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.

PLCs and Self-Efficacy: What Is the Connection?

For those on the PLC journey, one of the most puzzling and frustrating realities is that we still see what Rick DuFour calls the “knowing-doing gap.” We know what to do, but we just don’t seem to execute at a high level. Recently, I have been doing a lot of research in the area of self-efficacy as part of my doctoral studies. I have found that the research on self-efficacy beliefs provides an interesting lens to use in examining the knowing-doing gap problem.

First, a little background. Albert Bandura is widely regarded as the foremost authority on self-efficacy. He defines self-efficacy as “beliefs in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to produce given attainments.” Bandura also states, “People guide their lives by their beliefs of personal efficacy” (Bandura 1997). He explains that people’s beliefs about their own capabilities determine if they will try to cope with situations, the effort they will exert in trying to cope, and how long they will keep up the effort in the face of adversity.

Bandura’s research shows that a person’s self-efficacy beliefs about a specific task or challenge have a profound effect on his/her performance of that task. He argues that the self-efficacy beliefs a person has when approaching a task are more predictive of their performance than any other factor.

When we think about the tasks that we ask teachers, principals, and staff to complete as part of becoming a PLC, it is easy to see that their self-efficacy beliefs can be critical in whether or not the transformation happens.

So where do self-efficacy beliefs come from? Bandura’s research shows that a person’s self-efficacy beliefs are developed and reinforced in four ways: mastery experiences, vicarious experiences, verbal persuasion, and emotional response. In this blog, I will describe the first three.

In mastery experiences, individuals build their self-efficacy beliefs by successfully carrying out a challenging task at a high level. After you have an experience of mastery, when you are faced with a similar experience in the future, you will be able to draw on the past experience and have a powerful expectation that you will be successful. For example, a new principal who is successful in conducting a difficult conference with a teacher will have greater self-efficacy about that task the next time he sits down with a challenging staff member.

People can also build self-efficacy by seeing other people successfully complete a task. Seeing that the task is doable helps them to feel that they can be successful. However, this effect is minimized if the person thinks that the model has some special skills or advantage that assists him/her with the task. So the same principal could benefit from observing a veteran principal successfully conduct a difficult conference, but the effect is not as strong as conducting the conference himself.

Verbal persuasion can be a powerful source of self-efficacy. When a trusted colleague tells you that you can be successful with a challenge, you are likely to approach the task with a high expectation of succeeding. If our new principal had a veteran principal who coached him and persuaded him that he had the skills and knowledge to conduct a conference with a difficult teacher, this would increase his self-efficacy, but the effect would be less than modeling or a mastery experience.

Why is self-efficacy so important to think about when working with educators? Well, consider how Bandura describes the differences between a person with low self-efficacy and high self-efficacy. People with a low sense of self-efficacy:

  • Avoid difficult tasks because they see these tasks as threatening
  • Have low aspirations and are weakly committed to the goals they set
  • Focus on their personal deficiencies, on the obstacles they will face, and all of the adverse outcomes they can imagine
  • Lessen their efforts and give up quickly in the face of difficulty
  • Are slow to recover from failures or setbacks
  • Are very vulnerable to stress and depression

Conversely, people with a strong sense of self-efficacy:

  • “Approach difficult tasks as challenges to be mastered, rather than as threats to be avoided”
  • Apply deep interest and focus about their activities
  • Set ambitious goals and keep their commitment to them
  • “Heighten and sustain their efforts in the face of failure”
  • Rapidly recover their sense of self-efficacy after setbacks or failures
  • Have an outlook that “reduces stress… and lowers vulnerability to depression” (Bandura 1993)

Clearly, people with high self-efficacy are going to be more effective in their work, and educators with strong self-efficacy beliefs are going to be more successful at implementing reforms and creating meaningful change in schools and districts.

So, what does this mean for us on the PLC journey? Could it be that a lack of self-efficacy beliefs among educators is contributing to the gap between what we know we should do and what we actually carry out? The research on self-efficacy offers several critical questions for educators who are leading the effort to create PLCs in schools and systems:

  • What are we doing to build the self-efficacy of our people so that they can be successful in creating and sustaining PLCs? Are we explicit and deliberate in cultivating these important beliefs?
  • What are we doing to provide mastery experiences in key PLC actions like curriculum analysis, effective first instruction, creation of common formative assessments, examination of student work, and planning of effective interventions?
  • What are we doing to provide compelling models and examples of PLCs? (The schools highlighted on allthingsplc.info are great examples of how to do this.)
  • How are we communicating messages of encouragement, expectation, and support to the people we expect to implement these changes?

