Building professional efficacy: The key to reducing teacher turnover?

Posted by Kate Herbert-Smith on 30 April, 2018

When we talk about teacher retention, it’s often alongside topics such as workload, stress and pay.

But, developing and retaining high-quality and motivated teaching staff is not just about salary and wellbeing. It’s also about job satisfaction and building a sense of value and worth in the profession; a sense of professional self-efficacy.

Two schoolgirls hiding behind the laptop in the classroom

What is self-efficacy?

Self-efficacy refers to the level of confidence teachers have in their abilities to guide their students to success. Researchers have explored the link between teacher self-efficacy and student achievement for the past thirty years. Their findings suggest that teachers with a strong sense of self-efficacy tend to:

  • Feel confident in choosing the best approach to suit the needs of their classroom
  • Be adaptable and resilient when faced with challenge or change
  • Engage in inquiry and research in their own classroom and feel secure enough to share this with others
  • Feel able to work collaboratively and contribute to building a knowledge creating profession

It makes sense then, that teachers who have a sense of self-efficacy can see that they’re having impact and are less of a flight risk from the profession.

Why does self-efficacy matter?

According to Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximising Impact on Learning by John Hattie, collective teacher efficacy has the greatest impact on student achievement. Even higher than factors like teacher-student relationships, home environment, or parental involvement.

Although surprising, this actually makes sense. A teacher who lacks confidence is less likely to push students, try new methods, or work through challenges. When teachers are confident in their ability, persist through difficulties, and innovative in their practices, students really stand to benefit.

In turn, teachers who see their efforts having a greater impact on their students achievements, will gain a greater sense of job satisfaction making them less likely to leave the profession.

So, we know that a greater sense of self-efficacy in teachers leads to more impact on student achievement and improved teacher retention, but what can you do to build teachers  self-efficacy in your school?

5 things you can do to build self-efficacy in your staff:

1. Make teachers true stakeholders

When teachers have a role in making important school decisions, feel their voices are heard, and can actively participate in building school culture, efficacy is raised. When teachers and leadership teams work together toward mutual goals, a shared belief in the direction of the work and the ability to effect change with students, grows.

2. Praise the good and share it

A bit of encouragement goes a long way toward building a culture of strong self-efficacy. But, remember, praise isn’t just about patting someone on the back. Effective praise is authentic recognition of a teacher’s hard work and the resulting student successes.

It’s also about sharing that work with others to model excellence. Teachers who feel valued and see positive outcomes for their students are more likely to persist in their efforts. A school that routinely recognises the efforts and accomplishments of its teachers builds a community that believes in its members, encourages a collaborate culture, and continually strives  to do more.

3. Collaborate and listen

Building a collaborative environment is key to building collective and self-efficacy. Teachers need to know what’s happening in other classrooms to build trust and confidence in each other’s abilities. They also need time to share their ideas with each other and to work together toward building school-wide best practices. Leaders can assist by providing co-planning time, exhibiting models of excellence, and hosting meetings for teachers to build and revisit a collective school mission.

4. Acknowledge the hardships

The demands of teaching can be overwhelming. It’s easy for educators to feel like they’re drowning in paperwork, lesson planning, marking, and the many extracurricular activities they take on. When a leader doesn’t assist teachers who feel overwhelmed, they can lose their sense of efficacy. They may feel like they’re failing, and may blame themselves for not keeping up. How you can help? Empathise with your teachers, listen when they ask for help, and do what you can to help them manage their responsibilities. If you do, you’re more likely to have teachers who feel valued and supported in getting things done.

5. Provide useful professional development

Nothing feels more counterproductive than useless professional development sessions or activities. Your staff are all at different points in their careers, possess varying levels of experience, and have likely sat through many CPD workshops. When teachers receive continuing professional development (CPD) on the same topics over and over, they can feel unrecognised and stagnant, lowering their sense of self-efficacy. Similarly, when CPD activities aren’t based on evidence of what works, well-read teachers will realise they’re unsupported and become disengaged. But there’s another way… Utilising the experience of your staff and allowing teachers to choose areas of CPD they’re interested in, run training sessions, and share their own work can lead to teachers who are active participants in their development, rather than passive receivers. This builds a culture of efficacy amongst staff who genuinely work together to improve their practice.

Want more tips and ideas for retaining your teachers? Download our free practical guide to increasing teacher retention >

Topics: teacher retention

Improving teacher retention guide
Practical Guide to Teacher Retention


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