feedback they receive after being observed (Cone, 2009; Palmer, 2011; Tschannen-Moran & McMaster, 2009). Anonymous student evaluations may provide another source of sincere and specific feedback that instructors can trust when reflecting on their capabilities (Burton, Bamberry, & Harris-Boundy, 2005; Morris & Usher, 2011). Finally, teachers tend to rely more on social persuasions they receive from others who are credible and knowledgeable (Bandura, 1997). For example, instructors may weigh the feedback they receive from students more heavily than feedback from supervisors, as their students observe them on a more consistent basis (Morris & Usher, 2011; Phan & Locke, 2015).

Physiological and Affective States

It is unclear what role physiological and affective states play in the development of teaching self-efficacy. As will be later discussed, methodological limitations have made it difficult to establish whether specific physiological and emotional events serve primarily as antecedents or outcomes of teachers’ self-efficacy beliefs. Moreover, most research on the four hypothesized sources suggests that these states have little influence on teaching self-efficacy. In quantitative studies, correlations between teaching self-efficacy and physiological and affective states were typically weak (Mohamadi & Asadzadeh, 2012; Morris & Usher, 2013; Poulou, 2007). And in qualitative and mixed-methods studies, participants were less likely to describe them as powerful influences, relative to other sources (Heppner, 1994; Palmer, 2006, 2011).

The potential influence of physiological and affective states should not be underestimated, however. Valuable insights may be gleaned from studies with more specific measures of both the source and teaching self-efficacy. Stress, for example, tends to be weakly correlated with teaching self-efficacy (Klassen & Chiu, 2010, 2011; Klassen & Durksen, 2014). But stress may lower teachers’ sense of efficacy for classroom management, particularly when that stress is related to student behaviors (Klassen & Chiu, 2010, 2011; Ross & Bruce, 2007). It is also important to note that whereas quantitative research has focused on negative physiological and emotional states, qualitative studies have revealed that positive states (e.g., excitement, happiness) can powerfully inform teachers’ self-efficacy beliefs (Akkuzu, 2014; Mills, 2011; Morris & Usher, 2011).

Personal and Contextual Factors

Teachers’ sense of efficacy is influenced not only by independent environmental and personal factors, but also by the dynamic interplay of these factors (Bandura, 1997). For example, teachers may take into account students’ developmental levels, family and home environments, or access to resources as they evaluate their own capabilities (e.g., Chester & Beaudin, 1996; Tschannen-Moran & Woolfolk Hoy, 2007). But teachers’ self-efficacy beliefs may also be influenced, albeit indirectly, by their own social background. Personal factors like race or gender can color teachers’ interactions with students and other members of the school community (Egalite, Kisida, & Winters, 2015; Milner & Woolfolk Hoy, 2003). As such, these factors may contribute to a unique history of experiences (i.e., sources) and influence teachers’ beliefs about what they can accomplish.

Race, Ethnicity, and Gender

Factors like race, ethnicity, and gender may play a role in both the types of experiences teachers have and the way they interpret those experiences. For example, results of an experimental study revealed that female professors were more likely to receive negative student evaluations than were male professors matched by rank, department, and experience (Basow, 1995). In this case, the social persuasions teachers received may have varied as a function of their gender. However, it is also possible that gender can play a role in how individuals construe efficacy-relevant information, as in Clance and Imes’ (1978) classic study of high-achieving women who had difficulty internalizing their attainments and instead internalized social messages about the intellectual inferiority of women.

Race and Ethnicity

Researchers who have investigated the sources of students’ academic self-efficacy have documented that the hypothesized sources of self-efficacy may vary in their effect on self-efficacy as a function of individuals’ ethnic or racial background (Klassen, 2004; Stevens, Olivarez, & Hamman, 2006; Usher & Pajares, 2006). Less research has focused on the relationship between race or ethnicity and teachers’ developing sense of efficacy. Some researchers have found no relationship between teachers’ race or ethnicity and their self-efficacy (Chester & Beaudin, 1996; Fives & Looney, 2009; Tschannen-Moran & Woolfolk Hoy, 2007). However, many of the samples used in studies of teaching self-efficacy consisted primarily of individuals who were White, reflecting the demographics of public K–12 teachers in the United States (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015). Given the small subsample size of non-White participants in these studies, it is possible that nonsignificant findings are the result of Type II error. In one large-scale study of new teachers in the racially and ethnically diverse schools of New York City (N = 2,956), African American and Latino teachers were found to be more self-efficacious than White teachers (Darling-Hammond, Chung, & Frelow, 2002). A point to be later discussed is that it is possible that teachers’ appraisal of their capabilities is influenced by the extent to which their racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds match those of their students.

