Collective Teacher Efficacy is the #1 Influencer of Student Achievement — But How Do We Achieve It? Tips for School Leaders
Collective Teacher Efficacy (CTE) is defined as a staff’s shared belief that through their collective action, they can positively influence student outcomes, including those who are disengaged or disadvantaged (Hattie, 2016).
Collective Teacher Efficacy is ranked as the number one factor influencing student achievement with an effect size of 1.57 (Hattie, 2016). According to Visible Learning research, CTE is more than three times as powerful and predictive of student achievement as socioeconomic status and has more than double the effect of prior achievement.
When our CT3 team presents this data in our Leadership Workshops, our school leaders are consistently shocked. Why haven’t we heard about CTE earlier? What does CTE really mean, and how do we plan for it? We are far more conditioned to believe that feedback, relationships, or socioeconomic status are some of the many prominent contributors to our kids’ achievement. While these variables are still critical, Hattie’s research pushes us to take some interrupted time to plan for and execute CTE as school leaders.
In order to plan for increased CTE in our buildings, we can look to the six “enabling conditions” that allow it to manifest and take hold (Donohoo, 2017). As a former school leader, I leveraged these six conditions to plan for the staff culture experience. Each condition is described below with subsequent ideas and tips to implement.
Advanced Teacher Influence
As leaders, we recognize the value of soliciting voice. Teachers feel empowered when they are seen, heard, and able to contribute to and understand the decision-making process. Advanced Teacher Influence refers to each educator’s ability to impact and understand those decisions.
This summer, as you’re envisioning next school year, consider the key levers or pillars for your school’s continued growth. When staff comes back for the new year, carve out professional development time to allow committees to unpack their vision (with your guidance) for the committee work and create a scope and sequence for the year. Provide one staff meeting a month to committee-planning time and report-outs, which will allow each educator a direct contribution opportunity and all educators an opportunity to hear progress and updates. For additional leadership opportunities, allow the committees to select a chair that meets with your School Leadership Team (SLT) or reports directly to you. Committee ideas should be rooted in your key pillars or levers, but some ideas include: Joy Committee (focused on student culture), Sunshine Committee (focused on staff culture), Reading Committee, College- and Career-readiness Committee, School-wide Incentive Committee, or a Blended Learning Committee.
Reaching consensus on goals not only increases collective efficacy, it also has a direct and measurable impact on student achievement (Robinson, Hohepa, & Lloyd, 2009). Too often, goal setting is done in isolation by the leader or leadership team without collective understanding or investment from the teachers and staff carrying the goals out. To remedy this, goals should be built by and understood by teams and individuals responsible for them.
Team-driven Goal Setting.
Leverage grade-level teams to review the end-of-year data and determine their own. Provide direction or facilitation if needed. If you continue to set school-wide goals with your SLT, provide space for each grade-level team to generate their own aligned goals to contribute. Throughout the year, ensure formative assessment data is made transparent and measured against progress toward said goal. When teams start with ownership, their ability and willingness to leverage data throughout the year is multiplied.
Teachers’ Knowledge About One Another’s Work
Teachers gain confidence in their peers’ ability to impact student learning when they have more specific and deep knowledge about each other’s practice. Opportunities that allow teachers to know and understand one another’s work are often simple to execute but can easily be missed.
An exciting way to let teachers know one another is to offer an opportunity for them to literally do one another’s work. When I was a school leader, I set aside a “Job Swap Day” and gave staff a chance to submit their preferences for which person’s job they were most interested in doing. Some of my middle-school teachers chose Kindergarten, other teachers chose the Dean position, and still others chose music or art. I matched them up as best I could according to their preferences and set up a few minutes of coverage while teachers traded places throughout the Job Swap Day (for up to an hour). At the next staff meeting, we set aside time to reflect in pairs and then as a group. We considered what we learned, what surprised us, and what the experience made us think about. There was plenty of joy and laughter, and staff also walked away with a deeper understanding and respect for one another’s roles.
A smaller way to engage staff in one another’s work is to create space for “commercials” by which specific teachers, committees, or teams share their innovative work and progress. For example, when the Reading Committee held a book fair, they took commercial time to share the data and successes with the staff. When specials teachers created interdisciplinary units that supported literacy, they took commercial time to share their scope and sequence and get quick affirmation and feedback from grade-level teams who felt supported (but would have otherwise been unaware). Commercial time became a quick and easy way to share valuable information while also continually reminding staff that everyone was engaged in meaningful work.
Learning Walks or Video Sharing.
