Jamie Virga

Jamie Virga has been a teacher, principal, district staff developer, principal coach, and associate superintendent in Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland for more than 20 years.

How Can Districts Build the Self-Efficacy of Their Principals?

As Rick DuFour and Robert J. Marzano state in Leaders of Learning, “Creating a PLC will always require a collective effort, but the fate of that effort will depend to a large extent on the leadership capabilities of the principal” (DuFour & Marzano, 2011). Schools and school systems need principals to function at a high level. Research by Albert Bandura and others shows that an individual’s performance is significantly affected by his/her level of self-efficacy when approaching tasks. Bandura defines self-efficacy as “beliefs in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to produce given attainments” (Bandura, 1997). So what can districts do to help build the self-efficacy of their principals?

Bandura explains that people derive their self-efficacy beliefs from four sources: mastery experiences, vicarious experiences, social persuasion, and affective states (or emotional arousal). In this posting, let’s talk about the first three sources in ascending order of importance.

Sometimes people experience an increase in their self-efficacy because a trusted mentor or coach expresses confidence in their ability to accomplish a task. Bandura refers to this as social persuasion. Districts can help build principals’ sense of self-efficacy by providing them with effective role models, coaches, and peers.

For example, my school district, Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, has a practice of providing aspiring administrators with regular opportunities to receive coaching from experienced leaders. From the time they become first-year assistant principals, beginning administrators meet regularly with a professional development team (PDT) that includes the principal, the area superintendent, and another district administrator. During PDT meetings, the assistant principals present artifacts that represent their work and respond to questions from PDT members. The guidance that assistant principals receive from their PDT helps to build their self-efficacy because the feedback is directly related to the complex work that they do as leaders.

Another, more powerful source of self-efficacy is vicarious experiences or modeling. This is when individuals experience an increase in self-efficacy because they observe someone else having success with a task. Think of this as “If he can do it, I can do it.” Districts can build principal self-efficacy by providing them with regular experiences of observing others modeling success. This can include giving principals the opportunity to shadow or observe each other and then debrief.

Mastery experiences are the most powerful source of self-efficacy. Districts can support principal success by planning and facilitating activities that provide principals with successful experiences that are related to their critical areas of responsibility. For example, DuFour and Marzano suggest the districts establish a regular practice of having principals role-play and rehearse the critical leadership tasks that are related to leading a PLC.

In summary, districts can increase the likelihood that PLCs will grow in their schools by building the capacity of principals to lead the PLC journey. These efforts will be more effective if district leadership concentrate strategies that will increase the self-efficacy beliefs of their school-based leaders.

Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control.  New York: Worth Publishers.

DuFour, R., & Marzano, R. J. (2011). Leaders of Learning: How district, school, and classroom leaders improve student achievement. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.



Self-efficacy can be cultivated by the administrator's knowledge of how to build and maintain a positive professional learning community within a school's culture. I believe this type of questioning should be conducted upon interview and included in professional portfolios of those being considered for such weighty positions. Constant, positive, professional communication between valued staff and the principal is a 'must' that spills over into the principal's self-efficacy because of the deep, rich level of positive discourse.

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We cultivate self-efficacy with our staff by placing them in leadership situations in which they have a major role in shaping the curriculum, activities and assessments in their learning areas. We pay for the teachers to go back for more schooling receiving teacher leadership degrees or continuing on to get their administrative certification. These teachers spend a great deal of time with the principals and superintendent during their internships and that relationship continues with them as they work to lead from the classroom. Self-efficacy to enact and sustain change comes from a full understanding of the inner workings of a learning organization. Many of these teacher-leaders will leave the nest and go to other districts to replicate and build upon the successes they have seen in our district. I agree with Allen in that an administrator can't come in to a position without the internal knowledge and drive to do what is necessary in the position. It is a difficult job.

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A principal's self-efficacy should be built and established prior to being hired or receiving such a high position of leadership. The fact that this notion appears is a problem as it further lowers the standard of education.
A principal that lacks self-efficacy is a problem to all involved which is everyone. Self-efficacy is a progressive action that we teach children how to manifest as early as possible. The earlier we teach them self-efficacy, or any other great character trait, the better they look wearing it from having practiced it for many years. So a principal, who has been working for many years, that has not mastered this concept and has a need for it to be built as they lead, is not an asset to the field of education.
Self-efficacy should be a requirement to even be considered for the position.

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