Concordia University of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
In collaboration with my colleagues Umesh Sharma (Australia) and Chris Forlin (Hong Kong), I have devoted some attention to the issue of teacher efficacy for inclusive practice. This attention arose from our earlier work on pre- and in-service teacher attitudes, sentiments, and concerns about inclusive education and a desire to know more about the views of teachers on their own efficacy with respect to an array of inclusive practices.
We followed the concept of self-efficacy, or how we view our own competence, developed by Bandura (1997; and discussed in Loreman, 2014; Sharma, Loreman & Forlin, 2011). According to Bandura, teachers’ sense of self-efficacy impacts the learning contexts they create for their students along with their pedagogical decisions. In general, the higher their self-efficacy for teaching, the more confident and likely successful they will be implementing various teaching strategies in the classroom. Specifically, we were interested in exploring pre- and in-service teacher self-efficacy with respect to inclusive education practices because this area is not yet fully understood. The research that does exist on this topic shows that teachers with high levels of self-efficacy for inclusive practice have improved attitudes toward inclusion, higher levels of persistence with students who require extra help, and tend towards more effective teaching strategies. Conversely, those with low self-efficacy perceptions have been found to spend more time on non-academic tasks and use teaching strategies that may hinder student learning (Chan, 2008; Loreman, 2014; Sharma et al., 2011; Soodak, Podell, & Lehman, 1998).
Inclusive education has become a contested concept that has for too long been the focus of an undue level of debate, offering a distraction from getting on with the real work of making our schools and classrooms more friendly and responsive to student diversity. (If I hear one more person in one more research or policy group meeting disingenuously ask ‘What do we all mean by inclusion?’ I shall scream). Inclusive education at the most fundamental level involves the removal of barriers to the participation of all students (Ainscow, Booth, & Dyson, 2006). Teacher efficacy is a construct that requires a focus: that is, it requires a specific context and a specific task or set of tasks (Bandura, 1997, Loreman, 2014; Sharma et al., 2011). This requirement necessitated the identification of what inclusive teaching practices are (i.e. those which serve to reduce and eliminate barriers to classroom learning and participation) prior to trying to discern teacher self-efficacy in this area.
Our approach to research in pre-and in-service teacher self-efficacy for inclusive practice involved three phases, the third of which we are still very much engaged in. The first phase, as noted above, was the identification of inclusive teaching practices (Loreman, 2010). The second phase was the development of a research instrument that would have the potential to assist in gathering large amounts of international data for quantitative analysis (Sharma et al., 2011). The third phase has involved using that instrument to draw some conclusions about good teaching (Forlin, Loreman, & Sharma, 2014; Forlin Sharma & Loreman, 2013; Loreman, Sharma, & Forlin, 2013).
In phase one, I undertook a structured literature review that had both relevance for our future work in teacher efficacy for inclusive practice along with the work I was doing with pre-service teachers in Alberta (Loreman, 2010). This review identified essential elements that teacher education programs in Alberta should address with respect to inclusive education to ensure their graduates had the necessary pre-requisite skills, knowledge, and abilities to be effective teachers. Aside from being the starting point for later work on measuring inclusive education, the practices identified in this study, along with a variety of other literature we later found, served as the basis for a series of questions developed by Umesh Sharma around teacher efficacy and inclusive practice.
In phase two of our research we developed our research instrument. Sharma’s questions were interrogated through a process known as content validation (Sharma et al., 2011). We asked six faculty from a range of international universities (Canada, Australia, Hong Kong, and India) working in the field of special and inclusive education to evaluate the scale to see if it was a valid measure to assess pre-service teacher efficacy in implementing inclusive practices. They gave advice on the clarity of the scale items and rated them for usefulness in measuring teacher efficacy for inclusive practice on a 1-5 Likert Scale. Based on their recommendations, some items were deleted and some were modified leaving us with a 29-item scale for testing.
Our next step was to administer the scale to a total of 609 pre-service teachers in Canada, Australia, Hong Kong, and India. Our subsequent statistical analysis allowed us to eliminate more items, resulting in the final 18-item questionnaire that we use today. We called it the Teacher Efficacy for Inclusive Practice (TEIP) scale. This scale measures three main concepts (factors) with respect to inclusive practice: (1) Efficacy in inclusive instruction; (2) Efficacy in collaboration, and; (3) Efficacy in managing behavior. At the time we did this study this instrument seemed to be very reliable, with Cronbach alpha scores (a statistical measure of reliability with a score of 0.70 being the usual benchmark) being very high at 0.93, 0.85, and 0.85 for each factor respectively and 0.89 for the entire scale (Sharma et al., 2011). Wider use throughout the world since the development of the scale has proven its’ reliability in a variety of contexts with both pre- and in-service teachers.
The third phase of our work, the phase that is ongoing and perhaps the most interesting, has involved the use of our scale. Because the scale was developed with international use in mind and because we have had significant prior experience with international comparative studies, we decided to look at teacher self-efficacy for inclusive practice in four different countries (Canada, Australia, Hong Kong, and Indonesia) in our first study (Loreman et al., 2013). We collected data from 380 pre-service teachers and compared the responses of those from different countries using the TEIP scale.
