Wednesday / July 24

Building Teacher Efficacy: Two Professional Learning Models

Bandura (1994) defines self-efficacy as “people’s judgments of their capabilities to organize and execute courses of action required to attain designated types of performances.” In other words, if we have self-efficacy we believe that we have the knowledge and skills to perform a task and we believe that we can successfully perform the task in both typical and challenging conditions. A teacher with the same knowledge and skill level may perform poorly, adequately or extraordinarily depending on their self-efficacy (Bandura, 1993). Our efficacy is our beliefs about our ability, not our actual ability.

Self-efficacy beliefs impact teacher motivation in several ways: it helps determine what goals teachers set, how much effort they put in to achieving the goals, how long they persevere in their attempts, and their ability to deal with obstacles and setbacks. Teacher efficacy has been shown to have an impact on student efficacy (Bandura, 1994) and students with strong efficacy take academic risks and put forth greater effort. They display greater resilience, recovering more quickly from failures and ultimately finding more academic success.

Professional learning models that engage teachers in inquiry build teacher efficacy (Donohoo & Katz, 2018). Inquiry involves wonder, curiosity, questioning, conversation, and cycles of reflection and action. Inquiry starts with defining a problem and then restating it so that it is a specific, personally relevant question. Teachers use a range of resources to learn more, plan how to enact their new learning, monitor their progress and their students’ progress, and engage in discussion with colleagues throughout the process. As inquiry unfolds over time, teachers can consider and reconsider their thinking about pedagogy, student learning, the curriculum and their connections with colleagues and the community. This view of inquiry fits with our understanding of teaching and learning as multilayered and multifaceted, with connections between content areas as well as between all the learners, adult and children, in the classroom.

Two professional learning models for building teacher efficacy through inquiry are Collaborative Inquiry (Donohoo, 2013) and Lab Class (Cranston, 2019).

Collaborative inquiry is a four-stage model where teachers are:

  1. Framing the Problem
  2. Collecting Evidence
  3. Analyzing Evidence
  4. Documenting, Sharing and Celebrating.

Lab Class is a professional learning structure combining the ‘teacher as researcher’ approach of collaborative inquiry with descriptive observation and analysis of student learning in the classroom. Educators engaged in collaborative inquiry told facilitators they wanted to ‘see it in action’ and ‘get into one another’s classrooms.’ As a result, the Lab Class model was created to combine the elements of collaborative inquiry with purposeful classroom observation and analysis of student learning. During Lab Class, teachers engage in professional learning using research and professional resources to determine next steps. For both Lab Class and Collaborative Inquiry, the time frame can range from a few months up to a school year, the number of participants can range from as few as three teachers to large groups of twenty teachers and teachers’ assignments can range from Kindergarten to Grade 12.

“Students deserve educators in their schools who believe in themselves as well as each other and who are committed to facilitating student success and their own learning every school day.” Planche (2009)

In inquiry-based models of professional learning, teachers examine the impact of instructional practice on student learning through collaborative planning, teaching, assessment, and observation and consider how evidence-informed instructional approaches can be implemented in their classrooms. Time for professional learning is embedded in the process and is in response to observations of student learning; teachers learn from their students as well as from one another and with one another.

By using a collaborative inquiry model to determine a specific area of inquiry, and through repeated observation and analysis of student learning with time for professional reflection and learning, participants move beyond superficial classroom observation to a more rigorous investigation of teacher practice, student learning and the conditions that make learning possible. Deprivatization of teacher practice – through observation, analysis, collaboration and sharing – can lead to teachers building new knowledge and problem solving together. Teachers have reported that Lab Class created an environment where they felt safe to take risks, learn, make mistakes, receive feedback and refine their teaching practice. Through conversations about shared professional learning and observations of student learning, teachers create networks with colleagues within their own school and between schools. Teachers with differing teaching assignments discover commonalities and connections that last long after the formal inquiry period has ended.

High impact professional learning models require teachers to move beyond using assessment and observations to inform their teaching; it requires them to use inquiry to investigate the impact of their teaching strategies on student learning and achievement (Timperley & Lee, 2008). In both professional learning models, Collaborative Inquiry and Lab Class, teachers monitor the impact of their practice on students, through observation and assessment, they adjust their goals and their teaching as required. Inquiry positions the teacher as co-learner and researcher – a much richer but more challenging role. Both models provide a supportive environment for teachers to strive for a collectively determined goal over a sustained period. Setbacks and challenges are shared with colleagues and teachers work together during the provided release time to discuss potential strategies and solutions. Because teachers adjust their instructional practices over time, with the support of the other participants from their network and their administrators, they are more likely to achieve mastery and increase their own self-efficacy while building collective efficacy within their network.   


Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In V.S. Ramachaudran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of human

behaviour, 4, 71-81. New York: Academic Press, 1998.  Retrieved from

Bandura, A. (1993). Perceived Self-Efficacy in Cognitive Development and Functioning.

Educational Psychologist, 28(2), 117 – 148.

Cranston, L. (2019).  Lab class: Professional learning through collaborative inquiry and student

observation. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Donohoo, J & Katz, S. (2018). When teachers believe, students achieve: Collaborative inquiry

builds teacher efficacy for better student outcomes. Central Okanogan Teachers Association: Professional Development Articles. Retrieved from,-students-achieve-collaborative-inquiry-builds-teacher-efficacy-for-better-student-outcomes/

Donohoo, J. (2013). Collaborative Inquiry for Educators, A Facilitator’s Guide to School

Improvement. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin

Planche, B., (2009). Ten Powerful Conditions for Learning. York University: Quest Journal

retrieved from

Timperley, H. & Lee, A. (2008).  Reframing teacher professional learning: An alternative policy

approach to strengthening valued outcomes for diverse learners. Review of Research in Education, 32(1), 328-369.

Written by

Lisa Cranston, Ed.D. is a retired educator and author of Lab Class: Professional Learning Through Collaborative Inquiry and Student Observation. She has over thirty years of experience as an educator and has taught grades kindergarten to four, worked as an instructional coach for literacy and mathematics, and as an educational consultant for kindergarten and primary grades.  She has also provided induction for new teachers and support for their mentors. Lisa has presented at district and regional meetings as well as at local, provincial and international conferences.

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