Developing teacher efficacy

What do teachers believe enhances their efficacy? Dr Graham Hendry from the Centre for Educational Measurement and Assessment at the University of Sydney, and Mary Ryan, Head of Professional Learning and Accreditation at Catholic Schools NSW, explore this question.

Why is teacher efficacy important?

Teachers with higher efficacy are more motivated, have a greater sense of wellbeing and persevere in helping children to learn (Skaalvik & Skaalvik, 2007; Tschannen-Moran & Barr, 2004; Zee & Koomen, 2016). There are two types of teacher efficacy: self-efficacy is a teacher’s confidence or belief in their own capability in a particular area of practice (for example, in teaching reading); collective efficacy is a teacher’s confidence or belief about their colleagues’ and/or whole school’s potential to be successful in a particular area of practice.

We already know that there is a positive relationship between both teachers’ self and collective efficacy and students’ achievement (Skaalvik & Skaalvik, 2007; Tschannen-Moran & Barr, 2004). However, as vital as it is in education to understand how to support and develop teachers’ efficacy, we know little about what teachers themselves think enhances their efficacy.

What we did

We conducted a small-scale interview study with 12 primary school teachers in western NSW about naturalistic influences that they thought had led to them developing their efficacy or made them feel more confident to teach reading. We focused on reading because the ability to read enables people to engage in education, acquire knowledge, and participate fully in society.

We held individual private interviews with teachers at their schools. Standard questions included: “Can you please tell me about a time when you have been successful in teaching reading?”, “How did this experience influence your confidence (if at all) in your ability to teach reading?”, and “What other experiences or influences do you think have made you feel confident in your ability to teach reading?”.

Both of us then read and re-read the interview transcripts to analyse them for ‘themes’, or things that were common to all teachers’ views about what enhanced their efficacy in teaching reading. Five themes emerged from what teachers said.

Teachers thought colleagues sharing their practice in a supportive way was an important influence that enhanced their confidence in their ability to teach reading.

Theme 1 – Observing children’s success

Without exception, teachers thought that observing children’s success in reading as a result of their teaching was an important influence that enhanced their confidence in their ability to teach reading. This was particularly the case when teachers helped children who were struggling to read to be successful; some teachers described such experiences as ‘powerful’.

Teachers used a variety of systematic strategies and reading programs to help children learn to read and could see children were successful when they could read or meet certain benchmarks or standards. Teachers could also see children were successful when they: were engaged or engrossed and expressed happiness or enjoyment in reading; wanted to read more; or were proud of their reading achievements.

Theme 2 – Sharing practice: Knowledge and modelling

Teachers thought that colleagues sharing their practice in a supportive way was an important influence that enhanced their confidence in their ability to teach reading. Supportive sharing of practice involved peers generously sharing their knowledge about and suggesting strategies for teaching reading, and/or sharing resources (for example, a book) about such strategies. It also involved peers who were successful in their teaching modelling or demonstrating strategies in real time in the classroom. As one teacher commented about their experience of observing a colleague teaching reading well, “if [they] can do that, I can do it too”.

Theme 3 – Leadership support

Teachers also thought that support provided by their school leaders (which included principals and assistant principals) enhanced their confidence in their ability to teach reading. Similar to sharing practice, leadership support involved leaders being open to listening to teachers’ requests for help to overcome challenges they were experiencing, then suggesting specific strategies or programs. Leadership support also involved principals showing trust in their staff that they could be successful in teaching reading. Indeed, in some schools, it involved principals modelling practice for their colleagues. We interpreted this kind of leadership support as mentoring characterised by autonomy support (Reeve, 2009).

Theme 4 – Professional learning – new knowledge and skill

Some teachers were also of the view that professional learning experiences (for example, promoted by their principal) that led them to develop new knowledge and skill for teaching reading also enhanced their confidence in their ability to teach reading. However, teachers thought it was important that the reasons for using new programs should be clear so they could see how such programs related to their current practices.

Theme 5 – Whole-school culture

Finally, for teachers at some schools, a whole-school culture of a collaborative approach to teaching reading, in which all their colleagues felt responsible to teach in the same successful ways (for example, by using the same reading program), was an important influence that enhanced their confidence in their ability to teach reading. This whole-school culture evolved from leaders encouraging and showing trust in their teachers to make judgements and decisions, so that teachers felt ‘safe’ in attempting new strategies.

Summary: Our model

In summary, teachers experience natural growth in their efficacy for teaching reading through observing children’s success in reading, receiving support from peers and school leaders through advice and modelling, and being trusted in their capability to implement new practices by school leaders. Teachers also experience growth in their efficacy through professional learning in which they develop new knowledge and skills for teaching reading. Teachers’ collective efficacy is strengthened when all these sources combine in a collaborative, whole-school culture. In hearing first-hand from teachers about the factors that enhanced their efficacy, we felt there was considerable overlap between our themes. We developed the model (see diagram) in which teachers’ knowledge and skill continues to deepen and broaden throughout their careers.

Next steps

The next steps are to conduct a larger research study involving a survey of primary school teachers across NSW to further validate our themes. Based on our own and other research evidence, we intend to design practical, easy-to-use resources for schools to not only develop teachers’ self and collective efficacy in teaching reading, but also teacher efficacy more broadly.


We wish to thank all the teachers interviewed for generously giving up their valuable time to participate in our study. We also thank Dr Andrew Mellas for editing an earlier version of this article.


Reeve, J. (2009). Why teachers adopt a controlling motivating style toward students and how they can become more autonomy supportive. Educational Psychologist, 44(3), 159-175.

Skaalvik, E. M., & Skaalvik, S. (2007). Dimensions of teacher self-efficacy and relations with strain factors, perceived collective teacher efficacy, and teacher burnout. Journal of Educational Psychology, 99(3), 611-625. doi: 10.1037/0022-0663.99.3.611

Tschannen-Moran, M., & Barr, M. (2004). Fostering student learning: The relationship of collective teacher efficacy and student achievement. Leadership and Policy in Schools, 3(3), 189-209. doi: 10.1080/15700760490503706

Zee, M., & Koomen, H. M. Y. (2016). Teacher self-efficacy and its effects on classroom processes, student academic adjustment, and teacher well-being: A synthesis of 40 years of research. Review of Educational Research, 86(4), 981-1015. doi: 10.3102/0034654315626801