Research shows that teachers’ job-related beliefs influence their commitment to teaching, their morale, and even student achievement. Do teachers from different cultures have different beliefs about their work? And how do these differences influence student outcomes?
NIE professors joined Canadian psychologist Robert Klassen in a cross-cultural study to understand the differences in teachers’ motivation beliefs in Canada and Singapore.
In this project, the researchers were interested in exploring “teacher efficacy”, that is, teachers’ beliefs in their ability to influence student outcomes.
What they did
To learn more about teachers’ motivation beliefs in both countries, a mixed method study was carried out from 2005–2006. It comprised two parts.
The first was a quantitative study exploring the motivation beliefs of secondary school teachers and how these beliefs influence their perception of school academic climate. The sample, 255 teachers from Canada and 247 from Singapore, completed a 50-item survey on teacher motivation beliefs.
The second was a qualitative study to extend and add depth to the quantitative findings, and to provide examples of the lived experiences of teachers in these two settings.
The second part of the study used in-depth, semi-structured interviews (individual and focus groups) with 10 secondary school teachers in Canada and 14 from Singapore.
What do we know about teacher efficacy?
Efficacy beliefs are not about whether one has the skills or competence to do a job but theconfidence to perform it. There is an extensive body of educational research on the role that self-efficacy beliefs play in influencing student achievement and motivation. Recent research has also suggested that academic performance is not influenced by student efficacy alone, but by the teachers’ perceived efficacy as well.
This study looked at two aspects of teacher efficacy:
Teacher self-efficacy refers to the individual teacher’s perception of one’s capability to influence student outcomes (e.g., grades, behaviour in class) through their teaching.
Teacher collective efficacy refers to teachers’ shared belief in their collective ability to solve problems and enact change in the school (e.g., solving disciplinary problems) through working together.
There is evidence to suggest that relationships between self-efficacy and collective efficacy may operate differently in different cultural contexts. However, very little research has been done in Asia about psychological and motivational influences on teaching proficiency.
This study also examined academic climate, or the extent to which a school is driven to achieve academic excellence. Research suggests that when teachers feel that their school climate is supportive, they are more likely to believe they can work together to influence changes in the school. However, how teacher self-efficacy relates to academic climate has not received much research interest.
This study sought to bridge the gaps in the research, to help educators begin to understand the importance of such teacher variables in student achievement outcomes.
What did they find out?
In collectivistic societies like that of many East Asian societies, where academic achievement, interdependence and co-operation are greatly emphasised, we would expect teacher self-efficacy to be insufficient in bringing about the desired changes in student outcomes, even with a positive academic climate. Instead, teachers may feel better empowered working together as a group to find ways to improve student performance.
Interestingly, the results from this study suggest that teachers from both countries believe they can influence student outcomes, even in challenging situations. However, social and cultural differences were noted in the extent to which they believe they can influence student outcomes. In the Asian context, teachers’ perceptions play an important part in determining school success, not just their ability to teach.
The quantitative study revealed that in both countries, teachers’ self and collective efficacies are significantly related to perceptions of academic climate. In Singapore, teachers’ perceptions of their school climate are most strongly influenced by their belief in their ability to work together collectively to reach all students. This contrasts with Canada, where the social demographical background of the students plays a stronger role in influencing teachers’ beliefs about the academic climate.
Also, teachers’ perceived collective efficacy mediates the perception of their personal efficacy and the school academic climate. Schools that recognise this collective strength of teachers and provide structured opportunities for them to work together on collectively identified school- and student-related issues can encourage a positive academic climate and empower teachers personally.
What do schools need to do?
In practical terms, what this means is that schools need to begin paying attention to teachers’ perceptions of competence, not just their actual competence.
“They may not perceive themselves as having the capability to initiate or embrace the uncertainty often accompanying change. Such teachers usually attribute any difficulties to external factors rather than their belief that they can exercise control over the process,” explains Assistant Professor Chong Wan Har, one of the collaborators.
“Understanding that their problem is due to a lack of efficacy rather than resistance would help administrators isolate the source of the behaviour problem and begin to identify ways to overcome this misperception.”
Thus, it may be more effective to enhance teachers’ beliefs in their abilities to deal with new and challenging situations than to assess them on the merits of their current performance. This can only have positive effects on our students’ academic performance.