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Evidence Matters | Teacher Retention: The Power of Belief

January 29, 2024

In our most recent series, we examined the numbers underlying the national teacher shortage. While most can agree that this shortage is something that needs to be addressed, there has historically been some disagreement about the most effective means of course correction. While several strategies are typically touted as imperative—increased pay being perhaps the most common—research suggests that there may be an often overlooked factor when it comes to teacher retention: the development of teacher self-efficacy.

According to the American Psychological Association, self-efficacy is defined as the belief in one’s ability to “execute behaviors necessary to produce specific performance attainments.” When it comes to teachers, the development of self-efficacy reflects an educator’s confidence that they will be able to make a positive impact on student learning. And according to renowned education researcher Dr. John Hattie, the development of this construct among groups of teachers—otherwise known as “collective efficacy”—may be the single most important influence on teacher job satisfaction, and thus, on teacher retention. Other international studies have shown similar findings. Results from a 2023 study of 634 teachers in China suggested clear connections between higher teacher self-efficacy and reduced teacher burnout. Similarly, a 2014 study of Norwegian teachers found a direct link between teacher self-efficacy and job satisfaction.

Notably, perceptions of self-efficacy don’t just affect teacher job satisfaction. Over the course of several decades, Dr. Hattie has conducted in-depth research into the mechanisms that affect student learning. Some of his findings are unsurprising, such as those that suggest that prior achievement, socioeconomic status, and home environment all play a role in a student’s educational success. However, according to Hattie, when 195 different influences on learning were analyzed, the highest effect size was found for collective teacher efficacy. In other words, when it comes to student achievement, the most important in-school factor related to student achievement may be having teachers who believe in their own abilities.

If the notion of teacher self-efficacy is such an important one, leading to both increased likelihood of job satisfaction among teachers and increased student achievement, then what are the concrete ways we can boost self-efficacy? According to Dr. Hattie, two primary factors emerge in this conversation: school culture and evidence. More specifically, school leaders’ abilities to shape the collective beliefs of the teachers in their schools, as well as their ability to help teachers recognize the evidence of their impact on student learning, are key to increasing teachers’ self-efficacy. If teachers in a school share a collective belief in their ability to help students succeed and, perhaps more importantly, if they understand the how and why behind that success, they are more likely to want to stay.

In future posts, we will examine how school leaders and policymakers might be able to help create conditions in which teacher self-efficacy is able flourish, and we will also take a closer look at what this could mean in the long-term, not only for our teachers, but also for our students.


Kelly Gregory is the Riley Institute’s Director for Public Education Projects and Partnerships and previously taught for 11 years in South Carolina public schools. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a master’s degree in Special Education. She also holds a National Board certification as an Exceptional Needs Specialist. She can be reached at kelly.gregory0@furman.edu.