Sunday, February 24, 2019

Making Sense of Snow Piles: Thoughts on Collective Efficacy

By Vicki Bechard, Secretary LFKS

Photo Credit:  Vicki Bechard
As the snow piles up in Kansas – which seems to be a real trend this season – do you sometimes feel like things are piling up in your school world too?  With redesign and the expectation to tailor our instruction to individual student needs that best prepare them for post-secondary success, it can be overwhelming when you consider how many ways we can accomplish those goals.  We know learning is best if it’s engaging, meaningful and relevant.  Oh yes, and we want it to be authentic so students can apply what they know.  Just like the big snowfall, it all looks pretty at first, but after a while, it might feel like more of the same or more than you want to deal with.  So how do we decide what’s best?  What do we keep; what do we change? In other words, how do we dig out from that snow storm of ideas and strategies so we can produce the desired result?  

Efficacy is defined as the ability to produce the desired result.  Today’s research leads us to realize that we want to empower teachers to develop the belief that they can truly make a difference in preparing our students for their future life.  This is called self-efficacy or teacher efficacy.   As learning leaders, growing teachers who believe in their ability to produce the desired result becomes our WHY.  Our WHAT involves identifying the results we want:  Students that can apply what they have learned, be adaptable, and lifelong learners so they can grow in a rapidly changing world much of which is unknown to us now.  But HOW do we accomplish this?  While self-efficacy is good, in most things, we are better together.  When teams of educators work together, believing and acting in ways to achieve these goals, they create a culture in their school that focuses on learning and growth.  Their combined efforts become collective efficacy. 

If we fail to empower teachers, all the redesign initiatives and school improvement plans in the world will be just like the changing Kansas weather, blowing through one day, piling up, and then melting, just in time for the next system to arrive.  And we may not be better prepared for future systems as they arrive.  These initiatives and goals that we worked so hard to create won’t mean a thing if those who are implementing them don’t have the confidence, knowledge, skills, resources, and support to fulfill these efforts.  The question becomes how do leaders change their culture and grow their staff to produce learning experiences that uncover student strengths and passions, and shore up weaknesses so that they can become successful high school graduates ready to face the world?  In the March 2018 ASCD Educational Leadership article, the Power of Collective Efficacy, Donohoo, Hattie, and Eells note:

When teams of educators believe they have the ability to make a difference, exciting things can happen in a school.

How do we make that happen?  Donohoo, Hattie and Eells remind us that “the greatest power that principals have in schools is that they can control the narrative of the school.”  What we think and talk about most typically becomes the focus of our actions.  Examine the conversations (those things that create our personal snow piles) in your school or team.  Are they dominated by talk around schedules, classroom management issues (i.e. student behaviors), testing, absences and tardiness, or following the curriculum?  Are we focused on compliance, or are we focused on growth and learning?  Some of the behavior issues we deal with on a daily basis may just be rooted in the kind and quality of the learning experiences we offer our students and teachers!   For so many, school is about being in your seats when the bell rings, sitting quietly unless you’re called on while the teacher does the work.  So how do we change the narrative to touch the hearts and minds of teachers so they can touch the hearts and minds of students?

Professional Learning will drive the bus on this journey to collective efficacy.  Navigating the snow piles we have created is part of this journey.  Educators want and need to have knowledge and skills to transform their instruction.  We recognize this type of systemic change takes time and deliberate practice. Keep shoveling!  As leaders we want to identify necessary resources, and provide the kinds of support required by these new ways of teaching so they can be effectively implemented. What “snow pile” if you will, needs to be hauled away or melted before the real growth can be seen?  In other words, we want to develop teacher efficacy that can be combined with others to create collective efficacy so the culture of our school is one where everyone believes they can make a difference for students in ways that will facilitate their success.

Donohoo, Hattie, and Eells drive home this point noting that in schools, “If the narrative is about high expectations, growth in relation to inputs, what it means to be a ‘good learner’ in various subjects, and what impact means, then teachers and students will think about learning in a different way.  They will believe that learning is about challenge, about understanding and realizing high expectations, and that setbacks are an opportunity to learn.  Students will also believe that coming to school means investing energy in deliberate practice.”  The snow pile will no longer impede our progress when we make this shift in our beliefs and actions.

Then and only then will we see the cycle of growth evolve so that students are prepared for an unknown future because their teachers are empowered and believe that they can continue to grow and make a difference in how they teach today’s students for tomorrow’s world.   

As the snow is swept away and new growth appears, nurture it and watch it bloom into vivid color.

Jenni Donohoo, John Hattie, Rachel Eells, “The Power of Collective Efficacy,” Educational Leadership, ASCD, March 2018, Volume 75

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