Saturday, September 22, 2012

Teacher Self-Efficacy and Educational Change

Last year my students had iPads in elementary classrooms. The school had a set of iPads that was sitting idle most of the time, yet the teachers were reluctant to integrate them into their instructional units. It was not because they thought they were useless, instead the most common response was: " I do not know how to use them or what to do with them". Now this a response from a few teachers, and our data actually shows that even when there is low level of deployment iPads and iPods are the technologies most easily integrated into the classroom. That said I would like to address the issue of teacher efficacy.
One of the biggest challenges in trying to integrate curriculum using new skill subsets like art and technology seem to hit the same stumbling block. Teachers (and administrators) often do not believe that they know enough to make the change, they do not believe THEY have the capacity. This set of expectations is what Albert Bandura referred to as self-efficacy. The idea that having an expectation of success increases the odds that a person will persist with a task and stay engaged is not new, yet it is powerful. 

Changing expectations is not easy especially in teachers (adults) who have accumulated experience that may point to failure. Teachers come to believe (like many adults) that they cannot draw, play music or sculpt. On the surface they are right- at present state they probably would have limited results. But that is often not what they mean. What they mean is that they lack some innate ability to draw, or sculpt, or use technology. This sense of efficacy about a task limits their ability to explore new ideas and integrate  art, technology or just new ideas like project-based learning. When they do this they deprive their students from exposure to skill sets and new problem solving spaces. 

Students at all levels tend to see their teachers as having a finite and magically acquired knowledge, they seldom see them work through a new skill or solve a new problem. As a result they deprive their students from seeing a model of an individual who is gaining expertise through interaction with a task. Ironically, in this time of accelerated change, our students need thinking and problem solving skills more than at other time in history. We expect that in their life time they would have to repeatedly develop areas of expertise- in a way what Ken Robinson talks about when he discusses creativity.

So what can we do? I see the answer along two lines. the first is giving teachers the knowledge and skill so they would engage with more confidence while they learn to work in conditions of ambiguity. We did this in our ArtsLINC grant with what we called the studio experiment. Teachers were invited to participate in studio experiences with a teaching artist so they can feel confident (efficacious) integrating visual art production in their classroom. It was a great success.

The second is changing efficacy orientation. That is shifting in thinking and deed from the individual to the collective. Collective-efficacy is the notion that as a group we can tackle a task. This is very different because now I can estimate whether a group effort is successful. Data from research I have conducted a few years back showed that when teachers feel that they can tackle teaching reading for all students as a school they have better student outcomes. Not just that but their collective feeling predicted student result better than their personal efficacy.

So, to move ahead with the kind of school change that our students deserve teachers must have opportunities to learn, experiment, and enjoy a sense of collective efficacy that says- together, with our different skill sets, we can do it.
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