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Empowerment: teacher perceptions, aspirations and efficacy.

There is widespread public concern regarding the status of American schooling. There has been substantial interest evolving over the recent years concerning the role of the teacher in decisions made in the operation of schools.

This paper examines the degree of congruence between teachers perceived and aspired level of shared decision making and teacher self-efficacy, which is believed to be a central component in the restructuring of schooling. Also discussed are ancillary questions which the literature suggests may contribute to teacher self efficacy. It is asserted that there is a lack of clarity regarding role expectations and aspirations of teachers regarding decision making, which results in a lack of general and personal self-efficacy. Based upon the literature review, the author states that the teacherOs sense of competency and self-efficacy is at the heart of reform and is the sine qua non of


There is widespread public concern regarding the status of American schooling. Since the early 1970Os American education has been at the forefront of public policy analysis. In the ensuing decades, we have witnessed a parade of panels, task forces and commissions press for reform of education. Subsequently, these groups promulgated a spate of critical documents in the 1980Os followed with more than 200 state commissions and task forces reporting the demise of public education in the United States. The rhetoric of these reports was often accusatory and strident. One of the major reports, A Nation At Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform, (Commission for Excellence in Education, 1983) discussed education in terms of war and surrender.

In an effort to respond to the reports detailing the failure of schooling in America, educational reform was initiated with great energy and determination. The first wave of restructuring efforts to increase the quality and effectiveness of the educational enterprise was comprised of public policy mandates and inducements. This wave was characterized by adherence to the Industrial Age model of management (Taylor, 1947). It was authoritarian, teacher centered, competitive, stressed uniform minimum standards, accountability and was single pathed and linear (Sergiovanni, 1993). These coercive initiatives did little to change either the functioning or the public perception of the status of American schools.

Following this unsuccessful attempt at school reform, came the second wave of reform. This current wave has emphasized capacity-building and system-changing activities that address fundamental transformation of the infrastructure of public schools. It espouses learner centered teaching, participation, cooperation and collaboration and is multi-pathed. This era is characterized by attempts to increase the use of democratic principles and approaches consonant with the current shared decision making (SDM)) and site-based management (SBM) focus. Although the intent of this wave appears lauditory, there was little, if any preparation of school personnel to meet this lofty call for change. This lack of preparation for an innovation is evidenced throughout the attempted reforms of the educational system, and this failing has had a substantive effect on teacher attributes of efficacy and empowerment.

Empowerment and Shared Decision Making: Teacher Issues

In response to the second wave of reform calling for school management decentralization and increased participation and collaboration in decision making, there has been substantial interest evolving over the recent years concerning the role of the teacher in decisions made in the operation of schools (Morrison, G.M, Wakefield, P., Walker, D. & Solberg, S. 1994; Husband, R.E. & Short, P.M., 1994; Keedy, J.L. & Finch, A.M., 1994; Hess, G. A., 1994).

Numerous journal articles have been written about the need for decentralization of authority and the inclusion of teachers in site-based decision-making and provided evidence of positive outcomes (Weiss, 1993, Reyes, 1992; Chase, 1991; Sebring & Camburn, 1992), but there is little research to provide information regarding the role, beliefs and aspirations of the teachers. Studies frequently cite the negative effect on and attitude of teachers following implementation of participatory decision-making (Conley, 1989; Elenbogen & Hiestand, 1989; Huddleston, 1991; Strusinski, 1990; Welsh, 1987 & Weiss, 1992).

Unfortunately, using rhetoric to suggest that this management model is being used and actually having it be in place are two very distinct realities. Yet, schools often attempt to function as if using the words of shared management will bring it about. They identify themselves as SDM districts, occasionally provide limited inservice describing the process and assume the job is done. It simply is not this easy. This chasm between OwantingO and OhavingO participatory management can be seen readily in many other organizations as well. Higher education, business and industry are struggling with a very similar issue. The whole idea of the quality movement and wide stake-holder participation in decision making is causing much concern in these organizations, and bringing about implementation is frought with problems. The current struggles within the these enterprises exemplify the great difficulty of merging these two competing policy ideas of authoritarian versus democratic management.

Slotnik (1993) asserts that shared decision making is not a reform, but rather a methodology for management. Nation-wide, teacher participation in decision making is viewed as a school reform change initiative centering on an alternative strategy for school management (Conley & Bacharach, 1990; Grant, 1992; & Goldman, 1992). This is an essential point in the discussion of SDM. If it is a matter of determining where power and authority for various types of decisions rests, than it would certainly connote the need for knowledge and expertise in decision making process. Indeed, could not faulty thinking of staff members result in poor decisions as well as faulty thinking of administrators? Is the question who makes the school decisions or the methodology used? Is a knowledge base in decision making, training, willingness, ability to take risks, experience etc. necessary to assure sound decision making. Based upon results of studies, it is suggested that teachers may not even want to be involved in shared decision making to the degree and type that the literature and laws suggest. This response has clear implications for preservice education and staff development of inservice teachers.

