Collective teacher efficacy and student learning

By Richard Wilson

“Learning Loss.” Having found its way into every conversation about schools and the pandemic, we see this buzz-phrase everywhere. We also find the list of usual suspects lining up with simple solutions to this simple phrase. Among others, we find longer school days, extended school years, tutoring programs and mandated professional development on “accelerated learning.”

But what if there was a way to deal with not only the disrupted learning, but to actually reimagine and recreate schools that take on all the challenges and inequities that the pandemic exposed?

In 2009, educational researcher John Hattie published his groundbreaking Visible Learning, which was a synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses of research exploring the impact of teaching and learning. Using these massive studies, he created a list of the effectiveness of 133 factors affecting students’ learning.

In 2018, based on new research, he updated the list, finding that the factor with the greatest impact on student learning was collective teacher efficacy. Simply defined, “teachers’ collective efficacy refers to the enhanced confidence to overcome any barriers and limitations and have the collective belief that all students in this school can gain more than a year’s growth for a year’s input.” (Hattie & Zierer, 2018, p. 26)

Is it really that simple? Click our heels three times and say, “We believe, we believe, we believe” and our students will achieve amazing results?

Educators know it is not quite that simple. Organizations and systems need to be built and nurtured to achieve the results that we want. So, how do we build a school system that encourages the kinds of collaboration necessary for educators to come to this collective understanding that will help our students to learn the most they can?

In their book Leading Collective Efficacy, Dr. Stefani Hite and Jenni Donohoo review the available research and lay out five factors that enable systems leading to this mindset of collective efficacy. The factors are interdependent and interconnected.

Goal consensus

This is the process of educators engaging with one another to come to an agreement about the school’s goals. Most important here, in terms of building collective efficacy, is the process of coming to a common understanding and developing a shared vision for the school and its students.

Empowering teachers

This is about promoting teacher leadership and influence in the school. It is respecting the idea that many of the best decisions that can be made about the practices in a school are made by those who have the most contact with students on a day-to-day basis.

Cohesive teacher knowledge

This factor involves teachers having an awareness of the teaching practices of others as well as their shared understanding of what constitutes effective assessment and instructional practices.

Embedded reflective practices

Having the time and space to focus on student learning through authentic assessment and examination of instructional practices is imperative for a community of practitioners to hone their craft.

Supportive leadership

Each of the factors described thus far are focused on teacher practice. This final factor is the one that makes all the others possible. Supportive leaders create the psychologically safe environment that allows for the risk taking and sharing necessary to create a truly collaborative environment.

In this moment, when everyone is talking about learning from the pandemic and reimagining how schools can take those lessons learned and move forward, we should take a breath, look at what the research, such as the work of Hattie, Hite and Donohoo, tells us about how high performing schools operate, and then move ahead accordingly.

Richard Wilson is an associate director in the NJEA Professional Development and Instructional Issues Division. He is the coordinator of the NJEA Teacher Leader Academy. He can be reached at For more information about the NJEA Teacher Leader Academy, visit