Race, ethnicity, and culture may play a role in how teachers weigh potential sources of teaching self-efficacy. For example, vicarious experiences with teaching mentors could potentially have less influence when the model is of a different ethnicity or gender, as individuals generally attend more to models perceived as similar in some way (Bandura, 1997). And due to the aforementioned lack of racial diversity among teachers in the United States, a preservice teacher who is not White may be more likely to be paired with a mentor of a different race. Culture may also mediate the relationship between a given experience and teaching self-efficacy. Berg and Smith (2014) found that Malaysian preservice teachers were more likely to identify parents as important vicarious experiences than were preservice teachers from England or New Zealand. Klassen (2004) has also suggested that “the self-oriented sources—past performance and emotional arousal—may be more highly valued among individualistic cultural groups, whereas the other-oriented dimensions of social persuasion and vicarious experience may be stronger influences among persons with collectivist leanings” (p. 732).

The nature and meaning of efficacy-relevant experiences may differ for teachers who feel they contend with racial prejudice. In one case study, stereotypes functioned as discouraging social dissuasions for an African American teacher in a predominantly White setting (Milner & Woolfolk Hoy, 2003). Moreover, mastery was, in part, determined by the degree to which she could combat those stereotypes as a teacher. In another study, an African American professor who had been recognized for outstanding teaching indicated that receiving a teaching award was a profound social persuasion because it was conferred despite racial obstacles in the institutional culture (Morris & Usher, 2011). Teachers’ experiences with racial discrimination can also contribute to their stress (Coleman & Stevenson, 2013). However, little is known about how these experiences might influence teachers’ perceptions of their instructional capabilities.


Researchers have typically found little association between gender and the teaching self-efficacy of either experienced or novice teachers (e.g., Chester & Beaudin, 1996; Darling-Hammond et al., 2002; Devos, Dupriez, & Paquay, 2012; Tschannen-Moran & Woolfolk Hoy, 2007). When scholars have discovered differences in efficacy beliefs that favor female teachers, they have suggested that these differences might be attributed to the lack of male teaching models or to the social message that teaching is a feminine profession (Cheung, 2008; Fives & Looney, 2009; Tschannen-Moran & Johnson, 2011). However, male elementary teachers in the United States often have higher science teaching self-efficacy than their female peers (Bleicher, 2004; Cantrell, Young, & Moore, 2003; Lumpe, Czerniak, Haney, & Beltyukova, 2012). This, too, may be the result of macro-level social persuasions, such as that science is a male domain (Kiviet & Mji, 2003). Thus gender, as a social construct, may have different implications for self-efficacy in different contexts.

The relationship between gender and negative physiological and affective states is unclear. Research in the 1990s and early 2000s seemed to indicate that male teachers were more likely to experience stress than were their female counterparts (see Sabbe & Aelterman, 2007, for a review). In recent studies, however, female teachers have been found to experience higher levels of stress related to their teaching workload (Antoniou, Polychroni, & Vlachakis, 2006; Chaplain, 2008; Grayson & Alvarez, 2008; Klassen & Chiu, 2010). Even in their initial teaching experiences, female preservice teachers have reported significantly higher levels of stress than their male counterparts (Klassen & Durksen, 2014). Exploring both stress and teaching self-efficacy with more specificity may help to clarify relationships between these constructs. For example, female teachers in Klassen and Chiu’s (2010) study were more likely to experience stress related to the behaviors of students in their classrooms, which had a negative influence on their teaching self-efficacy. There is also some evidence that male teachers have slightly higher classroom management self-efficacy (Klassen & Chiu, 2010; Yazici, 2010). Thus, it appears that the relationship between gender, stress, and self-efficacy is complex and may be mediated or moderated by other variables. Research that is sensitive to context and that measures these constructs at a high level of specificity has more practical value and helps to provide more nuanced understandings of the phenomena.

