What is self-efficacy and how can we help our students to get more of it?

“If you think you can, you probably can.  If you think you can’t, well that self limiting and self-fulfilling belief might well stop you doing something you’re perfectly capable of doing.”

Albert Bandura

Last week I was fortunate enough to be asked to talk at the Osiris Teaching & Learning conference, with Andy Tharby about our book, ‘Making every lesson count’.   I also had the opportunity to listen to some educational heavyweights such as John Hattie, David Didau and Alex Quigley.  David has written about John’s talk here.

During his presentation, Alex was talking about the idea of ‘self-efficacy’.  This is the optimistic self-belief in our competence or chances of successfully accomplishing a task and producing a favourable outcome – more commonly known as confidence perhaps.  This is an attractive idea, and links to this quote from Dr Lee Elliot Major:

“One of the most inspiring things truly great teachers and schools do is instil in children the ‘have a go’ confidence that their more privileged peers naturally pick up for their supportive, middle class homes”

This is not too far away from Dweck’s idea of growth mindset.  Unfortunately,  the idea of growth mindset has become mutated and misinterpreted into an overly simplistic message,  something along the lines of ‘anyone can do anything’.  This is not the case.  For example, I’ve accepted that  I’m unlikely to play football in the Premier League!  With self-efficacy, we can refocus this message and talk about the moral obligation we have as teachers, to help all students believe that their starting point in life doesn’t have to limit them.  Instead, with the right support, encouragement, level of expectation and great teaching, they can grow in confidence and achieve beyond their expectations.  Through confidence comes aspiration.  Imagine if we could make more students in our schools feel like that?

So what can we do about it?  Stanford psychologist, Albert Bandura, provides us with a framework that helps us to start thinking about how we can help our students to get more self-efficacy:

Let’s explore each of these, one at a time and then think about how we can use each one, to attempt to grow the self-efficacy of the students we teach

1. Performance outcomes

The first source of self-efficacy is through how we have performed in tasks previously.  Experiencing success, for example in mastering a task or controlling an environment, will build self- belief in that area whereas a failure will undermine that efficacy belief. To have a resilient sense of self-efficacy requires experience in overcoming obstacles and experiencing success, through effort and perseverance.

Implications for teachers and schools:

  • Provide opportunities for all students to experience success – irrespective of their academic starting point e.g. praise them for getting to grips with a challenging idea, tackling a tricky problem or making an improvement in a test score.

  • Build resilience – try to ensure that all students are kept in the struggle zone and support them through this.  This means ensuring that our curriculum is sufficiently challenging and that students are made to think hard in lessons.

2. Physiological Feedback

The mental and physiological state our students are in will influence how they judge their self-efficacy. Depression, for example, can dampen confidence in their capabilities. Stress, anxiety or tension are interpreted as signs of vulnerability to poor performance whereas positive emotions can boost our confidence in our skills.

Implications for teachers and schools:

  • Know the periods in the school year when students are likely to experience stress and anxiety and support them through this.  For example, as well as leading assemblies for Y11 leading up to their exams about how to revise, we also do one about managing their well being.
  • Provide trained counsellors and other professionals to support students with this.

3. Verbal Persuasion

Influential people in the lives of students, such as parents and teachers, can strengthen their beliefs that they have what it takes to succeed. Being persuaded that we possess the capabilities to master certain activities means that we are more likely to put in the effort and sustain it when problems arise.

Implications for teachers and schools:

  • When giving feedback to students, make it very clear what is was they did that enabled them to be successful – and what specifically they need to do in order to improve further.
  • Share exemplar work of students who have worked hard and shown effort and commitment.  Talk about the work, but also talk about the qualities that these students exhibited – then link this to the feedback that you give other students later on.
  • Talk to students about why it matters and so widen their aspirations e.g. ‘if you do really well in GCSE science, this will give you access to science A levels and then on to medical school to become a doctor’.

4. Vicarious Experiences

This comes from our observation of people around us, especially people we consider as role models. So, students seeing their peers succeeding by their sustained effort raises their belief that they too could master the activities needed for success in that area.

Implications for teachers and schools:

  • Praise students specifically for their effort and commitment – and why it matters.
  • Use seating plans to enable students who are low in confidence to work alongside their peers who have greater confidence.
  • Encourage these successful students to share and talk about their work.
  • Share and celebrate excellent work – we do this through our gallery:

  • Leaders – think about your setting policy.  If you are putting groups of students together who are low attaining and low in confidence, who do they look towards as their role models?

At Durrington, we are thinking about how we build self-efficacy through our teaching and curriculum, student self concept and school/peer culture.  Andy Tharby has written about this here.  This will be the focus of our work over the coming years.

Posted by Shaun Allison




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2 Responses to What is self-efficacy and how can we help our students to get more of it?

  1. Reblogged this on Design Technology & Engineering Teaching Resources and commented:
    What is self-efficacy and how can we help our students to get more of it?

  2. Pingback: What is self-efficacy and how can we help our students to get more of it? – CLW Academy Educational Blog

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