• by Abelardo Villarreal, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • May 2005

Dr. Abelardo VillarrealThe message is loud and clear. “When will we reach a point where professional development has equipped teachers with the capacity to have a greater affect on student achievement?” laments a policymaker.

“When will I be able to exercise my locus of control over my classroom?” cries a teacher who cannot link what is learned in professional development activities to his or her own classroom context.

“How can professional development for my teachers create this synergy inside and outside the classroom to create knowledge centers of excellence for all students?” bemoans a campus principal.

All these cries for help lead teachers and administrators to rethink professional development as a tool for increased teacher performance ultimately resulting in increased student achievement and success.

This article supports the continuation of professional development as a major contributing factor to student success, but questions the lack of emphasis on teachers’ self efficacy and decision-making capacity and the heavy stress on collective decision making. Specifically, this article describes IDRA’s concept of the elements that shape teacher capacity.

IDRA’s professional development approach fosters increased teacher capacity to enhance student achievement by juxtaposing knowledge, teachers’ self efficacy and teachers’ rational thinking processes essential to decision-making.

This is the first in a series of two articles. It describes IDRA’s concept of teacher capacity and the building of it as a goal of professional development. The second article will describe the critical stages that illustrate the generic progression of professional development including opportunities to learn, practice, reflect, evaluate and adjust teaching practice, and a logic model that describes and links inputs, outputs and outcomes in IDRA’s professional development design. The second article will appear in an upcoming issue of the IDRA Newsletter.

altTeacher Capacity

For purposes of this article, teacher capacity is defined as the sum of: a strong knowledge base of content and pedagogy; a sense of self efficacy; reasoning skills to make informed individual decisions; and ability to evaluate, reflect and adjust decisions. The box on the right shows the critical elements that define teacher capacity to influence student learning and success. These elements are the basis for IDRA’s professional development approach.

It would be remiss not to acknowledge the strength and success of existing professional development models to equip teachers with new knowledge and create opportunities for collective action at the school and district levels. Consequently, this article does not focus on knowledge about content and how to deliver content. This absence does not insinuate nor suggest a diminishing of the importance of updating the school’s knowledge base with research-based strategies for increasing student achievement and success.

Teacher Sense of Self Efficacy and Decision Making Ability

A historical and cultural norm of individualism guides everything that Americans do. For teachers, the expectation is no different. One would think that professional development regards this sense of individualism as a foundation on which to base its theory and application.

A review of the major professional development models reveals that strategies presently used focus on a collective decision-making approach in direct contrast to the individualistic sense of responsibility and action that is embedded in teachers. Decision making is about making informed choices for solutions to classroom problems and issues. It is about feeling capable to make these decisions. It is about teachers given a decision-making opportunity and getting the organizational support to successfully implement these choices.

Huberman reports that teachers experience a greater degree of satisfaction when allowed to make individual decisions about what happens in their classrooms rather than when participating in schoolwide decisions that require collective input (1989). Critics maintain that the individualistic norm is counterproductive to a standardized curriculum, a selected series of teaching strategies and a school-centered accountability system.

IDRA believes that teachers who operate within an individualistic norm are well intentioned and committed to student success and that informed individualism can foster classroom decisions and have a greater impact on student success.

Teachers’ engagement in decision making can be defined at two levels: classroom level for individual judgments and school level for collective judgments. Their involvement requires both collective and individual decision-making capacity.

Rarely do we see professional development focus on strengthening the individual decision-making capacity to design and implement changes in instructional management and appropriate instructional strategies that match the characteristics of students in a particular classroom.

A substantial amount of research is pointing to a strong correlation among teacher self efficacy, teaching performance and student achievement (Goddard, et al., 2000; Hackett, 1995; Pajares, 1997). Self efficacy as defined by Bandura includes “beliefs in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to produce given attainments” (1977).

Tschannen-Moran and Woolfolk Hoy describe teachers’ self efficacy as “judgment of his or her capabilities to bring about desired outcomes of student engagement and learning, even among those students who may be difficult or unmotivated” (In Press).

Individualism and self efficacy coexist in successful teachers and create a culture of success among students in a classroom. Jabot acknowledges the close relationship between individual decision making and self-efficacy when he states, “The impact of an increase in teacher self efficacy in the classroom setting should be based on the pre-service teacher’s choice of activities to be included as well as his or her understanding of the role of these activities in student learning” (n.d.).

The challenge to professional development is to strengthen teachers’ self efficacy and nurture their sense of individualism and intercept them with research-based models of content delivery and knowledge of how students learn. Of great importance is the integration of these ideas into a comprehensive program designed to empower teachers to make a positive difference for students.

