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NATIONAL FORUM OF EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION AND SUPERVISION JOURNAL

VOLUME 26, NUMBER 1, 2008-2009

I THINK I CAN: AN ANALYSIS OF THE


INFLUENCE OF TEACHER EFFICACY ON
LEARNER-CENTERED BELIEFS

Karee E. Dunn
University of Arkansas

Glenda C. Rakes
University of Tennessee at Martin

ABSTRACT

For more than ten years, national agencies and educators have advocated for learner-
centered reform in schools (Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support
Consortium, 1992; National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education Unit
Standards, 2006), yet, little change has occurred (Cuban, 2007). As with any educational
innovation or paradigm, a number of intervening variables may exist. The purpose of
this study was to examine the influence teacher efficacy might have on teachers' learner-
centered beliefs. Learner-centered beliefs were used as a proxy for learner-centered
behavior, because beliefs are often the best indicator of future action (Ajzen, 1996, 2002;
Bandura, 1986). Results indicated that teacher efficacy significantly influenced learner-
centered beliefs. These results and their implications are discussed.

Introduction

A s students in the United States continue to lag behind their


international counterparts, researchers continue to examine a
number of variables that play a role in promoting student
success (Darling-Hammond, 2007). A great deal of valuable research
examines what teachers should do to create successful learning
environments (i.e., Bacon, 2005; ChanLin, 2007), yet too little
attention is paid to the teachers themselves. In most cases a new
innovation is touted as the great hope for reading, science, or

4
5 NATIONAL FORUM OF EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION AND SUPERVISION JOURNAL

mathematics achievement; then teachers are given a two-day training


session during which large amounts of surface level knowledge is
disseminated (Belzer, 2005). Teachers then return to the classroom go
back to their previous routines, and administrators are surprised,
disappointed, and frustrated by the lack of innovation implementation.

However, if more attention were paid to what teachers bring to


professional development opportunities and what variables lead to
action in the classroom from the transfer of knowledge about an
innovation, teachers might be more likely to engage in the practices
presented during professional development. This, in turn, may lead to
more pleasant surprises for administrators and policy makers. As
Darling-Hammond (1996) more eloquently stated, “If a caring
qualified teacher for every child is the most important ingredient in
education reform, then it should no longer be the factor most
frequently overlooked” (p. 194).

For more than ten years, national agencies and educators have
advocated for learner-centered reform in schools (Interstate New
Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium, 1992; National Council
for the Accreditation of Teacher Education Unit Standards, 2006).
However, little real change has occurred (Cuban, 2007). Although
teachers are introduced to the foundational learner-centered theories in
teacher education preparation programs and learner-centered
innovations throughout in-service professional development, many
teachers still engage in one-size-fits-all teacher-centered practices.
Perhaps one possible explanation for the lack of connection between
theory and practice can be framed through conceptual change theory.
Conceptual change theory highlights the importance of addressing
both cold facts and hot emotions and beliefs in the learning process
(Pintrich, Boyle, & Marx, 1993). Sinatra (2005) describes this as a
warming trend when applied to learning. Perhaps if a warming trend is
applied to teacher professional development, more learner-centered
action would result.
Karee E. Dunn & Glenda C. Rakes 6

The purpose of the present study was to examine the warming


influence of teacher efficacy on learner-centered beliefs. Learner-
centered beliefs were selected for the purposes of this study as an
indicator of learner-centeredness because we did not have access to the
teachers during the teaching process. The assumption that beliefs may
serve as a proxy for behavior is based on Bandura's (1986) social
cognitive theory as well as a research base that supports the idea that
one's beliefs are the best predictor of future action (i.e., Ajzen, 1996,
2002; Glasman & Albarracîn, 2006). Furthermore, the selection of
learner-centered beliefs as a proxy for learner-centered behavior is
supported by a body of literature that indicates that learner-centered
beliefs are potent predictors of learner-centered behaviors (Deemer,
2004; Lotter, 2004; McCombs, 2002; Ross, Cousins, & Gadalla, 1996;
Zielinski & Preston, 1992).

