By Amanda Adams and Dr. Stefani Hite
Amanda Adams in an associate director in the NJEA Professional Development and Instructional Issues Division and coordinator of the NJEA Priority Schools Initiative. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Stefani Hite is a professional learning education consultant who specializes in supporting systemic education change initiatives in schools, districts, learning associations and state departments. Her work is primarily focused on building teacher and administrator instructional capacity, standards-based grading practices, curriculum development, and strategic assessment strategies. Hite can be reached at email@example.com.
Those of us in education know that systemic change requires collaboration. But too often the rhetoric of change indicates that it is being done to teachers, not with them. The differences in quality between and within school systems produce huge educational inequalities that disproportionately affect students of color and those from poor families.
Traditionally, decisions about school improvement are made from the top down. In struggling schools, very little growth is made because changes are made in isolation by one or a very few individuals. When teachers open their classroom doors to share ideas, and collaborate in greater numbers, they are more likely to shift the norms about the way they think about their work. When teachers have conversations about their students’ learning behaviors, visiting each other’s classrooms, they feel empowered to solve problems together, they believe they can have an impact student achievement. This is collective teacher efficacy.
In reviewing John Hattie’s research on more than 100 influences on student achievement, teacher collective efficacy is at the top of the list—it is the number one positive impact on student achievement as he reported in 2017. When those same educators believe they can have an impact on student success by working together to address common problems of practice, they become more persistent in their efforts, more resilient in the face of challenges and more willing to learn their way together. As a result, their students achieve more.
According to Hattie’s statistical analysis as published in Visible Learning, a year’s worth of learning has the effect size of 0.40. The influences that are among the highest relate to how teachers work together:
• Working together to evaluate their impact: 0.93.
• Moving from what students know now towards explicit success criteria: 0.77.
• Building trust and welcoming errors as opportunities to learn: 0.72.
• Getting maximum feedback from others about their effect: 0.72.
Collective Efficacy, Jenni Donohoo’s work, provides a way to begin thinking practically about collective efficacy by outlining six enabling conditions: advanced teacher influence, goal consensus, teacher knowledge about each other’s work, cohesive staff, responsiveness of leadership and effective systems of intervention. Opening classroom doors is an efficient and clear way for teachers know about each other’s work and solve problems together.
There is a marked difference between cooperation and collaboration. In a cooperative enterprise, we can accomplish a task because we share responsibility. But it’s important to realize that cooperation is not a synonym for collaboration, which means something far more. Through collaboration, we can create something that would not exist without our combined thinking—or we can develop a solution that wouldn’t have been considered without multiple minds addressing the problem.
For teachers to truly collaborate, structures must be put into place that create conditions that withstand the demands of the typical teaching day. It isn’t enough to provide meeting time and it isn’t enough to present teachers with a task or problem to solve. Collective efficacy, as Donohoo contends, “refers to teachers in a school characterized by an attitude that together they can make a difference for students.”
By opening classroom doors educators are learning to see and unlearning to judge. Together classroom teachers challenge existing beliefs about what students can learn and raise questions about the ways schools participate in the reproduction of inequality in education.
Hattie, J. (2009). Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Meta-Analyses Related To Education. UK: Routledge
Donohoo, J. (2016). Collective Efficacy: How Educator’s Beliefs Impact Student Learning. CA: Corwin.