Essays on Teaching Excellence
Toward the Best in the Academy

Vol.15, No. 7, 2003-2004

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Self-Efficacy in College Teaching

Anita Woolfolk Hoy, The Ohio State University

Over a quarter century ago, Albert Bandura introduced the concept ofself-efficacy or "beliefs in one?s capacity to organize and execute thecourses of action required to produce given attainments" (1997, p. 3).Since that time, research in many arenas has demonstrated the power of efficacyperceptions in human learning, performance, and motivation.

Teachers? Sense of Efficacy

Teachers? sense of efficacy is a judgment about capabilities to influencestudent engagement and learning, even among those students who may be difficultor unmotivated. Teachers with a strong sense of efficacy tend to exhibit greaterlevels of planning, organization, and enthusiasm and spend more time teachingin areas where their sense of efficacy is higher, whereas teachers tend toavoid subjects and topics when efficacy is lower. They tend to be more open tonew ideas, more willing to experiment with new methods to better meet the needsof their students, and more committed to teaching. They persist when things donot go smoothly and are more resilient in the face of setbacks. And they tendto be less critical of students who make errors and to work longer with astudent who is struggling (Ashton & Webb, 1986; Coladarchi, 1992; Gibson& Dembo, 1984; Tschannen-Moran & Woolfolk Hoy, 2001).

Ross (1994) reviewed 88 teacher efficacy studies in pre-college settings andidentified potential links between teachers? sense of efficacy and theirbehaviors. Ross suggested that teachers with higher levels of efficacy are morelikely to (1) learn and use new approaches and strategies for teaching, (2) usemanagement techniques that enhance student autonomy, (3) provide specialassistance to low achieving students, (4) build students? self-perceptions oftheir academic skills, (5) set attainable goals, and (6) persist in the face ofstudent failure.

The Development of Efficacy

Bandura (1977, 1997) identified four sources of efficacy expectations:mastery experiences (the most powerful source), physiological and emotionalstates, vicarious experiences, and social persuasion. The perception thatteaching has been successful (mastery) raises expectations that teaching willbe proficient in the future, unless the success required such massive work thatthe individual feels unable to sustain this level of effort. The perceptionthat one?s teaching has been a failure lowers efficacy beliefs, contributing tothe expectation that future performances will also be inept, unless the failureis viewed as providing clues about more potentially successful strategies.Interpretations of emotions and physiological arousal can add to the feeling ofmastery or incompetence. For example, feelings of tension can be interpreted asanxiety and fear that failure is imminent or as excitement (i.e., being"psyched" for a good class).

Vicarious experiences are those in which someone else models a skill. Themore closely the observer identifies with the model, the stronger the impact onefficacy (Bandura, 1977). When a credible model teaches well, the efficacy ofthe observer is enhanced. When the model performs poorly, the expectations ofthe observer decrease. Social or verbal persuasion may entail a "peptalk" or specific performance feedback from a supervisor, colleague, orstudents. Student evaluation of instructions can be a form of verbalpersuasion, for better or worse. Social persuasion, though limited in itsimpact, may provide a "boost" to counter occasional setbacks; thepotency of persuasion depends on the credibility, trustworthiness, andexpertise of the persuader (Bandura, 1986).

Teacher efficacy is highly context-specific, too. A teacher, for example,who feels highly efficacious about instructing her honors literature class mayfeel less efficacious about teaching freshman composition or vice versa.Therefore, in making an efficacy judgment, it is necessary to assess one?sstrengths and weaknesses in relation to the requirements of the task at hand.

One of the things that makes teachers? efficacy judgments so powerful is thecyclical nature of the process. Greater efficacy leads to greater effort andpersistence, which leads to better performance (a new mastery experience),which in turn leads to greater efficacy. The reverse is also true. Lowerefficacy leads to less effort and giving up easily, which leads to poorteaching outcomes, which then produce decreased efficacy.