The research tells us that if we can be deliberate in building up the self-efficacy of our educators, they will perform at a higher level and persevere through difficult tasks. The research on collective teacher efficacy is even more compelling. It would be exciting to see what could happen in our schools and school systems if we really understood and implemented this research.


Bandura, A. (1993). Perceived self-efficacy in cognitive development and functioning. Educational Leadership 28: 117-148.

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



I believe that a great way to build self-efficacy is to see other teachers complete a difficult task successfully. As a new teacher, I would love to be able to see veteran teachers in action. As a music teacher, I teach all students from kindergarten through fifth grade. I feel as though it would be extremely beneficial for me to see a kindergarten teacher teaching a successful lesson. It could help me to gain great insight on how to manage the behaviors of a group of approximately 30 kindergartners. I would also benefit greatly by watching some of my colleagues teach challenging music topics. While this is a goal of mine as well as of my school administrator, it is often challenging to have the time to go into another classroom, or another school. Because of this, I feel that being a part of a school or subject wide PLC is extremely important. If I cannot take the time to actually watch another teacher, having the time to discuss lessons and behavior management techniques is the next best thing. I am able to build self-efficacy by feeling extremely prepared for the lesson or class because of interaction with other, more experienced, teachers.

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Dick Dewey

Thank you for writing.

I am a veteran of 38 years in education. I believe, with firm conviction, that I served my students with passion, care and commitment throughout my career. I also believe, with firm conviction, that I knew a lot about my craft and worked hard to build my professional knowledge and skills. At the same time, I must admit that we may have left a few students behind in the 20th century. We don’t know for sure because we weren’t keeping score.

With the advent of No Child Left Behind, our job as educators changed! We are keeping score now; and, as a result, we are finding that some of our 20th century institutional systems, structures, policies, procedures and mindless precedents are not serving us well in our pursuit of quality learning for ALL students. Perspicacious educators, veterans included, are finding a new level of maturity – true maturity that is not about knowing what you know; rather, it is about knowing what you DON’T know.

As we re-examine the research and look closely at the best practices and standards of high-performing schools across the country (relative to quality learning for ALL students), we are left to the same conclusion that we are reminded of by Dr. Milbrey McLaughlin, Professor of Education at Stanford University:

“The most promising strategy for sustained, substantive school improvement is building the capacity of school personnel to function as a Professional Learning Community.”

Anthony Muhammad, in his book on Transforming School Culture: How to Overcome Staff Division, helps us better understand why people resist change (persist in current behavior).

1. People resist (persist) when they are given no CLEAR REASONS to change.
2. People resist (persist) when they don’t TRUST the person who tells them to change.
3. People may keep their familiar tools (in a difficult situation) because an unfamiliar alternative….seems even more difficult.
4. People may refuse to change because change may mean admitting failure.

I’ll refer you to Patrick Lencioni’s books on The Five Dysfunctions of Teams and Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of Teams to dig deeper into the importance of building TRUST. The matter of providing CLEAR REASONS to change can be addressed through constant efforts to build shared knowledge….build shared knowledge….build shared knowledge. Work collaboratively, provide modeling and share data and celebrate the successes in demonstrating the efficacy of the concepts, attributes, research-based best practices and standards for becoming a Professional Learning Community. Finally, the need to change is not about us failing in our work in the 20th century, it is about embracing a new job (as of a decade ago) – the appropriate challenge of quality learning for ALL students.

As I continue to remind myself daily, we are OK where we are; at the same time, we are NOT OK staying where we are. That’s why we are called professionals! It’s not a matter of feelings, it is a matter of responsibility.

Dick Dewey, PLC at Work Associate

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Jamie Virga

Student self-efficacy is critical. We have to be very strategic in how we help students believe in their ability to be successful. This goes back to the sources of self-efficacy.

How are we providing them with mastery experiences? Teachers have to help students to have a clear understanding of the learning goal so that they know when they have achieved it and they know they did through their own effort and intelligence. Verbal persuasion comes into play with the encouragement that teachers provide through verbal and non-verbal messages, convincing students that they are capable learners. Teacher feedback - prompt, specific, and meaningful, goes a long way toward building student efficacy.

Successful schools call for persistent hard work on the part of all staff and students. The research tells us if we work to build the self-efficacy of everyone involved in the school effort, we will build persistence, commitment, and resiliency. These characteristics also help to build strong PLCs.

