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A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Why Should Principals Care About Their Own Self-Efficacy?

By Peter DeWitt — May 21, 2017 4 min read
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When faced with obstacles, setbacks, and failures, those who doubt their capabilities slacken their efforts, give up, or settle for mediocre solutions. Those who have a strong belief in the capabilities redouble their effort to master the challenge” (Bandura, 2000, as cited in Tschannen-Moran & Gareis 2004).

Leadership is not easy. Anyone who has been in a leadership position has a deep understanding of that. There are so many different challenges leaders face. According to the Organisation for Economic and Co-Operational Development (OECD. 2008):

  • More and more tasks have been added to school leaders’ workload.
  • Most of the leadership tasks are carried out by one individual
  • Insufficient preparation and training

Leaders are charged with many responsibilities. Robinson (2011. p. 9) sites, Establishing Goals and Expectations (.42), Resourcing Strategically (.31), Ensuring Quality Teaching (.42), Leading Teacher Learning and Development (.84), and Ensuring an Orderly and Safe Environment (.27) as the most important aspects of instructional leadership.

They take on the challenge of leading a building, and often times it comes with a level of status because they’re the one who parents, teachers and students go to when there is an issue. They also may be the ones parents, teachers and students avoid so an issue doesn’t start. Many leaders work hard over a number of years to get the coveted position.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t mean they have the self-efficacy to handle it when times get tough. Some may not even handle it when times are easy. How principals choose to lead through the normal daily routine and when the routine gets tough, is all wrapped up in self-efficacy.

What is self-efficacy?

A principal’s sense of efficacy is a judgment of his or her capabilities to structure a particular course of action in order to produce desired outcomes in the school he or she leads (Bandura, 1997, as cited in Tschannen-Moran & Gareis 2004). Self-efficacy is situation specific, and it is influenced by a few different events that may take place around us.

Tschannen-Moran & Gareis 2004 write,

The major influences on efficacy beliefs are assumed to be the attributional analysis and interpretation of the four sources of efficacy information - mastery experience, physiological arousal, vicarious experience, and verbal persuasion. Self-efficacy beliefs are context-specific, however, people do not feel equally efficacious for all situations. Principals may feel efficacious for leading in particular contexts, but this sense of efficacy may or may not transfer to other contexts, depending on the perceived similarities of the task.

Situation Specific
Principals who feel insecure in one area of their leadership, and profoundly strong in another, may not understand that it is all wrapped up in the phenomena known as principal self-efficacy. It is something they need to learn in their leadership experiences because too many walk away from the position, or flounder in it, and they haven’t taken the time to understand why and correct it.

A few examples. In this day and age of accountability and mandates, having test scores reported on the news and in the newspaper or on-line affects a principal’s self-efficacy. It is particularly defeating when the principal has tried to work with staff on maintaining a balance between test-taking and learning.

Another example. I was recently in a state in the Northeastern United States where a school district was dealing with millions of dollars of budget cuts, and teachers were at risk of being laid off. Every news station reported on it in every news hour. Knowing that’s coming, and all the questions that are being asked where there may not be a definitive answer has an impact on self-efficacy.

School consolidations have taken place a great deal over the last decade because of cuts and low enrollment. When one school is absorbed by another, or districts merge and everyone is trying to find their new identity, all affects the self-efficacy of a principal as well as teachers, students and parents. Unfortunately, that is exactly where a high level of self-efficacy is needed.

One more example. On the other side of the budget-cutting scenario are school districts that are growing rapidly and there are new school buildings being built every year (yes, this happens). In order to hire new staff and the other millions of jobs that comes with opening a building, leaders need to grapple with whether they have the self-efficacy to handle the job they may have been chosen or applied for.

In the End
Leithwood and Jantzi (2008) found that,

school leaders' collective efficacy was an important link between district conditions and both the conditions found in schools and their effects on student achievement. School leaders' sense of collective efficacy also had a strong, positive, relationship with leadership practices found to be effective in earlier studies."

In order for leaders to have a sense of collective efficacy, which involves groups working together, they need to have a sense of self-efficacy first. Raising a principal’s self-efficacy is difficult. Without the support from central office or the help from a critical friend, it seems as though raising principal self-efficacy is an enormous challenge. However, difficult, we should look at ways to do it.

Tschannen-Moran & Gareis 2004 write, “The purpose of leadership is to facilitate group goal attainment by establishing and maintaining an environment favorable to group performance.” That’s an important job, and we need leaders with a sense of self-efficacy to do it.

Possible Solutions:
Leadership coaches - We know that instructional coaches are guised to help teachers raise their self-efficacy, so it seems as though leadership coaching could do the same for school leaders.

Critical friendships - Working with a peer who will offer honest feedback that is focused on a goal and success criteria.

PLN - a strong professional/personal learning network (i.e. in district, social media, regional networks, etc.) are other ways that may lead to fostering a stronger sense of self-efficacy on the part of principals.

Principals, please take a moment to fill out this fairly short Survey Monkey focusing on leadership self-efficacy.

Peter DeWitt, Ed.D. is the author of several books including Collaborative Leadership: 6 Influences That Matter Most (2016. Corwin Press/Learning Forward), and the forthcoming School Climate: Leading With Collective Efficacy (Corwin Press/Ontario Principals Council. August 2017). Connect with Peter on Twitter.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.