Learner-Centered Education

To understand learner-centered beliefs, one must first


understand what "learner-centered" means. Learner-centered education
is based on the American Psychological Associations (APA, 1997) 14-
learner-centered principles (see Table 1). Learner-centered education
reflects a paradigm shift from the traditional teacher-centered
classroom format in which teachers lecture and students sit passively
in rows while taking notes and tests. By comparison, learner-centered
teachers are aware of, responsive to, and respectful of the diverse
needs students present in the classroom (McCombs & Whisler, 1997).
From this perspective, teachers incorporate strategies that support
success for all learners within and beyond the classroom. For example,
learner-centered teachers provide time for critical reflection and allow
students to have input into the selection of classroom activities. In
learner-centered classrooms, students are encouraged to question not
only the subject matter, but also why they are expected to learn the
material or how it is taught.
7 NATIONAL FORUM OF EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION AND SUPERVISION JOURNAL

Table 1

Learner-Centered Psychological Principles1

COGNITIVE AND METACOGNITIVE FACTORS

Principle 1: Nature of the learning process.


The learning of complex subject matter is most effective when it is an
intentional process of constructing meaning from information and
experience.
Principle 2: Goals of the learning process.
The successful learner, over time and with support and instructional
guidance, can create meaningful, coherent representations of
knowledge.
Principle 3: Construction of knowledge.
The successful learner can link new information with existing
knowledge in meaningful ways.
Principle 4: Strategic thinking
The successful learner can create and use a repertoire of thinking and
reasoning strategies to achieve complex learning goals.
Principle 5: Thinking about thinking
Higher order strategies for selecting and monitoring mental operations
facilitate creative and critical thinking.
Principle 6: Context of learning
Learning is influenced by environmental factors, including culture,
technology, and instructional practices.

1 APA Work Group of the Board of Educational Affairs (1997,


November). Learner-centered psychological principles: A framework
for school reform and redesign. Washington, DC: American
Psychological Association.
Karee E. Dunn & Glenda C. Rakes 8

MOTIVATIONAL AND AFFECTIVE FACTORS

Principle 7: Motivational and emotional influences on learning


What and how much is learned is influenced by the learner’s
motivation. Motivation to learn, in turn, is influenced by the
individual’s emotional states, beliefs, interests and goals, and habits of
thinking.
Principle 8: Intrinsic motivation to learn
The learner’s creativity, higher order thinking, and natural curiosity all
contribute to motivation to learn. Intrinsic motivation is stimulated by
tasks of optimal novelty and difficulty, relevant to personal interests,
and providing for personal choice and control.
Principle 9: Effects of motivation on effort
Acquisition of complex knowledge and skills requires extended
learner effort and guided practice. Without learners’ motivation to
learn, the willingness to exert this effort is unlikely without coercion.

DEVELOPMENTAL AND SOCIAL FACTORS

Principle 10: Developmental influence on learning


As individuals develop, they encounter different opportunities and experience
different constraints for learning. Learning is most effective when differential
development within and across physical, intellectual, emotional, and social domains
is taken into account.
Principle 11: Social influences on learning
Learning is influenced by social interactions, interpersonal relations,
and communication with others.
9 NATIONAL FORUM OF EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION AND SUPERVISION JOURNAL

INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCES FACTORS

Principle 12: Individual differences in learning


Learners have different strategies, approaches, and capabilities for
learning that are a function of prior experience and heredity.
Principle 13: Learning and diversity
Learning is most effective when differences in learners’ linguistic,
cultural, and social backgrounds are taken into account.
Principle 14: Standards and assessment
Setting appropriately high and challenging standards and assessing the
learner and learning progress—including diagnostic, process, and
outcome assessment—are integral parts of the learning process.