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Jamie Virga


Thanks for your comments. I think you make several excellent points that add to the discussion. First, you point out that there is an important connection between teacher self-efficacy and their behavior. Indeed, the research has shown that teachers' self-efficacy beliefs are very accurate predictors of the actions they will take in the classroom. This is particularly true of the effort and persistence they will demonstrate with students who are having difficulty learning. Those of us who have a responsibility for developing teachers need to keep this in mind as we plan and deliver training and coaching to our teaching staff. Second, you are right to point out the connection between teacher self-efficacy and PLCs. There is significant research on the power of collective efficacy of teachers. When teachers not only believe in their own ability to make a difference, but additionally believe in the power of the team, the staff, and the school they are working with, they are able to overcome many obstacles and make great things happen for students. Collective efficacy is in the DNA of every effective PLC. Finally, I think your point about the challenge of finding time is, dare I say, timely. Schools and districts everywhere are struggling to find the time to provide teachers and principals with the professional development they need. Yet the reserach on self-efficacy tells us that if we were able to infuse our PD with a more explicit focus on developing self-efficacy, it would have a profound effects on our schools and the learning environments we provide for our students. Thanks again for your comment. Thanks also for sharing your website.
Jamie Virga

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I agree that high self-efficacy is essential to ensuring that students learn. However, I cannot help but remember that we all start somewhere as teachers and that place is not usually filled with self confidence in our abilities. For that reason, I am grateful that in our learning communities we have not only teachers who are willing to make the necessary changes to their teaching methods, but also the coaches who are ready and willing to help us gain that much needed belief in ourselves.
When we as teachers are able to watch another educator model a new strategy, we develop confidence in completing the task on our own. I believe our self-efficacy improves because we gain confidence through viewing the success of others.

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For my own perspective, this article hit an extremely powerful but equally under recognized element of effective teaching. It is also one that is influenced by a great deal of factors, both professional and personal.

I have had the experience in my career thus far to partake in true PLC, as well as be let down by those that are so much less. My first teaching years, struggling as a new teacher, that atmosphere of mutual learning, of moving forward, of self-determination...bound themselves to the core of who I am. However, I am finding that in the district I am now it, where the concept of PLC is drastically misunderstood and barely used, it is having the exact opposite effect.

It was not that I was more successful in my beginning years, but I felt more confident and creative in my ability to approach challenges. Self efficacy, it would seem to me, is aided by a positively developing a community dedicated to learning and improving, but condemned in an environment of fear, negativity, and punitive assessment.

The role of the PLC would seem to then aide in that positive development, in fact playing a key role. As teachers, we commonly recognize this belief, the "I can do anything!" approach, and the collaboration of students within a classroom, as elemental to working with our students. So then, why are these concepts given so little value when addressing the learning needs of a professional community?

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Lauren Bender

I loved your post. I agree that in order to succeed teachers need positive self talk. My first year of teaching I had so much doubt about my lessons, the outcomes on how my students would do on tests, and if I was being "liked" by my colleagues that I came across as weak and passive, which led to poor outcomes from my lessons, how students retained information, and how colleagues viewed my teaching skills. I had a meeting with my mentor teacher at the end of the school year and she shared her concerns. She told me that when I was subbing for a maternity leave teacher the year before I got my job I was very confident and outgoing. I would try to impress the teachers and volunteer for many events and activities in hopes that if a job opened up they would think I was the right candidate. When the job opened up, I became nervous and shy and did not want to step on anyones toes that my perception of teaching and how other viewed me changed. I like how you mention verbal persuassion and succeeding at challenging tasks, so that when another task comes up you will be more likely to succeed. I really enjoyed reading your article and the comments other posted as well.

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How do you get experienced teachers to learn and use this when they are set in their ways without affending them.

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I found this blog to be extremely beneficial. As a school that is just beginning to adopt the use of a PLC. I can clearly see that there are many teachers in my school that have a low sense of self efficacy. I believe that this is caused by an unclear understanding of how to begin a PLC. I also see that these teachers in particular seem to be veteran teachers, who have seen programs come and go and aren't as willing to accept or face new challenges with enthusiasm and optimism. As a new teacher, I feel that I am more prepared and willing to accept myself as a learner. I have also realized that our PLC would benefit greatly from discussing our hopes, fears, and concerns about our PLC, in order to build up other teacher’s self efficacy and establish a strong support system where teachers feel more confident in asking for help and clarity. I am excited to see where our PLC takes us, but I have a feeling it is going to be a long hard road.

