• by Kristin Grayson, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • June – July 2014 • Kristin Grayson, M.Ed.

Student achievement in science in U.S. public schools is at the forefront of recent educational reform initiatives. Having effective science teachers who can improve science achievement for all students is of utmost importance. There are many factors that contribute to effective instruction, including resources, pedagogical practices, teacher content knowledge, class size, curriculum, etc.

In my 2014 dissertation study, I focused on teacher classroom leadership. What kind of leadership behaviors and belief sets do effective science teachers have? How confident are science teachers in their ability to teach and help all students become successful learners of the complex scientific knowledge and processes contained in school curricula? How do teachers lead their students to attain scientific proficiency?

Few quantitative studies have focused on teacher leadership at the classroom level (York-Barr & Duke, 2004). However, over the past 25 years, many studies have been done on teacher self-efficacy. Tucker, et al. (2005) defined teacher self-efficacy as “the beliefs that teachers have about their individual skills and abilities to create desirable outcomes for students.” Higher levels of teacher self-efficacy have been consistently correlated with higher levels of student achievement.

A variety of studies have been conducted about teacher leadership. In the 1970s there was a focus on teacher leadership at the classroom level. Pounder (2006) spoke about the change that occurred in teacher leadership studies shifting from that of the relationship between teaching and leadership in the classroom to that of leadership of teachers (first wave).

This was followed by a period of study of instructional leadership within a school organization (second wave), and then a period of study that he calls leadership as a process of influence (third wave). We have now moved to a fourth wave of studies that are back to studying how teachers lead students in the classroom.

Therefore, with this combined history of teacher research, my dissertation examined the relationships between teacher leadership behaviors, teacher self-efficacy, and student science achievement in culturally diverse schools (based on the percent low socio-economic status and percent non-White, percent English learners).

This is one of the first studies to attempt to show relationships between teacher self-efficacy and teacher leadership and to look for relationships between those two independent variables (at the school level) and student achievement.

Findings from this study were interesting but not necessarily surprising. At the teacher level of analysis, higher teacher self-efficacy beliefs predicted higher teacher initiating structure (such as classroom management), and at the school level of analysis the study affirmed that school demographics cannot be ignored. Higher percentages of low SES students and English learner students predicted lower science achievement.

Of course, that does not presume that low SES students and English learner students cannot learn science, it just means that the methods currently being used are not addressing the students’ needs. Teachers themselves reported their lowest self-efficacy beliefs and expectations in their abilities to teach science to English learners.

The findings imply that more research needs to be done to clarify relationships between teacher classroom leadership, science teacher self-efficacy, and student achievement especially at the teacher level of analysis. Findings also indicate the importance of developing instructional methods to address student demographics and their needs so that all students, despite their backgrounds, will achieve in science.

To help address this need, IDRA created the Science Smart! professional development model for teachers in classrooms serving English learner  students and diverse populations. Several Texas schools have seen double-digit gains in standardized tests for elementary and secondary science after receiving one year of implementation of this model, which is designed to address specific equity issues that campuses face (e.g., equitable resources, greater access to science opportunities for minority students and females, and the transformation of teaching practices to meet the needs of a growing populations of English learner students).

IDRA also has outlined seven umbrella research-supported instructional strategies to help English learners achieve in the science classroom. The strategies are presented in detail with their research base in Science Instructional Strategies for English Learners – A Guide for Elementary and Secondary Grades (Villarreal, et al., 2012), which is available from IDRA.

Having teachers lead students to be the scientists of tomorrow is of utmost importance. We must define what this leadership is, find ways to improve it, and how best to prepare current and new science teachers. All students deserve the opportunity to choose to become the scientists of tomorrow!


Grayson, K. “Leadership, Self-Efficacy and Student Achievement in Science Instruction in Culturally Diverse Schools,” Dissertations Abstracts International (2014).

Pounder, J. “Transformational Classroom Leadership,” Educational Management Administration & Leadership (2006) 34(4), 533-545.

Tucker, C.M., & T. Porter, W.M. Reinke, K.C. Herman,  P.D. Ivery, C.E. Mack, E.S. Jackson. “Promoting Teacher Efficacy for Working with Culturally Diverse Students,” Preventing School Failure (2005) 50(1), 29-34.

Villarreal, A., & V. Betancourt, K. Grayson, R. Rodríguez. Science Instructional Strategies for English Learners – A Guide for Elementary and Secondary Grades (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 2012).

York-Barr, J., & K. Duke. “What Do We Know about Teacher Leadership? Findings from Two Decades of Scholarship,” Review of Educational Research (2004) 74(3), 255-316.

Kristin Grayson, Ph.D., is an education association in IDRA Field Services. Comments and questions may be directed to her via email at feedback@idra.org.

[©2014, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the June-July 2014 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.]