In teacher-centered classrooms, the burden of student learning


is placed on the teacher. The teacher must disseminate information for
students to absorb. Conversely, in learner-centered classrooms the
onus of learning is transferred from the teacher to the learner. The
learner-centered teacher is responsible for creating a learning
environment that supports the learning process for all students. In
learner-centered classrooms, the student is responsible for learning
material, and the teacher is responsible for attending to the unique
characteristics that a student presents as he or she creates effective
learning environments (McCombs & Whisler, 1997).
Thus, learner-centered classrooms have evolved beyond the
one-size-fits-all, teacher-centered, lecture-oriented view of learning
and have moved towards custom-built classrooms for optimal
learning. This means that for one year or for one topic, a teacher may
vary lesson plans to incorporate various methodology such as jig-saw
groups, Web Quests, or lecture to better suit the idiosyncrasies of his
or her students (Fogarty, 1995). Although the transfer of learner-
centered theory into practice is challenging (Lohr & Eikleberry, 2007),
student benefits make it well worth the effort. In fact, research
indicates that, from kindergarten to graduate school, students in
learner-centered classrooms are more motivated and academically
Karee E. Dunn & Glenda C. Rakes 10

successful when compared to students in more teacher-centered


classrooms (McCombs & Quiat, 1999).

Although there is a great deal of research that supports the


importance of each individual learner-centered principle and the
positive student outcomes that manifest in learner-centered
classrooms, little learner-centered change has occurred over the last
ten years (Cuban 2007). Labree (2004) and Vogler (2006) suggest that
the lack of learner-centered school change can be linked to the
preexisting beliefs that many teachers hold that may interfere with
learner-centered action. More specifically, many teachers believe that
teaching is a process of transmitting knowledge and dispensing
information (Pajares, 1992, 1993), which is in staunch contradiction
with learner-centered education. Therefore, it is important to further
explore teachers' beliefs about teaching and what influences those
beliefs.

Teacher Beliefs

For the purposes of this study, teacher beliefs are defined as an


individual's perception of information about a specific object or idea
(Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975). The predictive power of beliefs with regard
to specific behaviors has been widely researched and documented (i.e.
Ajzen, 1996, 2002; Glasman & Albarracîn, 2006; Huang, 2003).
Although the investigation of beliefs in isolation is valuable, it is also
important to investigate the interplay of teacher beliefs within the
context of larger belief systems because beliefs do not exist in a
vacuum (Fives & Buehl, 2008). By better understanding the interplay
of beliefs, we may then uncover the nature of the influence such belief
profiles have on behavior. Therefore, we investigated the influence of
teacher efficacy on learner-centered beliefs.
11 NATIONAL FORUM OF EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION AND SUPERVISION JOURNAL

Teacher Efficacy Beliefs

Teacher efficacy reflects a teacher's self-reflective appraisal of


his or her ability to bring about desired student outcomes (Tschannen-
Moran & Hoy, 2001). This deceivingly simple construct has become a
cornerstone in the investigation of teacher beliefs and behavior (Fives,
2005). Teacher efficacy is based on the social cognitive theory of
Bandura (1986, 1997), which espouses that one's cognitive beliefs
affect one's behavior. Thus, if a teacher fails to believe that he or she
possesses the requisite teaching abilities needed to engage in new
teaching practices, such as learner-centered instruction, then that
teacher is unlikely to engage in those classroom innovations.

Research links teacher efficacy with a number of outcomes,


such as student achievement (Goddard, Hoy, & Woolfolk Hoy, 2004;
Ross & Cousins, 1993) and the implementation of new teaching ideas
that involve risk, difficulty, and shared student control, all of which are
appropriate in describing learner-centered education (Ross, 1998). The
self-reflective cognitive belief of efficacy has also been donned an
excellent indicator of future action (Bandura, 1986, 1997). Dunn
(2007) found a small, but significant relationship between cumulative
teacher efficacy and efficacy for student engagement with regard to
learner-centered beliefs in a small sample of urban teachers; however,
further investigation is needed to better establish the influence of
teacher efficacy on learner-centered beliefs.

