My confidence in my teaching abilities wasn’t always high. I developed it over time by taking small, incremental steps toward mastering specific teaching strategies I could employ at various stages of my daily lessons. Eventually, I accumulated many strategies I knew I could facilitate well, and my confidence grew. This was a direct result of my increased self-efficacy, or believing in myself. A person’s perceptions of their capabilities can be instrumental in goal attainment.
Learning this helped me discover that true self-confidence can be honed and developed over time. Self-confidence and self-efficacy should not be viewed as being the same. The former is more general, an overall positive view of one's capabilities. Self-efficacy is situationally dependent.
Research suggests that developing self-efficacy is an internal motivation process that can be positively affected by a collaborative and supportive school environment, such as positive interactions with colleagues, administrative support, peer mentoring, and receiving personalized feedback.
In a seminal study, professors Megan Tschannen-Moran, PhD, and Anita Woolfolk Hoy, PhD, examined the relationship between teacher self-efficacy and instructional strategies. Findings showed that teachers possessing increased beliefs in their abilities used more innovative teaching practices, leading to improved academic achievement for students.
Therefore, when cocreating professional development experiences with my partner schools, we aim to nurture community and sound teaching by meeting colleagues where they are in their teaching journey after observing instruction in real time.
Our top focus areas with beginning teachers and those needing refreshers include the aspects of instruction that we know require strong self-efficacy and time to build and are crucial for daily teaching. These may include effective core instruction, instructional alignment, student engagement, and differentiation strategies. We aim to build capacity in these critical areas to help grow them into confident, skilled educators.
Building Self-Efficacy for Daily Teaching
While conducting instructional rounds, we discovered instances of overreliance on direct instruction and students completing worksheets during work time.
Surry County (Virginia) Schools Superintendent Dr. Serbernia Sims explained that the current teacher shortage has contributed to folks entering teaching from nontraditional pathways (e.g., career switchers and newbies to education during the pandemic), causing a disconnect between research-informed teaching and instructional innovation. She explained, “They hold classes five days a week—our charge right now is to build their confidence for daily instruction!”
There’s no perfect or only way to teach, but we all need a starting point. The following sections are ways we developed to build teachers’ self-efficacy by immediately providing them with ideas for structure during their teaching block, along with differentiation strategies. Of course, these specific tasks are modeled and practiced during common planning time, professional learning community meetings, and districtwide in-service days.
Here’s the breakdown.
After an engaging lesson hook, direct instruction in a mini-lesson is a powerful tool for providing learners with the intended learning context, setting the tone for the remainder of the learning block. Here are four steps that teachers can take in 10–15 minutes.
1. Unpack the daily learning goal(s). Both elementary and secondary learners will need help on the front end of the learning block to understand the purpose of the intended learning articulated in the learning goal. Teachers’ taking time to help them make sense of new vocabulary—including the nouns (what they’re learning) and the verbs (what they’ll be doing)—leads to smoother sailing. Younger learners (K–2) will need more scaffolding and less text-heavy learning targets.
2. Clarify any misconceptions. Vague or incorrect understanding leads to barriers in learning, especially for learners with weak prior knowledge. Taking time to gauge, explain, clarify, and allow learners to ask questions is crucial for helping teachers understand where students need assistance before moving forward.
3. Practice teacher modeling (I do, we do, you do). Before learners are unleashed to work, they must clearly understand what they’re aiming for. Modeling by the teacher on the front end is a helpful way to shift learning responsibilities gradually.
4. Clearly define work time. Teachers should explain logistics, grouping, and any other important information that students need to know before working individually or in groups.
Flexible and Individual Grouping: A Model for Differentiated Instruction
When students consistently passively sit during work time, complete worksheets, or socialize, it’s a missed learning opportunity. Flexible grouping is a research-informed method of temporarily grouping students with varying skill levels to achieve learning goals through collaboration and guided instruction. When used correctly, it gets students to speak using academic language associated with the learning goal unpacked during the mini-lesson.
Teachers can organize flexible groupings using the following format:
1. Work with the teacher.
2. Work with peers.
3. Individual work.
Some of my partner schools use this strategy to implement Tier 2 and 3 interventions. Using ChatGPT, we curated this list of strategies teachers can consider employing for their groups. (The list was edited to remove inaccurate material to the best of our ability.)
Teachers new to flexible grouping should know that executing this strategy logistically may be clunky initially. Building self-efficacy for you and students who are engaging using the format can be developed through consistent implementation. Don’t forget to give students a brain break (especially younger ones). This can be done about midway through work time.
Lesson Closeout and Debrief
How we close lessons is just as important as how we begin them. Be intentional by revisiting the learning goal and quickly checking in to hear student reflections and takeaways. Other powerful ways to end lessons include one-word shares, low-stake quizzes, and quick reviews.
Exit tickets are another great way to end lessons and get students thinking metacognitively about their learning, their participation, and how well our instruction engaged and assisted them with learning. This form of student feedback can help build our self-efficacy for the strategies we’re learning how to employ.
Some good exit prompts may include the following:
- What three things did you learn from today’s lesson?
- Evaluate your participation and collaboration with others today. What are two things you did really well, and what will you improve next time?
- What can I do better in future lessons to help you learn and be better engaged?
Here’s a downloadable flexible and individual grouping plan for a lesson.
I sincerely thank Dr. Serbrenia Sims, Dr. Troy Whalen, Sara Leone, and Kenneth Nance for being excellent thought partners and collaborators.