Collective teacher efficacy, when a staff of teachers believe that together they can inspire growth and change in their students, has the greatest impact on student achievement—even higher than factors like teacher-student relationships, home environment, or parental involvement (John Hattie).
Collective teacher efficacy is unlikely to develop without a leadership plan for creating the environment and opportunities for teachers to know and support each other as professionals with a shared responsibility for student success.
Consider how difficult it is for collective efficacy to emerge in schools where the description that Jana Heasley and Matthew Smith shared in Moving From Isolation to Collaboration in the Classroom (NASSAP, March 2019) exists:
“…teachers still find themselves separated and isolated in 21st-century education. Teachers are separated in myriad ways—by certifications, grade levels, core or elective classes, content, even by building. We further separate or tier our students in much the same manner—AP, honors, career prep, academic performance. We have hundreds of buzzwords for grouping students and naming classes, and we ourselves are separated not only by what, but whom we teach. These categorizations often put teachers ‘on an island,’ self-contained in the microcosm of their own classroom with their content area and students. If no man is an island, then teachers should experiment with changing that cultural standard and move away from educating students in isolation.”
My ongoing position has been that we need to see teaching as a team sport and public act. If we want teachers to function as teammates, trust needs to be developed. Trust requires “knowing each other” and that requires opportunities that tend not to exist in schools and programs designed around isolation. I recently experienced two activities in the same day where leaders designed purposely for teacher engagement that could generate collective efficacy. I found myself smiling as I witnessed the exchanges among the teachers. Both were during my work with Bismarck, North Dakota Schools.
The first was working with Library Media Specialists (LMS) lead by Misti Werle and instructional coaches guided by Brittany Upton. Both groups individually have completed training in coaching skills during the past two years and are now teaming up in their buildings to impact a coaching culture.
During this session they worked as teammates observing and analyzing a coaching conference between an LMS and her building instructional coach. The LMS teacher had attended a workshop on co-teaching with a classroom teacher. The two of them then co-taught a lesson where students focused on main idea (reading standard) using a tech app (LMS standard). The lesson was recorded and brought to this session where the LMS and instructional coach modeled a pre and post observation conference for their colleagues. The instructional coach allowed me to coach her coaching (live) both for her own feedback and the reflection of her colleagues. I observed a great teacher learning to impact student learning experience. Leadership created opportunity.
The second experience occurred later the same day working with the staff at Will-Moore Elementary in an after-school faculty meeting. Principal Charles Dalusong and instructional coach Michelle Kuhn arranged for teachers to work in vertical teams (K-2) (3-5) to examine student writing and to set writing goals for the year.
These questions guided the initial conversation.
Grade one and grade four teachers:
- Identify two students’ writing samples you would classify as advanced.
- Ask the lower grade teachers to comment on their experiences with that student.
- Ask the upper grade teacher to reflect with you on goals you would set for these students for the end on the year.
- Repeat the process with two students whose writing is on grade level and two students who are below grade level.
In several instances this activity had last year’s teacher, current teacher, and likely next year’s teacher working together to plan for maximum student success. I heard joy when teachers looked at progress past students had made. I heard approval from teacher to teacher about student outcomes. I heard strategizing for ways to strengthen students’ success. I saw Charles and Michelle as full participants in the work.
Leadership created opportunity.
I often hear leaders share a frustration concerning a lack of teachers’ willingness to be vulnerable and to commit to shared accountability for student success. We can’t force it. We can’t “make it happen.” We can create the opportunities.