Efficacy is a powerful construct that is important to the


classroom and professional development. Its importance is amplified
by its trainable nature. Efficacy can be addressed through various
types of professional development such as modeling, mastery
experiences, and vicarious learning (Bandura, 1997) as well as peer
coaching (Bruce & Ross, 2008). Before effort is put forth to address
efficacy and well as learner-centered beliefs in professional
development, it is first important to establish a relationship between
these two constructs in teachers.
Karee E. Dunn & Glenda C. Rakes 12

Thus, the authors sought to better understand the influence of


teacher efficacy on teachers' learner-centered beliefs. This study is
important because if learner-centered beliefs predict learner-centered
action, and teacher efficacy informs learner-centered beliefs and
action, a new view of the dynamic between learner-centered beliefs
and teacher efficacy may lead to the development of more effective
teacher professional development.

Statement of the Problem

Because teachers who report higher levels of efficacy are more


attuned to their students’ needs and characteristics, we hypothesized
that teachers who report higher-level efficacy beliefs would also report
higher levels of learner-centered beliefs. As a result, our research
question was as follows: Does teacher efficacy for student
engagement, instructional strategies, and classroom management
influence their learner-centered beliefs?

Methodology

The convenience sample for this study consisted of 74 graduate


students enrolled in a masters program in education at a public mid-
southern university that is accredited by the National Council for the
Accreditation of Teacher Education. All subjects were employed as
PK-12 teachers. A summary of demographic information is presented
in Table 2.
13 NATIONAL FORUM OF EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION AND SUPERVISION JOURNAL

Table 2

Respondent Demographics

Variable n percent
Sex
Male 11 14.9
Female 63 85.1
Grade Taught
5-6 13 17.6
Middle School 18 24.3
7-9 05 06.8
7-12 14 18.9
10-12 24 32.4
Highest Degree Earned
Bachelors 52 70.3
Masters 19 25.7
Specialist 2 2.7
Doctorate 1 1.4
School Location
Urban 7 9.5
Rural 56 75.7
Suburban 11 14.9
Years Teaching Experience
1 year 11 14.9
2 years 8 10.8
3 years 11 14.9
4 years 9 12.2
5 years 6 8.1
6 - 10 years 13 17.6
11 - 15 years 7 9.5
16 - 20 years 7 9.5
21 - 25 years 2 2.8
Note: N=74.
Karee E. Dunn & Glenda C. Rakes 14

Procedures

After receiving approval from the Institutional Review Board,


subjects were invited to participate via email, provided with the URL
for the survey, and asked to complete the measures along with
questions regarding basic demographic information. Subjects
completed a Web-based version of the Teacher Sense of Efficacy Scale
(TSES) and the Teacher Beliefs Survey (TBS). All responses were
voluntary and anonymous. No individually identifiable information
was collected from respondents.

Instruments

Teacher Beliefs Survey

The learner-centered beliefs subscale of the TBS was used in


this study to assess learner-centeredness in this sample of teachers.
This measure was selected for the current study for two reasons. First,
it aligns with the definition of learner-centeredness used for this study.
Second, it has been extensively used with thousands of teachers. The
learner-centered beliefs subscale of the TBS is based on APA’s (1997)
14 learner-centered psychological principles (see Table 1), which
provide the framework for learner-centered education. The TBS
employs a four point Likert scale and consists of 14 statements.
Participants respond to each of the 14 statements based on the extent
to which they agree or disagree with each item (McCombs & Whisler,
1997). This measure was verified in a validation study with more than
1,707 undergraduate students (McCombs, 2002). The reliability
coefficient for this measure is .86.
15 NATIONAL FORUM OF EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION AND SUPERVISION JOURNAL

Teacher Sense of Efficacy Scale (TSES).