In order for staff to know one another’s work, they need access to it. Learning walks provide structure for staff to go watch a specific teacher in action with a predetermined purpose. For example, when rolling out a new instructional strategy, leverage a “learning-walk menu” for staff to submit and select designated times they’ll be trying the new strategy. Ensure that everyone sets aside 15 minutes during one of their planning times that week to go see a teacher from the menu and provide feedback. If easier, leverage video platforms like TORSH Talent to allow each teacher to record videos instead, then set aside staff meeting time for teachers to pair up, observe one another, and give feedback. These opportunities give teachers ways to know one another’s work and to learn from one another.
Cohesion is the degree to which teachers agree with each other on fundamental educational issues. When teachers can look to their left and right, trust one another’s belief in every student’s potential, and know the aligned mindsets of those around them, they are able to execute more courageously.
In “Dare to Lead” (2018), Brene Brown discusses the importance of leaders determining their top two values from which they function and lead. Take time as a school leader to engage your staff in the process of defining school values. This allows for consensus-building specific to the second enabling condition while also allowing conversation and reflection regarding the empowered beliefs and aligned values that matter most in your school community. If equity or antiracism is a central value, staff must unpack what that means to them professionally and personally and how that shows up in their day-to-day role at the school. They should hear from one another and operate in norms that allow for productive pushing when mindsets are misaligned or harmful.
Another way to support belief- and values-based discussion is in community circles. When a community faces a tragedy or is reacting to a national one, leverage community circles to pose questions about how the staff feel. Provide smaller group structure to give everyone voice, and create norms to support staff in listening to, reacting to, and pushing one another. These circles can be powerful in building humility and connection and give staff direct access to and influence with one another’s beliefs and perspectives. While this work can feel vulnerable and difficult to lead, it is critical in developing staff trust and cohesion.
Responsiveness of Leadership
Responsive leaders create time to hear from their staff, show concern and respect for their perspective, and protect them from issues that distract their focus. Without responsive leadership, staff do not feel seen or heard and are less likely to feel they are a part of a vision and mission in which they can actively participate and contribute.
Staff-Meeting Exit Tickets.
At the end of every staff meeting, ask staff what resonated, what clarity they need, and what they see as their next steps. These three questions allow you, as the leader, a unique data set that reflects the effectiveness of your messaging. It also offers you an opportunity to follow up individually with any staff member who misunderstood. After each staff meeting, I collected and sorted my exit tickets (done on paper) and sent any clarification emails before I left that day. As I engaged in that practice, my staff knew their voice mattered and that their questions would always be addressed and answered. These exit tickets also provided me direction for where I needed to go next.
Surveys Followed by One-on-Ones.
One of the most tried-and-true ways to engage in responsive leadership is to solicit feedback individually. Calendar midyear and end-of-year surveys and subsequent meetings with each staff member. Leverage surveys to gain feedback on what is working, what isn’t, and what should be changed. Use this survey feedback to summarize what you will keep doing and what you understand you need to evolve or change. Then, at midyear and end-of-year one-on-ones, begin by sharing with each staff member what you learned from the surveys and what you plan to do. Give them time to react and share what resonates with them and what else they would add or push. By doing this, staff gains evidence of your willingness to listen and apply feedback while also getting further space to add or affirm individually. Thereafter, use the one-on-ones to discuss that staff member’s progress and celebrations as well as their own reflections, goals, and next steps. By striking this balance and going first with your own responsibilities and ownership, staff will invest and own alongside you.
Effective Systems of Intervention
Effective systems of intervention are critical in ensuring that all students are successful. Interventions meet student needs directly and also offer teachers a structure and set of expectations for how to reach students with varying needs. When teachers see and understand these structures exist, they know they matter to student success and can put meaningful energy into executing them.
Defining Your System.
School districts regularly provide direction and systems of support for intervention, but there are so many opportunities for school leaders to provide specific detail within their school’s walls. At the start of the year, discuss with staff why intervention matters. Then “shape the path” so they can understand their exact role in it. Show them when and where interventions happen in the master calendar. Create and share a protocol to discuss intervention in grade-level meetings. Ensure they know and understand their invention resources or curricula, and create specific expectations for what to use. While these actions may seem obvious, they are so often missed or assumed as understood. Yet, when you take time as the school leader to define these intervention systems — including the why, what, and when — staff understands intervention to be a clear priority for students.
Creating Time to Share and Celebrate Progress.
When interventions work, celebrate! Set aside staff meeting time — even if in a “commercial” format — to celebrate students who are growing from their interventions and teachers’ efforts. Tell stories of intervention impact and why it matters. This practice reinforces the value of effective intervention and spotlights the teacher actions you want the rest of the staff to model. Use this time to also share general trends and progress as well as gaps. When staff sees you are actively collecting and responding to intervention data beyond beginning-of-year training or expectation-setting, they will naturally assign it more time and attention and keep it as one of their top priorities.
By Meaghan Loftus, Associate, CT3
CT3 transforms the quality and culture of education for youth, especially those in traditionally disenfranchised communities.