How Teacher Beliefs in Their Own Effectiveness Transform the Classroom

How Teacher Beliefs in Their Own Effectiveness Transform the Classroom

Believe in your students and their abilities. Show them that you care. Teachers are often reminded of these cornerstones of teaching practices. Yet, perhaps equally as important, teachers need to believe in themselves and their own abilities to successfully run a classroom. In their recent article, “The effects of teachers’ efficacy beliefs on students’ perceptions of teacher relationship quality,” authors Jessica J. Summers et al. investigate the connections between teachers’ beliefs in their own abilities and students’ views about their student-teacher relationship. They find that when teachers believe that their teaching will have a positive impact on students, they have closer relationships with their students.

Summers et al. explain that teacher self-efficacy is the belief that teachers have in their abilities to plan, organize, and carry out the actions needed to “successfully accomplish a specific teaching task in a particular context” (18). They argue that teachers who have a higher sense of self-efficacy—who feel more confident in their instructional abilities—may be less “threatened by the challenges and confrontations of their students..may be less likely to feel the need for control and more likely to listen to students…” and may be more able “to care about their students without being overwhelmed by student behaviors they cannot understand or control” (18). Those teachers are more likely to develop strong, positive relationships with their students. 

Part of teacher efficacy beliefs also involves teachers’ beliefs in their students’ abilities and the expectations teachers have for student success. Summers et al. note that the way teachers view the challenges of their class and their own abilities to instruct and manage that class influences the type of instruction delivered (19). In particular:

“When teachers believe students have the ability to learn, they act on those beliefs and tend to deliver more rigorous instruction” (18).

Previous studies have also shown that teachers with lower senses of self-efficacy have less rigorous instruction and weaker relationships with students. Indeed, Summers et al. explain that teachers with low self-efficacy beliefs “tend to hold lower expectations for themselves and their students,” and tend to “ask easier questions, allow less time for answering, and give fewer prompts, and express less warmth in their interactions with students” (19).

For this study, Summers et al. investigated the connection between teacher self-efficacy beliefs and their relationships with students. They analyzed survey data from 219 middle school students and 12 of their teachers. The survey questions were administered at the beginning and the end of the school year. Toward the beginning of the year, teachers were asked to complete scale ratings for statements about whether they believed individual students in their class would succeed, their perceptions of self-efficacy, and their expectations for students. At the beginning and the end of the year, students were asked a series of questions about their perceived relationship with the teacher.

The Findings

  • “Boys and students whose teachers had low expectations for success were more likely to report increased conflict” with their teacher at the beginning of the year (22).
  • Teachers with higher senses of personal self-efficacy had students who become less dependent on the teacher throughout the year (22).

“Our research suggests that having a strong sense of general efficacy will enhance students’ sense of closeness o their teacher over time, which likely increases their sense of engagement in the classroom” (24).

  • Teachers with optimistic views about teaching had students who reported feeling close to their teacher at the beginning of the year and “even closer to their teacher over the course of the year” (23).
  • Teachers who had strong senses of personal self-efficacy—in their own abilities to teach students effectively—had students who reported being close with the teacher at the beginning of the year, but had increased conflicts with the teacher over time. Summers et al. remark that these reports of increased conflicts may result from teachers applying their confidence as instructors to “really push students and develop their autonomy as learners” (23).

Summers et al. take the time to remind school leaders of the importance of identifying and supporting teachers who demonstrate lower senses of self-efficacy. For teachers’ beliefs in their own abilities influence the rigor of their instruction, the relationships they build with students, and, ultimately, student engagement and learning.

Paper Title:  The effects of teachers’ efficacy beliefs on students’ perceptions of teacher relationship quality

Authors: Jessica J. Summers (University of Arizona), Heather A. Davis (North Carolina State University), and Anita Wookfolk Hoy (The Ohio State University)

Full Paper:

Published: Learning and Individual Differences, Volume 53, 2017, Pages 17-25

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