The literature, and personal experience, indicates that there is a great deal of confusion in the field regarding what type of decision can/should be made by teachers, administrators, parents or board members. A lack of congruence in expectations regarding decision making has resulted in frustration and failure of teachers to take an active role in participatory management (Zukerman, 1993; Grant, 1992; Goldman, 1992).

Researchers and policy analysts assert that teacher self-efficacy is a critical component in the restructuring of schooling and that there is a lack of clarity regarding role expectations and aspirations of teachers regarding decision making, which results in a lack of general and personal self-efficacy in the workplace. Recent reports in the literature (Hoy and Woolfolk, 1993; Sachs, J.J., 1990) support this focus on teacher attributes of self-efficacy as a major element in productive schooling. The teacherOs competency and self-efficacy, which greatly affects the teacher-student relationship, is at the heart of reform and is the sine qua non of meaningful change in schools.

For example, the Wisconsin Legislature responded to this call for increased democratic management of American schools, by passage of the Management Restructuring Program, Wis. Stats. 118.013, in 1992. This Act was designed to decentralize school board powers and duties and to promote shared decision making in the local school districts. It was developed as a result of recommendations by the Wisconsin task force, The Commission for the 21st Century. This Commission issued a report in December of 1990 which called for the creation of shared decision making through site-based management.

Although Wisconsin passed legislation supporting shared decision making, there was no substantive assistance to prepare those involved (administrators, school board members, teachers, or parents) for this innovative management method. The OInformation PhaseO consisted of approximately 50 three hour meetings conducted between October 1, 1992 and November 1, 1992. These meetings provided little more than the description of participatory decision making. They did not provide guidance for implementation, examples of issues, barriers etc. This researcher has spoken with participants from numerous stakeholder groups (administrators, school board members, professors, teachers and parents) and consistently report that the meetings .had little, if any, value regarding school implementation. This example is used to illustrate the situation which has been reported throughout the country.

Teacher Perception, Aspiration and Efficacy

The theoretical framework for analysis of teacher sense of self-efficacy in this paper, is the work of Albert Bandura (1977) who introduced a theory of behavioral change known as Self Efficacy Theory (SET). Bandura hypothesized that an individualOs expectations for success determines the behavioral response, including: a. The individualOs determination to initiate a specific behavior, b. Level of intensity of the response, and, c. Perserverance and coping behaviors when confronted with obstacles. BandurasO theory depicts an individualOs belief in their abilities to successfully engage in behaviors within their environment. Numerous studies support this theoretical model and indicate a strong relationship between perceived self-efficacy and actual performance. SET has been used, and is widely supported by experts, in research studies examining teacher involvement in shared decision making (Luzzo, D.A., 1994; Ashton, P. & Webb, R.B., 1986; Dembo, M.H. & Gibson, S., 1985) to directly examine the reasons why educators do not readily embrace the call for participative decision-making.

Bandura (1977) defined self-efficacy as a cognitive motivational construct that involves two components, outcome expectancy and self-efficacy. Outcome expectancy involved the belief that an individual holds regarding the specific results accruing from a particular action. Whereas self-efficacy beliefs pertain to beliefs regarding personal competency to affect or execute a given task. Bandura described this cognitive phenomenon (Figure 1) and provided methodologies that might prove to be most useful as we analyze teacher and system variables.


In order to enhance teacher efficacy, teachers must believe that their behaviors can effect the education of their students. They must recognize that they have the capacity and power to make key decisions which will effect their role and studentsO production. The key focus must be on determining how to bring about and sustain wide-spread teacher sense of efficacy. Evidence abounds (Hall, 1992; Barros, 1989; Ashton and Webb, 1986) that teachers need to feel competent to do the job and be assured that the system is capable of supporting their role. Considerable research (Morrison, G.M, Wakefield, P., Walker, D. & Solberg, Pajares, F. & Miller, M.D., 1994, Weber, B.J. & Omotani, L.M., 1994; Ross, J.A., 1994) supports the idea that teacher self-efficacy is a critical component in the restructuring of schooling.

