Examining the Perceptions and Sources of the Self-efficacy Beliefs of Principals of High-achieving Elementary Schools

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School principals have a significant impact on the academic achievement of their students (Leithwood et al., 2004; Marzano et al., 2005). This important responsibility is magnified by the fact that principals have a job that is increasingly complex and demanding (Copland, 2001; West et al., 2010). Recently, researchers and educators have voiced concern over whether current programs for principal preparation are sufficient to prepare school leaders for their challenging jobs (Hess & Kelly, 2005, 2007). When individuals are dealing with demanding circumstances, such as those encountered in a stressful job with high accountability, the self-efficacy beliefs of the individuals involved are a key factor in performance and success. Research is needed to better understand the self-efficacy beliefs of schools principals, especially how these beliefs are formed and sustained through professional development experiences.

This mixed-methods study focused on the perceptions and sources of the self-efficacy beliefs of elementary school principals whose schools had demonstrated high levels of student achievement in comparison to similar schools. In the quantitative phase of the study, 40 high-achieving elementary schools were identified through analysis of state assessment data. All 40 schools were from a single school district in the mid-Atlantic United States, which had a history of structured leadership development for aspiring principals. The principals of the schools were asked to complete the Principal Self-Efficacy Scale (PSES) (Tschannen-Moran & Gareis, 2004) and answer demographic questions. Analysis of the survey data did not find any statistically significant relationships between PSES scores and demographic factors. Then the researcher conducted interviews with six of the principals who had completed the PSES. Participants were selected based on their PSES scores and demographic data. The qualitative data confirmed that the principals derived their self-efficacy beliefs from the four sources identified by Bandura: mastery experiences, vicarious experiences, verbal persuasion, and affective states. The study found that the district's multiyear leadership development program provided multiple opportunities for developing principals to build their self-efficacy beliefs. Further research is recommended with larger samples of principals. In addition, future research should examine the relationships among principal efficacy, teacher efficacy, and student achievement.