There is little question that poverty can exert a heavy influence on student learning and school success. In schools across the nation, the level of poverty experienced by students nearly predicts achievement scores. Yet, a longstanding and growing body of research points to a school-based, culture-driven strategy consistently demonstrating power to overcome poverty’s influence on student learning outcomes.
The power of this deceptively simple approach resides in the understanding that the nature of our commitment, effort, and persistence determines, or at least marks a noteworthy influence on learning outcomes. Commonly referred to as efficacy, 1970s psychologist Alfred Bandura popularized this construct.
Recently, efficacy’s role in schools received renewed attention among researchers. Specifically, researchers now seek to examine the relationship more closely between what teachers believe about their collective capacity to influence student learning outcomes and its effect on student achievement. This strand of cultural research, known as collective teacher efficacy, recently yielded surprising and important findings.
As early as 1993, Bandura concluded that the effects of collective teacher efficacy in a school could more than outweigh the negative learning effects of low socio-economic status. In the early 2000s, studies conducted by Roger Goddard (University of Michigan) concluded that collective teacher efficacy had a stronger relationship to mathematics and reading achievement than socio-economic status. Studies also show that when teachers create high levels of collective efficacy, parent relationships tend to be stronger and more positive. Even more recently, John Hattie’s meta-analysis of research on collective teacher efficacy concluded that it ranks at the top among the most powerful influences on student achievement.
Obviously, this is great news for educators as this strategy has its roots in the school and is not dependent on families or even students. Thus, regardless of external school circumstances students face, the presence of collective teacher efficacy can powerfully and positively influence their achievement.
Researcher and author Jenni Donohoo in her book, Collective Efficacy: How Educators’ Beliefs Impact Student Learning, describes six enabling conditions that support high levels of teacher efficacy. The six conditions are:
- Advanced teacher influence. She describes advanced teacher influence as opportunities for teachers to participate meaningfully in important school-wide decisions.
- Goal consensus. Donohoo notes when there is strong consensus on key goals that greater consistency and alignment of effort result, thus synergizing everyone’s impact. Interestingly, this condition, even by itself, shows to increase student achievement.
- Teachers’ knowledge about one another’s work. This condition highlights the importance of collaboration, sharing, and mutual trust among staff members. Its presence also provides teachers with more frequent opportunities to learn from the effective practices of colleagues.
- Cohesive staff. Cohesion does not necessarily mean that everyone always agrees, but it does imply an agreement on fundamental educational issues. Disagreements more likely inhabit tactics and methods for addressing important issues, not the issues themselves.
- Responsiveness of leadership. This condition speaks to the importance of respect and concern demonstrated by school leaders, including protecting teachers from issues that distract from and compete with teaching time and focus.
- Effective systems of intervention. These processes and practices ensure students receive timely, effective, responsive support when they struggle or need additional assistance to be successful.
Importantly, each condition identified by Donohoo as supporting collective teacher efficacy consist within the collective control of schools and educators. They do not necessarily require additional funding, waivers from regulations, or specialized outside expertise. However, they do require commitment, effort, and a strong belief in ourselves and our ability to make a difference.