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Collective Efficacy: The Holy Grail for School Improvement

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 There is never a shortage of great educational research of specific practices and strategies that have a significant influence on accelerating student learning and growth. Some of this research has discovered the importance of collective efficacy; leveraging time, talent and resources; focus; teacher empowerment; balanced assessment and more. Every educator, including principals, teacher leaders, and teachers, should all be aware of these studies that have identified strategies and practices that accelerate student learning, as they all focus on creating high performing schools that put student learning at the center of their school’s mission.

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What is Collective TEACHER Efficacy? 

After conducting a meta analyses on more than 800 studies on education practices, John Hattie has reported that Collective Teacher Efficacy (CTE) has the greatest impact on student learning (1.57 effect size). This effect is double the effect of student feedback (.75 effect size). What many educators do not know is that Collective Efficacy research is more than two decades old, and it is only now through Hattie’s meta-analyses of school research, that many practitioners are hearing about it for the first time. Many educators are asking, “What is Collective Teacher Efficacy, and how do we develop it?”

Collective Teacher Efficacy evolved from Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory (1977).  CTE is the perception of teachers in a school that the faculty, as a whole, can have a positive impact and influence on student learning. CTE is more powerful than Teacher Self Efficacy and is greater than the sum of an entire staff having high levels of self-efficacy. There are several strategies for developing greater CTE. However, every school leader needs to know that high levels of CTE usually only exists when: 

  1. The principal is a learner who is viewed as an instructional leader, 
  2. There is trust in the school leader, and
  3. A culture of purposeful teacher collaboration has been established.

The Principal as a Learning Leader

Much of the school leadership literature has compared the benefits of being an Instructional Leader to the benefits of being a Transformational Leader (Hallinger & Heck, 1998; Hattie, 2015). Many of the school leadership studies in the early 1980s coined the term “Instructional Leader” to describe highly effective principals (Brookover & Lezotte, 1982). Next came the term “Transformational Leader” (Leithwood, 1994) to describe leaders skilled in empowerment, distributed leadership, and leading organizational learning (Hallinger & Heck, 1998). However, today’s most effective schools are led by leaders who focus on monitoring student learning, as well as high impact pedagogical strategies. The best term to describe these principals is “Learning Leaders” (Dufour & Marzano, 2009). It’s probably semantics when debating the use of these terms to label principals, because many of these principals do provide feedback and coaching on high quality instruction (Instructional Leadership) and empower their staffs by distributing leadership (Transformational Leadership).  For this research, I prefer to use the term “Learning Leader,” due to the unwavering and relentless focus on student learning.  In schools led by these principals, the question of “what is best for kids” has evolved to, “what is best for student learning?”

Learning leaders shift their major focus on what teachers are doing and focus their attention on what students are learning. Instead of collecting lesson plans, these leaders may collect assessments to ensure alignment, rigor and monitor student learning on a regular basis. Learning leaders are visible in classrooms, data meetings, and understand the value of feedback for teachers (.90 effect size) and students (.75 effect size). They work hard to ensure processes and routines are in place so that all students have an opportunity to master material and have access to rigorous curriculum. Learning leaders collaboratively develop school schedules that prioritize student learning and collaboration. Learning leaders ensure teacher collaboration is purposeful where the focus is sharing best practices, analyzing assessments, reviewing student learning data, and examples of student work. They also understand the importance of coherence and communications. All students and teachers know what success looks like, and the learning leaders works hard to ensure everyone has the resources needed to be successful.


Trust in the School Leader:

Effective school leaders understand that culture trumps strategy. These school leaders take responsibility for creating a culture that focuses on relationships, trust and respect. Research indicates there is a relationship between trust and student achievement, as measured by collective efficacy of the staff (Goddard, 2017). Bryk and Schneider’s (2002) research in 400 Chicago elementary schools concluded that trust alone may not ensure student success, but that schools without trust have almost no chance of improving. Once trust is lost by a school leader, it is very hard to get back. Tschannen-Moran and Hoy’s (2000) comprehensive review of the literature on trust in schools identified six key components. Here are those components and what principals can do to foster higher levels of trust:

Willingness to Risk Vulnerability allows the principal to connect with the staff. “Interdependence is a necessary condition for trust.” (Tschannen-Moram & Hoy; 2000). Principals must risk vulnerability and include staff members in decision making, yet be responsible for outcomes.  

