We want all of our students to succeed. We worry, nudge, and cajole in our efforts to reach every learner. Yet, too often we feel as though we can only do so much, especially by ourselves. Despite our best efforts, success with every student can remain out of reach.
Interestingly, the answer may not lie in our best efforts while working alone. A growing and powerful body of research points to the potential of collective effort and efficacy as a game-changer for lifting the learning of students regardless of past performance, socio-economic background, cultural context, or other factors that traditionally have been associated with a lack of learning success.
The power of collective teacher efficacy has been studied and documented for years, but a recent meta-analysis of research studies conducted by internationally respected researcher John Hattie places this factor at the top of the list of approaches that can transform student learning. His analysis ranks collective teacher efficacy as far more predictive of student achievement than socio-economic status, prior achievement, or even home environment.
However, collective teacher efficacy is more than aspirational statements, goals in a strategic plan, or a collection of instructional strategies. Collective teacher efficacy grows out of a set of beliefs and practices that when combined, create a powerful force for lifting student achievement. Granted, building strong collective efficacy takes time, but the results it can generate in student success are compelling. Here are five keys to building the collective efficacy that can unleash unlimited learning for students.
#1: Shared trust. The first key unlocks relationships among team members. Trust forms the foundation on which the other keys depend for success. Building trust requires that we assume the positive intentions of others. When the behavior of team members falls short, we view it as an exception rather than evidence of untrustworthiness. Trust also requires team members to be vulnerable with each other. Admitting mistakes, not claiming to have all of the answers, and asking for help are building blocks for strong, sustainable trust. Trust creates conditions that allow for shared risk-taking, mutual support, and a collective search for solutions.
#2: Shared belief in the potential of learners. Learners rarely perform at levels beyond what we expect and support. This key opens opportunity for all learners to learn beyond perceptual boundaries and excel beyond past performance. Unless team members believe that learners are capable and have the potential to learn at high levels, other efforts to unleash exceptional learning are not likely to be successful. Past performance, cultural and economic background, and other factors cannot be allowed to temper our aspirations and limit what we will support learners to achieve.
#3: Shared confidence in our abilities and commitment to be successful with all learners. Beyond believing that learners have the potential to be successful, team members must share the belief that they have the power to reach and lift the learning of any individual or group of students. Complementing the belief in our capacity needs to be a shared commitment to see that every student does succeed, no matter the challenges and barriers. Without a strong, shared belief in our potential and a commitment to have a positive impact, the pressure to compromise, lower expectations, or even give up can be difficult to counter.
#4: Shared learning and expertise. If we had all of the answers and knew all of the solutions to the problems we face, our task would be easy. However, such is not the case with most learning challenges we face. This key to unlocking unlimited learning requires team members to commit to our own learning and build expertise to confront the difficulties our students face. Shared learning and access to each other’s expertise not only builds a strong team, it allows each member full access to the combined resources of the team. To overcome complex, long-standing learning challenges, everyone’s knowledge and skills need to be applied.
#5: Shared framework and criteria for progress and success. Without targets, progress markers, and success criteria, it can be almost impossible to build and sustain team momentum, progress, and focus. On the other hand, when goals are clear, progress can be monitored, problem areas can be identified, and the team is empowered to allocate time, energy, and expertise to areas most in need of attention. Further, success frameworks and criteria can be strong motivators, confidence builders, and evidence indicators of unlocked, unlimited learning.
The research is clear. By working together, learning together, supporting each other, and sharing a commitment to the success of all students, we can accomplish amazing things. Each collective efficacy key is important to the success of the whole. When we combine them into an integrated effort, we create a force for learning that is nearly impossible to stop.