24 April 2016

Self-Efficacy for the (PE) Teacher

This week* I‘ve been teaching a unit of Sport Psychology, and got thinking about how some of the principles which we usually apply to sports people might be applied to teachers in the classroom.

Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory marked, when first established in the mid 1970s, an enormous sea change in our understanding of learning and human behaviour. Bandura noted that we are social creatures who take our cues from the social world, always negotiating and selecting appropriate behaviours in the context of the behaviours of others. His famous Bobo doll experiment catapulted his theory into the limelight. 

The theory had many consequences, and numerous pathways for inquiry within the world of Psychology have stemmed from Bandura’s initial discovery. One of these tangents has produced the theory of self-efficacy.

Self-efficacy is the perception that one has the skills and abilities to cope in any given situation. But the way the theory is applied to sports people and teachers alike can be simply stated as follows: 

Performance is enhanced by motivation, motivation is enhanced by self-efficacy

If you can maximise your levels of self efficacy, then you can perform better. You can be a better sprinter, a better footballer, a better golfer or...a better teacher.


Self-efficacy, according to Bandura, can be maximised through the following four methods.

1. Performance Accomplishments

The theory tells us that our previous successes are the strongest contributory factor to our level of self-efficacy. If you want to maximise this as a teacher spend time calling to mind lessons that went well, success stories from your recent past. Bandura says that if you do this before starting the day, or before teaching a lesson to a challenging group, you’ll feel much more confident for the task ahead. That self-efficacy leads to better performance.

2. Vicarious Experience

The experiences of others around you can help to shape how you feel about your own levels of competence. Observing capable colleagues is one great way to make you feel more confident about your own ability (provided they’re not a million miles better than you). Even watching yourself teach a successful lesson back on video can help to reinforce a sense of self-efficacy. You can see what you’ve done well, and you can be reminded that you really do have the required skills to teach well again.

3. Verbal Persuasion

From a sports point of view Verbal Persuasion might include positive verbal feedback from significant others like coaches, team-mates, captains and parents. As a teacher, if you need a bit of a boost, why not read back over positive comments made during past observations, or even read the thank you cards from the end of last year? These will remind you that you've been appreciated and valued in the past as a teacher, and will give your self-efficacy a boost.

4. Physiological Arousal

Finally, and this one perhaps is most relevant to sport, physiological arousal means readying your body for competitive action or, indeed, for a good lesson. It’s possible to go into a lesson feeling glum, or tired, or apathetic, just like it’s possible to do the same in a sports competition. You want to try and avoid associating those feelings with your teaching, so you need to deliberately break the link.

Strategies to do this include ‘acting energised’ - a few skips or hops on the spot, or a shake of the arms and legs. The kids might think you've gone a bit alternative, but it really does help to prepare you to perform at your optimum as a teacher.

Teachers are human beings, and we all - at times - doubt ourselves. We doubt our own capabilities, we doubt whether we’ll ever teach a decent lesson again, we forget about the skills we've honed. It’s easy to become a jaded teacher.

Social Learning Theory is one theory among many, but it’s widely seen as having a lot going for it. If you ever catch yourself wondering if you've really got what it takes any more, have a go at applying some of these principles and see if it can make a difference.



*This piece was originally posted on the PE Circle blog in September 2015, and you can find it here

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