In addition to a strong knowledge base, successful decision makers possess reasoning skills essential to a process for making informed choices. Research shows that these reasoning skills can be learned and nurtured consistently in professional development programs.

The implications for professional development are many. For example, the decision-making process follows a logical series of steps that employ high levels of critical thinking skills. Significance of the issue, urgency of solution, and impact of the decision are some of the major factors that guide an educational decision.

Richetti and Tregoe outline the four major functions of decision making: (1) make informed choices among research-based strategies and techniques; (2) plan and organize to implement changes; (3) study and determine the reason for success, partial success or failure; and (4) study and analyze issues that act as barriers to or facilitate school success (2001).

The potential for professional development’s impact on teacher self-efficacy, decision making capacity and student achievement has yet to be fully exploited. We live in an era of ambitious educational reform with admirable goals. The instructional capacity of teachers is critical to successful reform.

Strengthening Reasoning Skills through Decision Making Training

Informed individualism refers to teachers who have the critical knowledge and skills required for a classroom with diverse learners, can describe their instructional decision-making process, can present clear and logical reasoning for instructional decision making, know when to involve other peers or supervisors in instructional decisions, and feel supported and free to take risks.

Teachers enjoy the ownership that comes with professional decision making, the confidence to take risks without fear of repercussions and the conviction to be accountable for student achievement. Creating a culture of informed individualism becomes a major objective of a professional development program.

Teachers demonstrate appropriate application of decision-making skills when they can show the steps of making a good decision, support decisions with research-based knowledge or experience, demonstrate that alternative actions were considered, and show that preliminary assessments of a decision’s probable impact on the particular classroom context were made prior to fully implementing them.

A review of decision-making models reveals eight major steps followed by teachers in making choices and implementing research-based strategies.

Step One: Define the problem (e.g., student achievement, student engagement, discipline, implementation of a research-based strategy, assessment, lack of parent involvement) that you as a teacher are facing and want to solve. This involves use of existing, relevant data to create a context for the decision.

Scenario: Teacher A has been trained on sheltered instruction practices. She comes back to her classroom and realizes that most of the training was with a class of English language learners. Her situation is that only three of her students are English language learners. Her problem is how should sheltered instruction practices be incorporated into the class.

Step Two: Create and consider various options and alternative responses to the issue or problem.

Scenario: The teacher considers various options: Option 1 – Teach the entire class and then use a grouping technique with English language learners while the others do seat work. Option 2 – Have a paraprofessional work with the English language learners while the teacher works with the rest of the class. Option 3 – Use sheltered instruction techniques with the entire class.

Step Three: Weigh the positive and negative consequences of the various options.
Scenario: The teacher charts the positive and negative consequences of the various options (see box below).

Step Four: Reflect on the stakeholders who will be affected by the alternatives.

Scenario: Option 3 benefits all students equally. No student is segregated for instruction. The teacher calibrates instruction to the various comprehension levels of students.

Step Five: Weigh all the options and select the one that has the most positive impact with the least amount of negative consequences to the various stakeholders.

Scenario: Option 3 should have the most positive impact on students’ engagement and achievement, with the least amount of time spent on “busy” work.

Step Six: Develop the strategy to implement the decision.

Scenario: The teacher will assess or use existing data to group students according to reading comprehension levels in English. Instructional techniques will be selected to match the reading comprehension levels of the various groups. The goal of this strategy is to ensure comprehensive input.

Step Seven: Implement the decision, reflect on the consequences of the decision and adjust periodically to ensure major positive impact.

Scenario: The teacher observes the impact the decision is having on student engagement and achievement; reflects on observations, instructional techniques and engagement of students; and adjusts instruction accordingly. Teacher reflection occurs daily, weekly and at benchmarking dates.

Step Eight: Assess impact of the decision on the problem and identify lessons learned during the process.

Scenario: The teacher uses student achievement and teacher performance data to assess impact. He or she shares lessons learned with other teachers.

A professional development model must incorporate the articulation of an individual and a collective decision-making model that will be tested during the various phases of professional development. It must provide opportunities for guided practice in applying the selected decision-making model in every day classroom experiences and major curriculum decisions at the district or campus levels.

Efficacy-Building Strategies

A challenge for an effective professional development program is to incorporate opportunities that allow teachers to develop their self efficacy. The paucity of research that supports the validity and reliability of any efficacy-building strategy is a serious limitation of the four major sources hypothesized by Bandura (1986).