Contextual Factors

As with efficacy beliefs in general, teachers’ self-efficacy is sensitive to the context in which the task—teaching—is performed. In their seminal article, Tschannen-Moran et al. (1998) noted that teaching self-efficacy “has been defined as both context and subject-matter specific. A teacher may feel very competent in one area of study or when working with one kind of student and feel less able in other subjects or with different students” (p. 215). Characteristics of a classroom, such as class size and ability level, can influence perceptions of teaching self-efficacy (Andersen, Dragsted, Evans, & Sørensen, 2004; Raudenbush, Rowan, & Cheong, 1992). Teachers in secondary grades are more likely to report higher stress and lower self-efficacy than those in elementary grades, possibly due to more extreme student behaviors (Darling-Hammond et al., 2002; Klassen & Chiu, 2010; Tschannen-Moran & Johnson, 2011). Both preservice and in-service teachers in suburban environments have reported higher self-efficacy than have teachers in urban or rural schools (Chester & Beaudin, 1996; Siwatu, 2011b; Tschannen-Moran & Johnson, 2011). Some scholars have argued that teacher education programs often fail to prepare students for the unique demands of teaching in urban and rural contexts (Haberman, 1996; Siwatu, 2011b).

Teachers’ self-efficacy can also vary according to the subjects they teach and the resources at their disposal. Ross, Cousins, Gadalla, and Hannay (1999) reported that individuals who were asked to teach outside of their content area experienced decreases in their self-efficacy. More surprisingly, they found that teachers who taught different subjects tended to rely on different sources of teaching self-efficacy. Namely, perceptions of past success were more strongly related to teaching self-efficacy for English, social science, and art teachers, whereas perceptions of preparedness to teach were a greater influence for mathematics and science teachers. The availability of teaching resources may also affect teachers’ self-efficacy in that they serve as additional tools with which to approach the task of teaching (Lumpe, Haney, & Czerniak, 2000; Tschannen-Moran & Woolfolk Hoy, 2007). However, the availability of too many resources without proper support may also overwhelm young teachers and undermine their self-efficacy (Chester & Beaudin, 1996).

Teachers’ efficacy beliefs may also be influenced by their students’ backgrounds. Students’ socioeconomic status, gender, and culture can influence teachers’ expectations for student motivation and achievement (Auwarter & Aruguete, 2008; Tyler, Boykin, & Walton, 2006). Teachers’ perceptions of their capabilities to motivate and instruct their students may, in turn, vary as a function of those expectations. The link between teaching self-efficacy and student characteristics may also be related to teachers’ unfamiliarity with the needs of students from different backgrounds. For example, teachers have reported lower self-efficacy for working with students who are English language learners (Bonner & Christine, 2009; Settlage, Southerland, Smith, & Ceglie, 2009; Siwatu, 2007). Casebolt and Hodge (2010) found that physical educators’ self-efficacy for teaching students with disabilities was contingent, in part, on the type and severity of the disability.

Teachers’ may also feel less capable to teach students of certain racial or ethnic backgrounds. Siwatu (2011b) found that preservice teachers felt better prepared to teach White American students than to teach African American students, Hispanic students, or English language learners. Similarly, Moseley and Taylor (2011) reported that middle and high school teachers were less self-efficacious when teaching in classrooms with larger numbers of African American, Latino, and American Indian students. Because the majority of participants in both studies were White, these findings may reflect a cultural mismatch between teachers and their students. As previously noted, new African American and Hispanic teachers were more self-efficacious than their White peers who taught in New York City schools, where 83% of the students were identified as belonging to a “minority” group (Darling-Hammond et al., 2002). These teachers felt more capable to teach their students, handle discipline problems, and make a difference in their students’ lives.

Yet, even teachers who are not white may have trouble connecting with students of the same ethnicity when the curriculum is Eurocentric (Sato, Fisette, & Walton, 2013). Well-designed teacher education experiences may improve the attitudes, beliefs, and practices of preservice teachers. In one study, 20 preservice social studies teachers were asked to critically evaluate the curriculum, reflect on the cultural context of their student teaching classrooms, and plan and implement culturally relevant lessons (Fitchett, Starker, & Salyers, 2012). Following implementation, participants had higher culturally responsive teaching self-efficacy and were more confident in their ability to teach in a culturally diverse setting.