Benevolence occurs when principals create the conditions that have students’ and teachers’ best interests at heart. School leaders that align their behaviors with their words and put others first establish higher levels of trust.

Reliability is demonstrated when principals follow through on their word and can be depended on. School leaders that are dependable and can be trusted to do what they say or what is required of them are viewed as reliable.

Competence occurs when principals not only follow through on their words, but are able to do the work that is required for success. Competence is associated with high levels of trust in every organization. No matter how great a leader’s relationships are, being able to do the job well is just as important in developing trust.

Honesty is demonstrated through a school leader’s authenticity, character, ethics and integrity. These leaders do not only talk the walk, but walk the walk as well.

Openness occurs when school leaders share information and are available to answer questions from the staff. It is important for school leaders to always be transparent and share information when possible. After meetings, school leaders should “cascade” appropriate information to appropriate staff, within 24 hours, to establish trust and transparency. School leaders can also develop trust by empowering teachers, keeping teachers involved in the decision-making process and developing teacher leaders. It is important to never underestimate the value of developing and maintaining trust in your school.


Purposeful Collaboration

Many school staff members and leaders have long believed in the importance of teaming. There has been research showing average effective teachers improving after being placed on highly effective teams. There is also a myth that we can improve our schools focusing on one teacher at a time. However, the key to improving our schools is focusing on social capital and creating high performing teams. But not all teaming is created equal. For collaboration time in schools to have the intended impact on student learning, it must be purposeful and focused. Collaboration time that has the greatest impact on student learning usually focuses on 1) Looking at student work, 2) co-creating assessments and unpacking standards, 3) designing lessons and sharing best practices, and 4) examining student data.

Learning leaders know they cannot be in every team meeting, so they develop the capacity of the staff and important protocols for the staff to engage in purposeful collaboration. These leaders also know the importance of leveraging time, talent and resources, so school schedules are developed where teachers have ample time for purposeful collaboration.



Summary

Collective efficacy is now reported to have the greatest influence on student learning. Education leaders need to understand the conditions for collective efficacy to exist as well as strategies for improving it. In addition, there are specific educational research practices that educators must be aware of and implement with fidelity while creating high performing schools. Leaders continued growth and learning is paramount in creating great schools.

About the Author Bobby Moore has spent more than 25 years in education as a teacher, principal and superintendent. As President & CEO of EPIC Impact Education Group, he partners with schools and professional associations across the country to implement high-growth strategies, professional learning for leaders, strategies for creating high performing and positive cultures, as well as keynoting at conferences and school districts. Please contact him at Dr.BobbyMooreed@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @DrBobbyMoore.


References

Bandura, A. (1993). Perceived Self Efficacy in Cognitive Development and Functioning. Educational Psychologist, 28(2), 117–148.

Bryk, A.S., & Schneider, B. (2003). Trust in schools: A core resource for school reform. Educational Leadership, 60(6), 40–45.

Dufour, R., & Marzano, R. (2009). High leverage strategies for principal leadership. Educational Leadership, 66(5), 62-68.

Goddard, R. (2017, August) Personal Interview with James Hutto.

Hallinger, P., & Heck, R. N. (1998).  Exploring the principal’s contribution to school effectiveness.  School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 9(2), 57-191.

Hattie, J. (Feb., 2015) High-Impact Leadership. Educational Leadership 72 (2) , 36-40.

Leithwood, K. (1994). Leadership for school restructuring. Educational Administration Quarterly, 30, 498-518.

Tschannen-Moran, M., & Hoy, W.K. (2000). A multidisciplinary analysis of the nature, meaning, and measurement of trust. Review of Educational Research, 70(4), 547–593

Leanne Siegenthaler