The literature also strongly supports the concept that environmental issues greatly affect the teacher in the classroom. Denham and Michael (1981) describe teacher efficacy as an ecologically determined state which results from the co-mingling of a variety of sources including: past training, administration, peers and the community characteristics. Their research indicates that teachers frequently believe that they are not competent to have an integral part in shared goverance. Ruscoe and Whitford (1991) also reported research findings regarding teacher attitudes toward efficacy and empowerment and the learning environment in their schools. Their work indicated that teachers want to be involved in the restructuring of education, and although they are desirous of having a role in SDM. they attribute a more positive work environment and attitudes to supportive administration, collegial faculty, and a major focus on students. In order to bring about a collaborative work environment supportive of shared decision makin, the leader must embrace and promote the concept of empowerment and teacher efficacy by providing the opportunity for teachers to mutually determine the direction of the organization. Good intentions, alone, will not bring this about.

Bandura (1982) posited that even when individualOs perceive that specific actions will likely bring about the desired behavior, they will not engage in the behavior or persist after initating the behavior, if they feel that they do not possess the requisite skills. Teachers frequently indicate that they OHavenOt been trainedO to do various tasks, e.g. make managerial decisions, work with handicapped children, counsel children, teach any concepts outside of their certification area ... ad infinitum. It is a true puzzelment, when, in fact, teachers performed all of these functions and many more prior to the current move toward differentiation of positions resultant from the press for reform and standardization of roles, curriculum and assessment.

Research conducted by Ashton and Webb (1986) indicates that the motivation of teachers can be greatly increased by increased emotional rewards that teachers indicate are so satisfying yet so infrequent in the current system. At the center of these rewards is shared decision making and the opportunity for a real voice in schooling (Andrews, S.V., 1994; Chase, A.M., 1991).

Fundamental beliefs held by society and the educational community concerning the roles and relationships within the organizational structure have impeded this recognition. The classical organizational structure (Taylor, 1923) typically used in educational systems is a major contributor to the problem. However, simply Oturning the pyrimad up-side-downO (Figure 3) wonOt do the job, either. Role ambiguity and lack of goal congruence (Bedeian, A.G. and Armenakis, A.A., 19981; Gordon, J.R., 1991; Lampe, et al, 1993) reconfirm the perceived inadequacy and sense of lack of control and efficacy identified in research examining teachers performance and attitudes (Ashton, P. and Webb, R.B., 1986; Dembo, M.H. and Gibson, S. 1985).

Implications for Practice

The research indicates that, although there are positive results of shared decision making, there is also a great deal of frustration and confusion which results in increased teacher alienation. Therefore, it is critical. that on-going studies be conducted to assess what teachers perceive to be occuring, their aspirations in the area of shared decision making, and these effects on overall work efficacy. This research should correlate teacher personal and professional attributes with their desire to share in decision making. School districts might use the findings to assist in staff development programming, and assessment of practices related to increased teacher participation.

Higher education programs must address this issue in preservice training of administrators and teachers. Although the reform movement has received a great deal of attention by the popular press, it has not had as significant an effect on higher education preparation programs across the nation (McCarthy, 1988). In 1991 Joseph Murphy conducted a survey of 74 chairpersons of the University Council of Educational Administration (UCEA) and non-UCEA programs. Findings of this study indicate that the overall picture is one of slight to moderate change in response to reform initiatives, including teacher empowerment. It is very easy to discuss the empowered workplace; it is entirely another issue to deliver on this promise. One does not change long-held ideas about the organization and the power base by desire. Senge (1990) advises that substantive cognitive changes must occur before we change our behavior and beliefs. He states that O ... new insights fail to get put into practice because they conflict with deeply held internal images of how the world works, images that limit us to familiar and conventional ways of thinking and acting.O


There is a general sense of powerlessness and helplessness in many of todayOs educators (Ashton, P. and Webb, R. B., 1986; Dembo, M.H. and Gibson, S., 1985; Hoy, W.K. and Woolfolk, A.E., 1993). Without the belief that they can make a change either from a personal standpoint or from an organizational stance, meaningful change cannot occur. That is not to say that the OsystemO should not be thoroughly examined or that society and parental input not be brought into account, but that clear and focused attention be given to affective teacher issues impeding progress. A key factor in restructured schools must be teacher beliefs and attitudes regarding their central role in decision making regarding the education of tomorrowOs citizens.


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Dr. Scherie Enderlin-Lampe, Coordinator, Educational Administration Program, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Dr. Scheri Enderlin-Lample, 800 Algoma Blvd., N/E Building, Room 621 Oshkosh, WI 54901. Email:
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Author:Enderlin-Lampe, Scherie
Publication:Journal of Instructional Psychology
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2002
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