Implications of Teaching Self-Efficacy for Teachers and Their Students

Toward the beginning of the 21st century, reviews of teaching self-efficacy research typically emphasized the many benefits associated with a high sense of efficacy; self-efficacious teachers were said to be more psychologically healthy, motivated, and effective than their less self-efficacious peers (e.g., Henson, 2002; Tschannen-Moran et al., 1998; Woolfolk Hoy & Davis, 2006). However, many of the claims made in these pieces were overstated, based more on theory than on empirical research specific to teaching. Research on the effects of teaching self-efficacy has since increased and has been the subject of many recent reviews and meta-analyses (e.g., Brown, 2012; Chesnut & Burley, 2015; Klassen & Tze, 2014; Zee & Kooman, 2016). Although this work has improved understanding of how self-efficacy beliefs can affect teachers and their students, researchers’ overuse of cross-sectional designs has limited what causal relationship can be inferred.

Psychological Well-Being

Much of the research on the effects of teaching self-efficacy has focused on teachers’ well-being, such as the degree to which they experience stress, burnout, or satisfaction with their jobs (Klassen et al., 2011). Scholarly interest in teachers’ work stress may be attributed to the high-stress nature of the occupation (Johnson et al., 2005). The relationship between teaching self-efficacy and work-related stress is particularly enigmatic. Bandura (1997) described stress both as a source and as an effect of self-efficacy. For example, it seems logical that a stressful classroom could lead a teacher to doubt his or her capabilities (Klassen & Chiu, 2010, 2011). At the same time, a teacher who already has low self-efficacy may be more susceptible to occupational stress or may engage in practices that lead to student behavior stressors (Martin, Sass, & Schmitt, 2012; Robertson & Dunsmuir, 2013; Schwarzer & Hallum, 2008). Although teaching self-efficacy has consistently been found to be inversely related to work stress, it is difficult to ascertain the direction of the relationship due to the preponderance of cross-sectional studies. It is possible that the influence of teaching self-efficacy on stress is partially mediated by coping mechanisms, but scholars have reported conflicting findings regarding the link between teachers’ self-efficacy beliefs and their use of active coping strategies (e.g., Chan, 2008; Shen, 2009). Nevertheless, teachers can minimize the effects of stress by engaging in adaptive coping strategies and seeking out external resources (Betoret, 2006; Klassen & Durksen, 2014; Morris & Usher, 2011).

Chronic occupational stress may lead to burnout, which is characterized by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization (i.e., negative, cynical attitudes toward students), and reduced sense of accomplishment (Maslach & Jackson, 1981). Researchers, using both cross-sectional and longitudinal designs, have convincingly established that teaching self-efficacy is a consistent predictor of all three dimensions of burnout (Aloe, Amo, & Shanahan, 2014; Brown, 2012; Zee & Kooman, 2016). That is, teachers with high self-efficacy tend to feel more accomplished and report less emotional exhaustion and depersonalization. These relationships may be mediated by occupational stressors and the types of instructional approaches teachers use (Betoret, 2006; Martin et al., 2012; Schwarzer & Hallum, 2008).

Finally, researchers have reported positive associations between teachers’ self-efficacy and their job satisfaction, but most of these studies have been cross-sectional and thus do not establish causality (Zee & Kooman, 2016). Self-efficacy is presumed to predict job satisfaction, but researchers have not reached consensus on what mechanisms explain this relationship. For example, work conditions predict teaching self-efficacy and satisfaction in some models (e.g., Aldridge & Fraser, 2015), whereas work conditions mediate the relationship between self-efficacy and satisfaction in others (e.g., Badri, Mohaidat, Ferrandino, & Mourad, 2013; Lent & Brown, 2006). And in Klassen and Chiu’s (2010) model, teaching self-efficacy mediates the relationship between classroom stress and job satisfactions, whereas classroom stress mediates the relationship between self-efficacy and satisfaction in Martin et al.’s (2012) model. More experimental or longitudinal studies are needed to explore possible causal relationships between these variables.


Bandura (1997) noted that self-efficacious individuals tend to persist at a task, even when that task becomes a challenge. In theory, then, teachers who believe they are capable should be more likely to persevere than to abandon the profession or give up on a student. Indeed, Chesnut and Burley’s (2015) meta-analysis revealed that teaching self-efficacy was moderately associated with commitment to teaching for both preservice and practicing teachers. In a recent longitudinal study, beginning preservice teachers who only had one month of teaching experience became less likely to quit as their self-efficacy increased (Pfitzner-Eden, 2016). Scholars have described how many of the aforementioned variables (e.g., stress, burnout, satisfaction) may contribute to, or help to explain relationships between, teachers’ self-efficacy and their commitment (e.g., Klassen & Chiu, 2011; Martin et al., 2012). In Martin et al.’s (2012) model, for example, teachers with lower self-efficacy were more likely to teach in ways that led to more student behavior stressors. These stressors, in turn, indirectly predicted their intent to leave their school or quit the profession altogether.