Our research discovered, perhaps unsurprisingly, that strong international differences existed. What was surprising, however, was that based on the results of previous studies we expected those differences to be between the Eastern countries of Indonesia and Hong Kong and the Western countries of Australia and Canada. This was not the case. Responses from Indonesian participants were closer to those of the Australians and the Canadians than they were to the Chinese pre-service teachers from Hong Kong, who reported lower levels of self-efficacy in all areas of inclusive practice. We concluded that “when it comes to teaching self-efficacy, differences may well be much more subtle than East versus West, and that the prevailing cultural context in individual countries or smaller regions might prove to be a better context in which to frame the results” (Loreman et al., 2013, p. 40).
In addition to our findings with respect to the comparison of responses from pre-service teachers in different countries, we also found that those who indicated they had little in the way of knowledge, experience, confidence, or training in the area of inclusive education also reported lower feelings of teaching self-efficacy for inclusive practice. Furthermore, the more education a pre-service teacher had prior to entering his or her Education program, the higher the feelings of self-efficacy for inclusive practice they were likely to hold. Prior personal interactions with people with disabilities also resulted in higher perceptions of self-efficacy.
In our next study (Forlin et al., 2013) the TEIP was administered to 737 in-service teachers in Hong Kong. These teachers were taking a course in the fundamentals of inclusive education and the study was conducted to see if there were any demographic differences that might be identified between participants, and also to see if the course did in fact have any impact on self-efficacy for inclusive practice. Put simply, we found that …regardless of demographic variables such a course is effective in improving teacher efficacy for inclusive practice, with female teachers making larger gains in the area of managing behaviour when compared to their male counterparts. Further, increased knowledge of legislation and policy, and a reduction in concerns about inclusive teaching were found to be the major predictors of improved teaching efficacy for inclusive practice. (Forlin et al., 2013, p. 718)
Our most recent collaborative study (Forlin et al., 2014), once again using the TEIP, involved our largest sample to date of 2361 in-service teachers in Hong Kong taking the same course we examined in the 2013 study. The results of this study supported the conclusions of our 2013 study, that the basic course in inclusive education was effective in improving self-efficacy for inclusive practice. We also noted in this study that improvement was strongest in areas teachers felt were under their direct control, for example designing learning tasks for a diverse range of learners and their ability to facilitate students working in groups. Not surprisingly, areas they felt to be out of their sphere of influence were rated lower in terms of their self-efficacy.
Our work in this area continues. A large group of academics from universities across Canada, including myself, have collected data using the TEIP and are in the process of analyzing and reporting our findings. At this point in time, however, given our research and the research of others into self-efficacy and inclusive education, what can be said?
For a start, it is clear that self-efficacy for inclusive practice is a measurable construct, and we have a sound instrument available (the TEIP) to do just that on a large scale and across a variety of national and cultural contexts. Our findings using the TEIP have demonstrated national differences in self-efficacy for inclusive practice, along with the impact of demographic variables such as training (it is helpful), interactions with people who have disabilities (they result in higher levels of self-efficacy), education levels (higher levels are desirable), knowledge and confidence (higher levels are helpful), and gender (women in Hong Kong seem to have generally higher levels of self-efficacy for inclusive practice than do men).
The message to take away from this work, however, is that currently it is difficult to make sweeping statements about the topic of efficacy. There are many nuances and complexities that exist when it comes to teacher self-efficacy for inclusive practice. These complexities should not be ignored, but rather warrant further investigation in order that they become more fully understood.
Ainscow, M., Booth, T. & Dyson, A. (2006). Improving schools, developing inclusion. Abbingdon, UK: Routledge.
Bandura, A. (1997) Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: W.H. Freeman.
Chan, D. W. (2008) Dimensions of teacher self-efficacy among Chinese secondary school teachers in Hong Kong. Educational Psychology, 28,181–94.
Forlin, C., Loreman, T., & Sharma, U. (2014). A system-wide professional learning approach about inclusion for teachers in Hong Kong. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 42(3), 247-260.
Forlin, C., Sharma, U., & Loreman, T. (2013). Predictors of improved teaching efficacy following basic training for inclusion in Hong Kong. International Journal of Inclusive Education. 18(7), 718-730.DOI: 10.1080/13603116.2013.819941.
Loreman, T. (2010). Essential inclusive education-related outcomes for Alberta pre-service teachers. Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 56(2) 124-142.
Loreman, T. (2014). Teacher education, professional development, and student diversity. In J. Andrews & J. Lupart (Eds.), Understanding and addressing diversity in Canadian schools. Toronto, Canada: Nelson. pp. 187-215.
Loreman, T., Sharma, U., & Forlin, C. (2013). Do pre-service teachers feel ready to teach in inclusive classrooms? A four-country study of teaching self-efficacy. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 38(1), 27-44.
Sharma,U., Loreman, T., & Forlin, C. (2011). Measuring teacher efficacy to implement inclusive practices: An international validation. Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs, 12(1), 12-21.
Soodak, L. C., Podell, D. M. & Lehman, L. R. (1998). Teacher, student, and school attributes as predictors of teachers’ responses to inclusion. Journal of Special Education, 31, 480–97.