How to strengthen students’ self- efficacy

Our students’ senses of self-efficacy are influenced by teachers, students, and other people who play a part in their daily lives. School and classroom settings play important roles in helping students develop self-efficacy.

If you still need a boost to see why it is so important to help your students develop self-efficacy, the following TED-talk can help.Why Self-Efficacy Matters | Mamie Morrow.

The types of experiences that inform self-efficacy will provide an accessible framework in which we will discover the possibilities to support students’ development.

Mastery experiences

To gain positive mastery experiences it is important that the goals that students set are realistic and that students are able to use strategies to persist reaching this goal. The use of positive strategies is beneficial to increase self-efficacy. Setting short-term goals, breaking tasks into smaller goals and achieving them one by one for example. This way children also learn that reaching goals and achieving things demands planning, time, and devotion.

While teaching students to set goals it is useful to keep in mind that is important to try and set goals within students’ zone of proximal development. The zone of proximal development has been defined as, “the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem-solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers Vygotsky, 1978, p. 86).” Chowdhury calls this space the, ‘stretch zone.’ This zone has a positive effect on students’ perceptions about their ability to achieve.

Throughout the time students are gaining mastery experiences, climbing up their ladder, it is advantageous to help them be agency thinkers in order to keep their motivation up and pursue reaching the goal state that pathways thinking, and agency thinking are two crucial influences with effects on the way student will climb their ladders towards their goals. Pathways thinking addresses the strengths a student has to come up with ways to get to the goal. Agency thinking is about how the students walk these pathways. This includes their drive, confidence, resilience, and skills to follow the different pathways. Belief and motivation are key within agency thinking.

These two processes have a cyclical way of working. When a students’ ability of agency thinking increases, this will activate pathways thinking, which then again boosts confidence and engagement towards reaching the goal. All in all, it will lead to growing self-efficacy beliefs.  These two concepts are part of Snyder’s Hope Theory, which is a theory that will return in this chapter within the source ‘somatic and emotional states. Giving children choices is one a strategy that builds agency thinking and will increase their persistence. It will develop their independence, gives opportunities to take responsibility and asks for thinking about their own abilities.

Identifying successes is important but alongside the identification of success, it is also important to assess what they have done to be able to succeed. By doing so this will not only boost the consciousness about one’s self, it will in turn, creates positive emotions and thus also have a positive effect through the ‘somatic and emotional states’ source.

Vicarious experiences

Social models can serve as motivational mirrors. When a student observes the successes of someone they can relate to, their feeling of being able to be successful themselves is strengthened (Bandura, 1994). Teachers can use this mechanism within the classroom in multiple ways but we need to be aware of the negative effects that this can have too.

While using peer modelling, remember that to have a positive effect on self-efficacy, the peer models need  to be:

  • Competent
  • Credible
  • Similar
  • Enthusiastic (Arino, 2012)

Working in pairs is one way to use peer modelling. Students learn that others can help them strengthen particular skills and that they have skills themselves that can help other students. It works in both directions. This is an important element to establish. Approaching pairwork in this way helps students feel like neither one of them is the one with stronger skills. They will know that it depends on the situation and that they both have strengths to offer to each other.

Verbal Persuasion

Persuasion is closely connected with feedback. Unrealistic praise can lead to disappointment, which will have negative effects on our’ self-efficacy (Bandura, 1994). Negative persuasion can lead to students avoiding challenges and not wanting to persevere. It is important that feedback/persuasion is realistic and that it refers to specific strengths instead of overall praising. If done in the right way, feedback can have strong influence on building high level of self-efficacy (Lopez-Garrido, 2020).

More effective feedback is:

  • Frequent
  • Specific. Feedback is about addressing tips & tops, but the focus should be on what a student has done right. This is motivating and increases self-efficacy.
  • Realistic. This will avoid disappointments in the future and distorted self-perception.
  • In the moment. When feedback is given in the moment, right after a situation, its educational effect is more valuable (TeachThought Stuff, 2020).

Besides feedback from a teacher, peer feedback is incredibly powerful (Alrubail, 2015). This is also related to the vicarious experience. Understanding the ideas and thoughts of people similar to ourselves can often be as impactful as teacher feedback.Students who have the opportunity to participate in peer feedback help each other and feel more like experts themselves. (Feedback, n.d.), which increases their own self-efficacy.