Teacher efficacy was assessed with the TSES developed by


Tschannen-Moran, Hoy, and Hoy (1998). The TSES was selected for
this study because it aligns with the definition and conceptualization of
teacher efficacy used in this study. This measure was also selected
because it goes beyond the general assessment of teacher efficacy and
measures efficacy for instructional practices, classroom management,
and student engagement. Teachers respond to each item based on their
opinion about how much they can exert influence a given situation.
The nine responses range from nothing, very little, some influence,
quite a bit, or to a great deal.
In this study, the 12-item short form of the TSES was used to
prevent participant fatigue and to encourage greater survey completion
rates (Stanton, Sinar, Balzer, & Smith, 2002). In addition, the short
form of the TSES has similar reliability coefficients as the longer 24-
item measure (Tschannen-Moran & Hoy, 2001). The reliabilities of the
three subscales ranged from .81 to .86. The TSES consists of a 9-point
Likert scale measure. Other studies that have examined the reliability
of the TSES have found substantial reliabilities (e.g., Benton-Borghi,
2006; Knoblauch, 2004).

Data Analysis

In order to examine the influence of scores on the three TSES


subscales on the learner-centered subscale from the TBS, the data were
analyzed using multiple regression. The TBS scores were entered as
the dependent variable and the three TSES subscale scores (efficacy
for instructional practices, classroom management, and student
engagement) were entered as the independent or predictor variables.
The significance and size of the coefficient of determination were
examined to determine if the set of independent variables had a
significant influence on teachers’ learner-centered beliefs. Further, the
magnitude of impact for each independent variable was examined.
Karee E. Dunn & Glenda C. Rakes 16

Results

Each measure was reliable. Cronbach’s alpha measured the


internal consistency of items on the surveys. The reliability alpha for
the learner-centered beliefs subscale of the TBS was .75. The
reliability alpha for the TSES efficacy for instructional practices,
classroom management, and student engagement subscales were .88,
.89, and .91 respectively.

Multiple linear regression was used to determine whether


efficacy for instructional practices, classroom management, and
student engagement influenced teachers’ learner-centered beliefs. The
independent variables were teacher efficacy for instructional practices,
classroom management, and student engagement. The dependent
variable was learner-centered beliefs. The sample size for the analyses
was 74 primarily rural mid-southern teachers. The means, standard
deviations, and correlations are displayed in Table 2.
17 NATIONAL FORUM OF EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION AND SUPERVISION JOURNAL

Table 2

Means, Standard Deviations, and Correlations for Regression of


Efficacy for Instructional Practices, Classroom Management, and
Student Engagement and Learner-Centered Beliefs

(N = 74)
1 2 3 4

1 L.C. Beliefs 1.00

2 Eff. Stud. Eng. .36 1.00

3 Eff. Ins. Strat. .37 .71 1.00

4 Eff. Class Man. .25 .72 .70 1.00

Mean 3.21 25.53 27.01 28.08


Standard Deviation .33 5.36 5.07 5.03

The three independent variables were entered into the


regression equation simultaneously. Preliminary examination of the
results indicated there was no extreme multicollinearity in the data (all
variance inflation factors were less than 3). Exploratory analysis also
indicated that the assumptions underlying the application of multiple
linear regression (independence, normality, heteroschedasticity, and
linearity) were met. The regression results indicated that the set of
independent variables significantly influenced 16% of the variance in
learner-centered beliefs (F (3, 70) = 4.44, p < .01). None of the
independent variables had a significant unique influence on learner-
centered beliefs.
Karee E. Dunn & Glenda C. Rakes 18

Discussion

The results of this study supported the hypothesis that teacher


efficacy does influence teachers' learner-centered beliefs. More
specifically, the results indicated that collectively, teacher efficacy for
instructional practices, classroom management, and student
engagement significantly influenced learner-centered beliefs. This
results differ slightly from Dunn’s (2007) findings that demonstrated a
small but significant correlation between cumulative teacher efficacy
and efficacy for student engagement with regard to learner-centered
beliefs in a small sample of urban teachers. For the sample of teachers
who responded to the present study, it appears that the collective
influence of the three teacher efficacy subscales was more potent than
that of any single scale. The difference in the results may be due to the
nature of the demographics of the two sample populations (e.g., rural
vs. urban).

