Culture and Collective Teacher Efficacy

Culture is a complex manifestation of human relationships and interactions over time. To work in an environment with a positive, healthy culture is ideal. But positive and healthy does not necessarily equal easy and fun. Participating in a positive culture takes work, effort and being cognizant of self and the collective efficacy.

Collective efficacy clearly understands that ‘together, we are better or can do better’ —  no matter what the internal or external circumstances. Simply stated: “In our tribe, we do _ and we do not tolerate _.”

In the book School Culture Rewired: How to Define, Assess, and Transform It, the authors Gruenert and Whitaker write about six forms of school culture that typically exist in today’s educational institutions, as follows:

  1. Collaborative
  2. Comfortable-Collaborative
  3. Contrived-Collegial
  4. Balkanized
  5. Fragmented
  6. Toxic.

Ideally, institutions should strive to be collaborative in culture. A collaborative cultured school will employ teachers who are committed to developing their practice in order to improve student performance. This entails observing each other’s teaching methods to analyze and apply best practice within their classroom (Gruenert 2005). Additionally, school leadership will challenge ineffective teaching practice while at the same time support teachers to professionally strengthen their craft, in a collaborative cultured school (Gruenert 2005). These two efforts can make a positive difference in the lives of students. Furthermore, a collaborative culture school best supports the students and stakeholders responsible for serving the student body.

A key component to building collaborative culture can be measured by how well school leadership, teachers and students relate and interact with one another. In a collaborative culture there is an understanding that people can share problems candidly, and the strength of the culture’s collective efficacy will conspire to support efforts to best solve those problems (Gruenert Whittaker 2015). The belief that the adults working in schools can make a difference in the life of any student is essential for moving forward. To shape this into reality takes help, trust, support, openness, collective reflection, and collective efficacy (Gruenert Whittaker 2015). Efficacy in teaching can derive from four sources, as follows: 1) mastery experiences, 2) vicarious experiences, 3) social persuasion, and 4) affective states (Bandura, 1986; Goddard et al., 2004).

The article Collective Teacher Efficacy states, “…when staffs see themselves as highly efficacious, they ascribe failure to their use of insufficient strategies and/or not enough (teacher) effort.” Teachers who lack a sense of efficacy may not persist with certain actions to overcome insufficiencies, believing they lack capability to achieve student results. Instead weak efficacy teachers may ‘water down’ the lesson to ensure all students ‘get it’. Teachers with a high sense of efficacy will accept more risk and responsibility for student success and failure, and be more willing to leverage for best student outcomes.

This belief can be compared to how family members support the dreams and/or desires of other family members — yet at the same time may call out any concerns if that member is not applying their best intentions towards achieving their dream. The ability to sustain a positive and collaborative culture takes soft skills and healthy relationship building. In the same vain, family members can ‘play the movie in their mind’ and hold back the drives and desires of others because of what happened to them in the past. And this thinking may lead to holding others back and not supporting capacity for achievement because of our personal, previous experiences. There must be awareness by school leaders and coaches as organizations gain traction in supporting the collective efficacy within the staff which is grounded in the belief of supporting what is best for kids.

The role of the coach is to support and shape these collective energies in order to maximize growth capacity in both students and teachers by developing relationships, challenging possibilities and modeling productive teaching methods. As school leadership and coaches launch the coaching effort we must collectively address ways to strive for a collaborative culture which instills a strong sense of collective teacher efficacy.

We can focus on the four sources of efficacy: mastery experiences, vicarious experiences, social persuasion and affective states, whereby all teachers believe that together we as a school can support all students to achieve their best. And we will not put any blame on external circumstances which may lower teachers’ expectations of what kids can accomplish. 

Here’ a short Powtoon I presented to the faculty.

Coaching Effort from Brent Fullerton on Vimeo.

Collective Teacher Efficacy is Key

A key component in order to build collaborative culture can be measured by how well school leadership, teachers and students relate and interact with one another. There is an understanding that people can share problems candidly, and the strength of the culture’s collective efficacy will conspire to support efforts to best solve those problems (Gruenert, Whittaker 2015). The belief that the adults working in schools can make a difference in the life of any student is essential for moving forward.

According to Visible Learning for Teachers, John Hattie researches factors influencing student achievement (measured in effect sizes) and counts collective efficacy as making the largest impact in student achievement, as illustrated below:

(Hinge point is d=0.40)

  • Collective Efficacy d=1.57
  • Instructional Quality d=1.00
  • Formative Evaluation d=0.90
  • Feedback d= 0.75
  • Teacher Clarity d=0.57

Teacher efficacy can derive from four sources, as listed:

  1. Mastery Experiences – providing teachers with strengths-based feedback, collect data across coaching cycle, co-teach lessons, and use rubrics to assess student learning,
  2. Vicarious Experiences – student-centered learning labs, micro model parts of lessons, co-teach, use video with teachers,
  3. Social Persuasion – use the Seven Norms for Collaborative Work, affirm growth, effort, and learning, reflect on how the group is doing with collaboration, engage in exit interviews at end of coaching cycles, and
  4. Affective States – sharing of one’s feelings, thoughts, and emotions as it relates to teaching learning while given respect and honor.

The Student-Centered Coaching effort can support and focus these collective energies in order to maximize growth capacity in both students and teachers by developing relationships, challenging possibilities and modeling productive teaching methods.

A successful coaching effort will consider a Student-Centered Coaching model that supports its collaborative school culture whereby collective teacher efficacy makes gains in teacher mastery and student performance. This effort will value the teacher, clarify essentials, and provide a discriminating eye for possibilities to explore. We, as a school, can support all students to achieve their best and not put blame on external circumstances which may lower teachers’ expectations of what students can accomplish.

Together, as a school if we believe and hold each other accountable, we can truly accomplish more.

About Brent Fullerton

International educator and entrepreneur striving to enhance lives.
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