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Self-efficacy is extremely important as a teacher, and as a member of a PLC. For the past two years, my district has implemented PLC’s. This year they are categorized by what content you teach. As an in-class support teacher, I was placed in chemistry, a subject that I collaborate in.
For me, it is extremely important to have self-efficacy. Since I am not content certified, I feel that other teachers may not take my suggestions, comments, and thoughts as seriously. However, I have ensured that I show high self-efficacy in order to be taken seriously within the group. Throughout this year, I have seen how individuals can impact other teacher’s self-efficacy in both positive and negative ways. When teachers work together cooperatively and promote one another’s self-efficacy, the group runs more effectively and more is accomplished. During PLC meetings it is important to encourage, compliment and assist everyone in the group to ensure a more collaborative and positive setting.
Before reading this blog, I was unsure of how exactly to title “self-efficacy.” Also, I was unaware that other people were focused on this topic and studies had been done. This is information that I will share within my PLC in hopes of creating and even more positive and collaborative setting.

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Education as a process won't be complected in its ideal form unless it has a complete image and meaning.

We are working on the hardest part of the human nature, which is the mind. Physicians are working on patinets' health, that can be tested by a lab work, the engineers also has a specific due for what they are designing, but for us the it is totally different. We are changing, modifying, and creating values and thoughts and the measurement of our work requires a whole life.

That is why I think that education should be looked at as a process that had its dimensions starting from the teacher him/herself as values, and knowledge. Adding to that the force of the process itself, which is being conducted by the PLCs, and the educator self efficacy.

It is very important to look at the four main ways of the self efficacy development, which are the mastery experiences, the vicarious experiences, verbal persuasion, and the emotional response. It is an attitude more than a skill which takes time for implementation monitoring , and evaluation.

Below you will find a web page that is really nice shows some details about the self-efficacy theory aspects.


Shady Elkassas

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I completely agree that self-efficacy must be present to be successful. You must believe in yourself before being able to believe in others, like your students.
Being able to collaborate with your colleagues in a PLC setting can build self-efficacy by gaining insights from others, and learning that things do not always just go wrong for you.
Setting a goal as a professional each week is another thing that can build the self-efficacy needed to be successful.

It is important to bring a confident manner to a PLC so then others who may be struggling with this can learn from you and seeing that self assurance can bring positive outcomes.

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The power of teacher self-efficacy
In my own experiences as a teacher taking part in a PLC I can see a difference not only in the attitude of the teacher but also in the attitudes of students depending on the self-efficacy that the teacher exhibits. Teachers do not leave their fears and vulnerabilities at home or in the hallway before teaching a lesson. When these fears are not challenged, the teacher places educational barriers within the classroom.

"Through a clearer understanding of their lives, they (teachers) can become more effective with their students." (Nieto, 2003, p. 26) A teacher must first understand what skills he/she is unsure of. At this point the teacher can meet this as a challenge head to improve their effectiveness in the classroom.

One challenge that PLCs bring is the fear of judgment and perception of others. In the wrong hands this can become a very negative experience. However, when teachers focus on improving the students and the importance of gaining knowledge through experience these fears dissipate.

When reflecting on these challenges within a PLC it is important that a teacher understands that he/she is also a learner. The art of teaching is never mastered and continues throughout a career. Even veteran teachers need to remain up-to-date on new findings and teaching strategies. There is always room for improvement. Effective teachers seek out new knowledge and insights and bring these into the PLC to reflect upon. Through teacher collaboration, self-efficacy can increase whether based on experience or by seeing another be successful.


Nieto, S. (2003). What Keeps Teachers Going. New York: Teachers College Press.

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Well said and on target. A large part of professional development that does not transfer to classroom instruction can be traced back to perceptions of readiness. Exploring this with individual teachers, I have found that a teacher's belief in their ability to succeed, or their ability to predict positive outcomes, is powerfully linked to their behavior. And this "readiness" threshold varies for each.

Professional development and PLC work can build self-efficacy. The most positive results have come from teachers collaborating on the development of "materials of practice" that solve specific problems and represent the new strategies as solutions. The degree of classroom readiness of the materials correlates to a teachers readiness to use new strategies. I've seen the slightest degree incompleteness be enough to prevent implementation.

Both process and product influence self-efficacy.

There will always be risk in change, but teachers have a right to feel a reasonable degree of assurance that they will succeed when trying something new. We have an obligation to support building perceptions of success.

The challenge is building self-efficacy in the time our system offers for ongoing teacher learning. You have to make this work in the collection of "hours" we have available. It can be done.

I have a lot more information about this very thing at:

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