Peer feedback is most effective when it is used as an additional way of feedback, not as an alternative for teacher feedback. It is also important that students have learned about effective and ineffective feedback, that they are coached throughout the peer feedback process and that they are informed about established feedback ‘protocols’ (Feedback, n.d.).


When using peer feedback in the classroom it is important to consider a couple of classroom aspects before choosing how to start the process. Ask yourself ‘Are the students resilient?’ Are they able to cognitively respond to feedback instead of emotionally?
Somatic and emotional states

Stress reactions, fatigue and hurt affect people’s judgement of their efficacy. The use of positive self-talk is one strategy to boost mental health and lower stress levels (Wilson, n.d.).

If a person struggles with their well-being it is more difficult to boost their self-efficacy. Improving self-efficacy with this source will mainly be the ability to manage anxiety and moods during challenging situations.

Mindfulness and yoga are two strategies that can help students manage stress and anxiety and they can be implemented in school life just as easily outside of school. There are many benefits connected to yoga. Yoga and mindfulness can:

  • Teach students the importance of using strategies that help them relax and calm down.
  •  Be modified  and adapted in many ways, which makes them inclusive and accessible for all students.
  • Controlling breathing is an important component of yoga and mindfulness, which can reduce anxiety and is beneficial for emotion control. It helps students build their self-regulation skills.


Snyder’s hope theory contains strong elements that can be used to foster student’s self-efficacy.  Hope theory is based on the idea that when thinking about goals, we can think about ways to accomplish them (pathways thinking), and that we believe we can and will try and/or follow these steps or paths to accomplish our goals (agency thinking).

The way that emotional and physical feelings are interpreted and recognized is significant for someone’s self-efficacy (Bandura, 1994). Being in control of your thoughts is an important factor in motivation, and persistence and self-efficacy. Recognizing negative thoughts is often first step. When we are able to recognize negative thoughts, we can purposely work on changing them (Schofield, n.d.).  

Teaching children to recognize the difference between helpful thoughts and anxious thoughts can go a long way to helping them tackle challenges and persevere.

Read part of this article: Healthy Thinking for Younger Children

  • What kinds of adaptations can you make for older children?
  • How can you help younger students understand the differences between thoughts and feelings?
  • How can you help explain how thoughts and feelings are cyclical?
Imaginal experiences

The student should be able to visualise themselves in the situation where they are accomplishing the goal or have already accomplished it. Some ideas:

  • Children can paint or draw pictures of themselves reaching the goal. (Maddux (1995)
  • Children can use mindfulness to picture  themselves being successful
  • Children can be encouraged to write what ‘success’ would look and feel like.


Questions for further thinking

  • Which of the domains do you feel most confident about in starting to implementing strategies?
  • Are there strategies that might be helpful to implement for your own self-efficacy?
  • Imaginary thinking can be used in many situations. How could you use this strategy to foster good classroom behaviour?
  • Have you experienced people around you who have implemented some of these strategies that might have had an impact on your self-efficacy?
  • Think about things that might undermine or decrease students’ self-efficacy. Keep them in mind and try to be aware. Do you see things like these happen around you?

Key Takeaways

  • Self-efficacy can grow, and teachers can influence this process.
  • Teaching students to set realistic goals is important to increase the amount of success experiences, and to increase the awareness of what is needed to reach a goal.
  • The identification of successes, and the things that a student did to reach a goal is an important process that increases the sense of self-efficacy.
  • When a student observes successes of someone, whom he or she believes is like oneself, their feeling of being able to do that themselves strengthens. Peer modelling is a strong strategy to use.
  • It is important that feedback/persuasion is realistic and contains specific strengths instead of overall praises.
  • Besides feedback from a teacher, peer feedback is incredibly powerful.
  • The use of positive self-talk is one strategy to boost mental health and lower stress levels.
  • Being in control of your thoughts is an important component for motivation, self-efficacy, being goal focussed and persistent. Recognizing negative thoughts is the first step. But this is not where it stops. These negative thoughts should be challenged and changed.
  • Visualising yourself in the situation where you are accomplishing the goal or have already accomplished it is a boost for your self-efficacy.


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Inclusive Perspectives in Primary Education Copyright © 2021 by room305 and Inclusive Education Class 2020-2021 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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