Self-Efficacy and the ESL Teacher

“Whether you think that you can or you can’t, you’re usually right” – Henry Ford

“People’s level of motivation, affective states, and actions are based more on what they believe than on what is objectively the case” – Alberta Bandura (1995, p. 2).

The above two quotations, for me, highlight the importance of researching teachers’ beliefs, and importantly, their self-efficacy beliefs. At times, when we talk about beliefs, there is the tendency to pass them off as not important. We all have our own beliefs, so who cares, right!? However, what we believe affects what we do, and as English language teachers, our beliefs about our own abilities become very important when we consider they will affect what happens in our classrooms, and thus, our students.

Broadly, self-efficacy can be defined as people’s beliefs in their abilities to successfully accomplish a task. Developed by Canadian psychologist Albert Bandura, it has been tested with a variety of subjects, including people with phobias, athletes, and of course, teachers, with numerous results showing that the power of people’s self-belief in their own ability is a strong predictor of their behaviour.

For teachers, self-efficacy has been applied to specific classroom tasks that teachers need to complete. It has been looked at across a wide range of subjects, but has only recently been investigated for English language teachers.  Most often, it is measured using simple statements or questions asking what someone can do. For example, when asking an English teacher about their classroom abilities, they might be presented with a statement such as: ‘I can create supportive, accepting classroom environments.’ With this statement, they give themselves a rating from say 1 to 5 indicating how confident they are.

While it seems simplistic, responses to these statements can be very important. Self-efficacy has been related to teacher motivation, attrition, effort, and even student achievement, with studies showing that students who have more confident teachers actually show better results!

Thus, it’s important to ask ourselves about our own abilities in the classroom. What classroom tasks can we complete? What tasks do we feel less confident in? If we struggle with certain areas, it’s important to improve our confidence. For example, if the thought of teaching grammar brings fear to your heart, this can have detrimental affects. You may plan your lessons differently as to avoid grammar altogether, and your classroom behaviour may change as well as you direct class activities to areas you are more comfortable with. However, the good news is that self-efficacy beliefs can change! While sometimes there is the impression that beliefs are difficult to alter, this does not always apply to our confidence in our abilities to complete various teaching tasks. So, if you do feel less confident, say in your ability to teach vocabulary, or pronunciation, engaging in professional development, whether it be individually or as part of a formal course, can be a very important first step. Improved self-efficacy can change not only your classroom behaviour, but also, potentially, your students’ success.

For more information on self-efficacy theory, click here.

References

Bandura, A. (1995). Exercise of personal and collective efficacy in changing societies. In A. Bandura (Ed.), Self-efficacy in changing societies (pp. 1 – 45). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

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