Influencing the self-efficacy of experienced teachers can be more challenging, but a long-term professional development program that integrates teachers as decision makers and contributors to school success will definitely have a positive impact on their self efficacy. The literature identifies self-efficacy as: “mastery experiences, vicarious experiences, social persuasion, and physiological or emotional arousal.”
Mastery experiences refer to successful classroom experiences that are recognized and valued by others publicly. Teachers see many of their wonderful successes go unnoticed and ignored. Principals, peers and supervisors miss many opportunities on a daily basis to promote and enhance the self efficacy of teachers.

Vicarious experiences include opportunities for teachers to show their leadership ability by taking initiatives and sharing results with others. This sets trends and builds up a following by others.

Institutional Support

A professional development model must include a system of institutional support for teachers who are, by virtue of becoming decision makers, risk takers and innovators. Instructional support can have a negative or a positive impact on teacher performance. On the negative side, teachers have witnessed erosion of the benefits of a workshop by a supervisor who comes into their classrooms to stifle any creativity or attempt to improve instruction.

On the other hand, instructional support that is designed as part of the professional development program with a set of premises that support creativity and individualism of teachers to make informed decisions can have a positive impact. Institutional support that includes peer mentoring, coaching and access to resources during predictable times of difficulty in the lives of teachers can have beneficial effects on student success.


Professional development is more than just a series of workshops or work sessions for teachers. It is a multifaceted process that must nurture teachers’ self efficacy and knowledge base, equip them with the teaching skills and expertise to make informed decisions in the classroom, and provide the support that teachers need when they take risks associated with creativity and new knowledge.

Time is of the essence. Teachers cannot afford to take time for professional development activities that just meet certain requirements. Professional development must be targeted and supported by the school administration. Schools must provide the resources to implement a teacher support system that values teacher input and decision making. Informed action toward increased student achievement must be the order of the day.

Sample Teacher Decision-Making Steps,
Step 3: Weigh Positive and Negative Consequences of Options

Sample Issue: How should sheltered instruction-practices be incorporated into a classroom with only three English language learners?
Positive Consequences
Negative Consequences
Option 1: Teach the entire class and then use a grouping technique with English language learners while the others do seat work.
  • Grouping of English language learners for targeted instruction.
  • Teacher divides the time between English language learners and non-English language learners.
  • Seat work can be meaningless.
  • Some students from the non-English language learners group could benefit from sheltered instruction.
Option 2: Have a paraprofessional work with English language learners while the teacher works with the rest of the class.
  • The non-English language learners have the full attention of the teacher for the whole class period.
  • English language learners do not benefit from the teacher’s expertise.
  • Some students from the non-English language learner group could benefit from sheltered instruction.
Option 3: Use sheltered instruction techniques with the entire class.
  • All students benefit from instruction calibrated to the student’s proficiency level in English.
  • Grouping of students is based on reading comprehension levels of students.
  • English language learners are not segregated for instructional purposes.
  • None is perceived by the teacher.



Bandura, A. Self Efficacy: Toward a Unifying Theory of Behavioral Change (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1977).

Bandura A. Social Foundations of Thought and Action: A Social Cognitive Theory (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1986).

Goddard, R.D., and W.K. Hoy, A. Woolfolk Hoy. “Collective Teacher Efficacy: Its Meaning, Measure, and Impact on Student Achievement,” American Educational Research Journal (2000) 37, 479-507.

Hackett, G. Self-efficacy in Career Choice and Development. In A. Bandura (Ed.), Self Efficacy in Changing Societies (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995) pp. 232-258.

Huberman, M.A. “The Professional Life Cycle of Teachers,” Teachers College Record (1989) 91(1), 31-57.

Jabot, M. The Effectiveness of a Misconceptions-Based Approach to the Teaching of Elementary Science Methods (Fredonia, N.Y.: State of New York College at Fredonia, no date).

Pajares, F. Current Directions in Self-Efficacy Research. In M. Maehr and P.R. Pintrich (Eds.), Advances in Motivation and Achievement (Greenwich, Conn.: JAI Press, 1997) Vol. 10, pp. 1-49.

Richetti, C.T., and B.B. Tregoe. Analytic Processes for School Leaders (Alexandria, Va.: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2001).

Tschannen-Moran, M., and A. Woolfolk Hoy. “Teacher Efficacy: Capturing an Elusive Construct,” Teaching and Teacher Education (In Press).

Abelardo Villarreal, Ph.D., is the director of the IDRA Division of Professional Development. Comments and questions may be directed to him via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2005, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the May 2005 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]