The Importance of Collective Efficacy in Education

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As a teacher, if you’re looking for more ways to positively affect the lives of your students, consider the practice of collective efficacy. Also known as collective teacher efficacy (CTE), this science-backed behavior has powerful implications, especially in K-12 classrooms. Read more to learn about CTE and how it is best implemented with involvement from the entire school community.

What is Collective Efficacy?
The Importance of Collective Teacher Efficacy
How to Measure Collective Teacher Efficacy
How Teachers can Achieve Collective Efficacy
Tips for Educators to Foster Collective Efficacy

What Is Collective Efficacy?

“A group’s shared belief in the conjoint capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to produce given levels of attainment.” — Psychologist Albert Bandura on collective efficacy

Albert Bandura is credited with introducing the concept of CTE, defining it in the 1970s. In a landmark 1993 study, he explained that teachers who work together to develop a strong sense of collective efficacy in their school community can make significant contributions to the academic success of children.

Putting his theory into practice, he was able to show that the positive effects of CTE on student academic performance outweigh the negative effects of low socioeconomic status. That set the stage for other researchers to build on Bandura’s findings; among them Roger Goddard, Wayne Hoy, and Anita Wollfolk Hoy. Together, the trio demonstrated how collective teacher efficacy is positively associated with differences between schools in student-level achievement in both reading and mathematics.

Professor John Hattie, also renowned for research in collective efficacy, further defined the concept of CTE in his 2008 book “Visible Learning.” In an interview, he described collective efficacy as, “teachers working together to have appropriately high, challenging expectations of what a year’s growth for a year’s input looks like.”

He explained, “It’s not just growth mindset. It’s not just ‘rah-rah’ thinking. It’s not just ‘Oh, we can make a difference!’ But it is that combined belief that it is ‘us’ that causes learning.”

The Importance of Collective Teacher Efficacy

“When you fundamentally believe you can make the difference, and then you feed it with the evidence you are — then that is dramatically powerful.” — John Hattie, educator

Teachers are often motivated by the successful outcomes of their students. A 2002 study by Hoy, Sweetland and Smith found that CTE encourages individual teachers and the school community at large to achieve the shared goal of student success.

The study found that strong CTE encourages participants to make more effective use of the skills they already possess and share that knowledge with colleagues. As a result, students are empowered to succeed and reach for higher goals in the process. They also learn more, causing investment in academic achievement to soar. The implementation of CTE is even known to outweigh impacts such as socioeconomic status, parental involvement, and home environment.

How to Measure Collective Teacher Efficacy

“Perhaps the educational system needs to re-envision teaching effectiveness, with a focus on encouraging and sustaining beliefs that educators and schools can make a difference, rather than simply asking for high test scores.” — Dr. Rachel Jean Eells, 2011 dissertation

Studies of CTE often address the relationship between teacher efficacy and student achievement on a larger scale; taking a step back to consider the big picture. According to Bandura, there are two main considerations when evaluating success:

  • Individuals’ beliefs about their own efficacies to accomplish group goals
  • Members’ beliefs about the group’s ability to accomplish goals

Dr. Rachel Jean Eells uses sports as an example in her 2011 Loyola University Chicago dissertation, titled “Meta-Analysis of the Relationship Between Collective Teacher Efficacy and Student Achievement.” She explains, “If the collective activity consists of the sum of independent successes, as it does for a track and field team, then it is preferable to measure and aggregate the personal efficacies of the actors.”

She wrote, “When an entire group must interact, like a basketball team would, and collective activity is the product of cooperative work, then it makes more sense to measure group members’ beliefs about what the team can accomplish.” In a school setting, this understanding is believed to improve teacher retention and recruitment, as well as ensuring that members of the school community collectively feel prepared for the future.

How Teachers can Achieve Collective Efficacy

CTE is only possible when teachers feel in sync with each other, leadership, and students. Implementing an agreed upon action plan with data points to measure success is crucial. Bandura explains that positive outcomes shine a light on the impact of collective behaviors, feelings, and motivations. For that reason, CTE is a resource that does not deplete with use, but is instead renewed over time with each success.

Research by Hattie, Eells and Jenni Donohoo point to assignments, tests, and portfolios of work as good measures of students’ daily progress, but some of the most valuable feedback is gained from conversations with children about what is being implemented and how the processes make them feel.

An open dialogue between educators and school leaders is also important to foster. In their work, Hattie, Eells and Donohoo say that doing so allows teachers to increasingly orient their work around outcomes.

Instead of worrying about test schedules and tweaking curriculum, the researchers suggest more useful questions, such as:

  • Did the students gain understanding?
  • How do we know?
  • How can we use evidence of learning to improve classroom instruction?

Tips for Educators to Foster Collective Efficacy

If you’re interested learning how to foster collective teacher efficacy at your school, here are some realistic starting points:

  • Start with a quick win to motivate teachers to believe in the process and each other. Don’t burden already busy teachers by introducing a multi-step approach that can be drawn out.
  • Build trust as a team to inspire respect and willingness to share ideas.
  • Set goals together, and when milestones are achieved, take time to celebrate successes together, too.
  • Share knowledge with job swaps and data exchange to help get everyone on the same page.
  • Communicate with each other regularly about what is observed and discussed in individual classrooms.
  • Study and practice techniques of collective efficacy with online, self-paced courses.

We hope these tips prove useful in your classroom. If you’re interested in learning more ways to be an effective instructor, consider programs like the University of San Diego Division of Professional and Continuing Education (PCE) Teacher Leadership Certificate Program. It can assist you in developing the skills, tools, and strategies to better contribute to student success.

To learn more about online learning opportunities, check out the University of San Diego eBook, “5 Reasons Why Continuing Education Matters for Educators.”


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