In earlier research, a commonly used justification for studying teachers’ efficacy beliefs was that self-efficacious teachers were less likely to refer difficult students for special education (e.g., Henson, 2002; Tschannen-Moran & Woolfolk Hoy, 2001). The underlying implication was that teachers who felt they were capable were less likely to give up on their students. However, as Zee and Kooman (2016) noted, more recent and well-designed studies have failed to replicate this finding. Moreover, they pointed out that teachers’ referral decisions could be influenced by other factors, such as teachers’ ability to identify students’ special needs. To explore the relationship between teachers’ self-efficacy and their commitment to teaching all students, researchers should more directly measure how they interact with students who can pose instructional challenges.

Quality of Instruction

Research on the relationship between teachers’ self-efficacy beliefs and the quality of their instruction has been insufficient and almost exclusively cross-sectional (Holzberger, Philipp, & Kunter, 2013; Klassen et al., 2011). Moreover, in many studies, teachers have been trusted to report on their own instructional behaviors (e.g., Abu-Tineh, Khasawneh & Khalaileh, 2011; Thoonen, Sleegers, Peetsma, & Oort, 2011). More objective measures are needed to adequately assess teacher effectiveness. It is telling that in two recent studies, teachers’ self-efficacy predicted their self-reported instructional practices but not their students’ ratings of those same practices (Holzberger et al., 2013; Schiefele & Schaffner, 2015).

In a recent meta-analysis, however, teachers’ self-efficacy was found to be strongly associated with evaluations of their effectiveness by fellow teachers, supervisors, and administrators (Klassen & Tze, 2014). Observers tend to rate self-efficacious teachers more highly in terms of their instruction, management of behavioral problems, and ability to foster a positive classroom environment (Almog & Shechtman, 2007; Guo, Connor, Yang, Roehrig, & Morrison, 2012; Justice, Mashburn, Hamre, & Pianta, 2008). Moreover, students of these teachers tend to be more engaged and on-task (Reyes, Brackett, Rivers, White, & Salovey, 2012; Robertson & Dunsmuir, 2013). The relationship between teachers’ effectiveness and self-efficacy can be reciprocal; those who have been effective in the past may become more self-efficacious as a result (Bandura, 1997; Holzberger et al., 2013).

Student Motivation

Research that focuses on student motivation is sparse but appears to support the notion that students of self-efficacious teachers tend to be more motivated. Teachers’ self-efficacy beliefs have been linked to student behaviors associated with motivation, such as being on-task or performing well in school (Caprara, Barbaranelli, Steca, & Malone, 2006; Robertson & Dunsmuir, 2013). Students of self-efficacious teachers are also more likely to report being engaged and intrinsically motivated in their academic work (Mojavezi & Tamiz, 2012; Reyes et al., 2012). And in some longitudinal studies, teachers’ self-efficacy was found to influence students’ efficacy beliefs and their expectations of how they would perform academically (Anderson, Greene, & Loewen, 1988; Midgley, Feldlaufer, & Eccles, 1989; Ross, Hogaboam-Gray, & Hannay, 2001). Correlations between teachers’ self-efficacy and students’ achievement goals, however, tend to be weak or nonsignificant (Schiefele & Schaffner, 2015; Thoonen et al., 2011). More work is needed to identify the factors that explain relationships between teachers’ self-efficacy and their students’ motivation.

Student Performance

Klassen et al. (2011) noted that research on teaching self-efficacy tends to focus more on within-teacher variables than on student outcomes. Associations between teachers’ self-efficacy and students’ achievement tend to be significant but modest (Klassen & Tze, 2014; Klassen et al., 2011). As with much of the research on the effects of teaching self-efficacy, studies of the link between teaching self-efficacy and student performance tend to be cross-sectional (Zee & Kooman, 2016). As previously discussed, student achievement could be a source, rather than simply an outcome, of teachers’ self-efficacy. But evidence from the few longitudinal studies conducted suggests that students’ performance may indeed be influenced by teachers’ beliefs. For example, Caprara et al. (2006) found that teachers’ self-efficacy predicted student achievement when controlling for previous levels of achievement. And students taught by teachers with higher or lower self-efficacy than their previous teachers were likely to experience related changes in their skills or perceived performance (Midgley et al., 1989; Ross et al., 2001).