This finding also supports Ross' (1998) assertion that teachers


with lower efficacy are more resistant to teaching ideas that involve
risk, difficulty, and shared student control, all of which are
characteristic of learner-centered teaching. This may be a reflection of
their belief that they do not possess the requisite skills needed to
engage in more challenging teaching tasks like those involved in
learner-centered education. The results of the current study support
this position by further substantiating the influence of teacher efficacy
on learner-centered beliefs, which is important in establishing a need
to address these teacher beliefs in professional development aimed at
creating more learner-centered teachers and classrooms.

Limitations

This study was limited in scope due to the nature of the small
sample size. The findings may not be generalized to the greater teacher
education student population due to the lack of standardization in
training practices in teacher education programs and in-service
professional development across the country. In light of these
19 NATIONAL FORUM OF EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION AND SUPERVISION JOURNAL

limitations, future research should examine this relationship in larger


populations in different areas of the country.

Implications for Future Research

The finding that teacher efficacy significantly influences teacher


learner-centered beliefs is important because efficacy training may be
provided in many forms, with research providing strong support for
peer modeling as a highly effective technique (Bandura, 1997; Bruce
& Ross, 2008). Future research should investigate the implementation
of both peer modeling as well as the effects of other interventions on
both teacher efficacy and learner-centered beliefs. As intimated earlier,
future research should investigate the effects of incorporating teacher
efficacy training in professional development efforts that focus on the
promotion of learner-centered innovations.

Another avenue for future research could be the development of


an efficacy scale that assesses efficacy specifically for learner-centered
teaching. The TSES used in this study was developed to assess general
aspects of teaching efficacy. In addition, future research should also
investigate other variables that may influence teachers’ learner-
centered beliefs such as experiences participating in and observing
learner-centered classrooms. Teachers’ epistemological beliefs may
also provide further insight into misconceptions teachers may hold
about how individuals learn that may interfere with the adoption of
learner-centered beliefs.

By providing those involved in teacher training with a better


understanding of variables that influence learner-centered beliefs,
instruments that assess these beliefs (i.e., TSES, TBS), and means of
influencing these beliefs, researchers may find a productive path to
designing effective professional development needed to encourage
leaner-centeredness in teachers and promote learner-centered
educational reform.
Karee E. Dunn & Glenda C. Rakes 20

Conclusion

The results of this study highlight the importance of further


investigating and addressing teachers’ efficacy in any attempt to
persuade teachers to adopt learner-centered beliefs. Until teachers
adopt learner-centered beliefs, they are unlikely to engage in learner-
centered practices (Deemer, 2004; Lotter, 2004; McCombs, 2002;
Ross, Cousins, & Gadalla, 1996; Zielinski & Preston, 1992). This
study also supports research that indicates that unless teachers are
confident in their teaching abilities, they are unlikely to adopt beliefs
that lead to the adoption of challenging new learner-centered teaching
practices. As a result, this study draws attention to the need to be
address teacher efficacy during any inservice professional
development program designed to encourage more learner-
centeredness in teachers.

To achieve a learner-centered paradigm shift in schools, future


research should investigate means of addressing teacher efficacy
through specific training interventions as well as the effects of this
type of training on both teacher efficacy and learner-centered beliefs.
As a result, professional development stakeholders may make
noticable progress in their efforts to provide a caring and qualified
learner-centered teacher for every child.
21 NATIONAL FORUM OF EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION AND SUPERVISION JOURNAL

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