Implications for College Teaching

The research on self-efficacy development suggests that efficacy judgmentsare most malleable in the early stages of mastering a skill and become more setwith experience—at least as long as the context and task remainrelatively stable. So it makes sense that early teaching experiences would beimportant shapers of efficacy judgments. If these early experiences arepositive, then new teachers are better able to persist in the face of theinevitable disappointments and discouragements of the first attempts at collegeteaching. On the other hand, unsuccessful early experiences in teaching as TAscan direct graduate students away from the professoriate.

What do we know about encouraging the emerging efficacy beliefs of teachingassistants? Heppner (1994) described a three-credit-hour course for GTAs in theteaching of psychology conducted over two semesters that resulted in improvedself-efficacy for teaching. In contrast to the usual finding that masteryexperiences are the most important sources of efficacy, Heppner found thatabout 75% of the influences on efficacy described by the GTAs were forms ofverbal feedback, often from their students. The practicum had taught thesenovice teachers how to use peer consultation to get feedback from students andthis process proved a powerful source of efficacy information. In addition,discussion in the practicum helped participants see their fears and anxietiesas normal and appropriate. The remaining 25% of the influences on efficacy werecategorized as mastery related, such as "coming up with a good way tolecture about a difficult topic." To improve their mastery, these noviceteachers wanted more knowledge about establishing personal teachingphilosophies and goals, using learning objectives to guide teaching, developingcritical thinking in their students, understanding students? developmentalneeds, facilitating productive discussion and collaborative class projects, andhandling unmotivated students as well as the nuts and bolts of planning such asconstructing syllabi and assignments. Providing such pedagogical tools helps.Prieto and Meyers (1999) found that GTAs in a national survey who receivedformal training in teaching had higher self-efficacy scores than GTAs whoreceived no training, regardless of the respondents? previous amount ofteaching experience.

In sum, sense of efficacy is a valuable outcome of early teachingexperiences and can be fostered with specific training that provides neededpedagogical knowledge, a variety of forms of feedback, and social support thatnormalizes the predictable fears of novice teachers.


Ashton, P. T., & Webb, R. B. (1986), Teachers? sense of efficacy,classroom behavior, and student achievement. In P. T. Ashton & R. B. Webb(Eds.), Teachers? sense of efficacy and student achievement (pp. 125-144). New York & London: Longman.

Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioralchange. Psychological Review, 84,191-215.

Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A socialcognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ:Prentice-Hall.

Bandura, A. (1997). Self efficacy: The exercise of control. New York, NY: W. H. Freeman & Company.

Coladarci, T. (1992). Teachers? sense of efficacy and commitment toteaching. Journal of Experimental Education,60, 323-337.

Gibson, S., & Dembo, M. H. (1984). Teacher efficacy: A constructvalidation. Journal of Educational Psychology, 76, 569-582.

Heppner, M. J. (1994). An empirical investigation of the effects of ateaching practicum on prospective faculty. Journal of Counseling andDevelopment, 72, 500-509.

Prieto, L. R., & Meyers, S. A. (1999). Effects of training andsupervision on the self-efficacy of psychology graduate teaching assistants. Teachingof Psychology, 26, 264-268.

Ross, J.A. (1994). Beliefs that make a difference: The origins andimpacts of teacher efficacy. Paperpresented at the annual meeting of the Canadian Association for CurriculumStudies.

Tschannen-Moran, M., & Woolfolk Hoy, A. (2001). Teacher efficacy:Capturing an elusive construct. Teaching and Teacher Education, 17, 783-805.

More information on teacher efficacy and instruments for measuring areavailable on two websites:

Anita Woolfolk Hoy (Ph.D., University of Texas at Austin) is Professor ofPsychological Studies in Education in the School of Educational Policy and Leadershipat The Ohio State University.

This publication is part of an 8-part series ofessays originally published by The Professional & OrganizationalDevelopment Network in Higher Education. For more information about the PODNetwork, link to