More work is needed to address the differential effects of high or low self-efficacy on student outcomes and the role that student factors play in this relationship. In addition, scholars should continue to explore the mechanisms through which teachers’ self-beliefs influence student performance. The relationship between teaching self-efficacy and student outcomes is likely mediated by certain teacher behaviors, such as the degree to which teachers provide evaluative feedback to their students (Guo et al., 2012).

Future Directions

From its conception, research on teaching self-efficacy has been undermined by conceptual misunderstandings and methodological shortcomings (Henson, 2002; Klassen et al., 2011; Zee & Kooman, 2016). Clearly, much has been learned about teachers’ self-efficacy, its sources, and its effects on teachers and their students. However, there are two overarching problems that must be sufficiently addressed to advance research on teaching self-efficacy.

The first is that measures used in studies of the sources of self-efficacy tend to be psychometrically unsound and inconsistent with Bandura’s (1997) descriptions. As previously noted, there is no widely used scale of the four hypothesized sources, and attempts to validate such a scale have fallen short. Moreover, items used in studies of the sources have often failed to adequately capture the intended source. These limitations have obscured understandings of how teachers develop and maintain a sense of efficacy.

Research on the sources of teaching self-efficacy is particularly important because it has the most direct implications for teacher education and professional development programs. Among intervention studies informed by the sources, the most consistent finding is that mastery experiences, vicarious experiences, and social persuasions influence participants’ teaching self-efficacy when they provide them with content and pedagogical knowledge (e.g., Bleicher, 2007; Tschannen-Moran & McMaster, 2009). However, teacher education and professional development programs typically use multiple sources of information to improve teachers’ knowledge of content and pedagogical skills. Well-designed studies with valid measures of the sources can be used to demonstrate how a social cognitive perspective provides unique and valuable contributions to practice.

The second problem is that research on the effects of teaching self-efficacy has relied heavily on designs that do not allow for causal inferences (Klassen et al., 2011; Zee & Kooman, 2016). For example, Robertson and Dunsmuir (2013) reported that teachers’ self-efficacy and use of feedback predicted positive student behaviors. But given the cross-sectional nature of their study, it could as easily be said that students’ positive behaviors increased teachers’ sense of efficacy. Similarly, researchers have yet to convincingly establish that teachers’ self-efficacy influences student achievement. This constitutes a threat to what Pajares (2003), invoking William James, called the “cash value” of the construct. Researchers must adequately demonstrate that teaching self-efficacy is indeed important to student motivation and learning, particularly in a political climate that is increasingly focused on student outcomes.

Further Reading

Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.Find this resource:

Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: Freeman.Find this resource:

Fives, H., & Buehl, M. M. (2012). Spring cleaning for the ‘messy’ construct of teachers’ beliefs: What are they? Which have been examined? What can they tell us? In K. R. Harris, S. Graham, & T. Urdan (Eds.), APA educational psychology handbook, Volume 2: Individual differences and cultural and contextual factors (pp. 471–499). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Find this resource:

Henson, R. K. (2002). From adolescent angst to adulthood: Substantive implications and measurement dilemmas in the development of teacher efficacy research. Educational Psychologist, 37, 137–150.Find this resource:

Klassen, R. M., & Tze, V. M. (2014). Teachers’ self-efficacy, personality, and teaching effectiveness: A meta-analysis. Educational Research Review, 12, 59–76.Find this resource:

Klassen, R. M., Tze, V. M. C., Betts, S. M., & Gordon, K. A. (2011). Teacher efficacy research 1998–2009: Signs of progress or unfulfilled promise?Educational Psychology Review, 23, 21–43.Find this resource:

Morris, D. B., Usher, E. L., & Chen, J. A. (2016). Reconceptualizing the sources of teaching self-efficacy: A critical review of emerging literature. Educational Psychology Review. Advance online publication.Find this resource:

Pajares, F. (1992). Teachers’ beliefs and educational research: Cleaning up a messy construct. Review of Educational Research, 62, 307–332.Find this resource:

Tschannen-Moran, M., & Woolfolk-Hoy, A. (2001). Teacher efficacy: capturing an elusive construct. Teaching and Teacher Education, 17, 783–805.Find this resource:

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Zee, M., & Kooman, H. M. Y. (2016). Teacher self-efficacy and its effects on classroom processes, student academic adjustments, and teacher well-being: A synthesis of 40 years of research. Review of Educational Research, 86(4), 981–1015.Find this resource:


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