Listening to teachers talk about teaching in a collaborative learning space – three teachers and up to 90 students as opposed to one teacher and 30 students - and one is struck by how much ‘we’ there is in the teacher voice. There is a firm belief that as a team, they are able to shift student outcomes, raise achievement, and meet the needs of a diverse range of learners. Teachers often cite examples of the advantage of working and teaching together:
- “You are not alone” is one phrase that has been used throughout the year - incidental successes and challenges can be shared and attended to in the moment.
- Daily professional learning opportunities - you observe your peers teaching because of the visible nature of the spaces. You pick up lots of ideas and different ways of approaching.
- Planning sessions where student achievement is discussed and groupings flexibly organised to best meet needs.
- More space and furniture possibilities to facilitate different learning
- A Healthy sense of accountability when your practice is so visible in front of your colleagues.
- The children benefit from the skill each of the teachers. They can approach the teacher that is fit for purpose.
- Shared planning as an opportunity for critiquing and talking about ‘how do we know these children need this learning at this time?’
This deep belief that as a small team a group of teachers are able to have an impact, to make a difference, to be more than the sum of its parts, leads me to wondering if there is a level of collective agency that is emerging. And there’s a relationship I believe to be formed with the construct of collective teacher efficacy which stems from social cognitive theory (Bandura, 1997) – the level to which people believe the exert control over their lives.
Collective teacher efficacy relates to the level of confidence that group members have in their collective ability to be successful – and often at the school level this is measured in terms of student achievement. It is a level of belief and of conviction. As Goddard, Hoy and Hoy put it, collective teacher efficacy is ‘‘the perceptions of teachers in a school that the efforts of the faculty as a whole will have a positive effect on students’’ (2000, p. 480)
How does this differ from an individual’s own teacher efficacy? Well if teacher efficacy is seen as an individual teachers perception of classroom performance – the level to which they can stretch student’s ability, to raise achievement levels, to work with those students who need extra support, and to set challenging goals - collective teacher efficacy judges how teachers see the whole school. Instead of being an aggregate of individuals’ efficacy, it is a group attribute (Tschannen-Moran & Barr, 2004), “the product of the interactive dynamics of the group members” (Goddard et al, 2000, p. 482).
So what are the characteristics of a school with a high level of collective teacher efficacy? Essentially it’s about shared responsibility, about setting challenging benchmarks for students, belief that students can achieve high academic goals, deliver mastery instruction and that do not accept that low levels of achievement are a byproduct of low socio economic status (Bandura, 1997). There is also a willingness to own not only the successes of students but also the failures and setbacks. Schools with high levels of efficacy are open to new ideas and to change, they test new strategies to meet the needs of the students, they are environments of high trust and openness, where teachers have a high level of commitment to the profession (Tschannen-Moran & Barr, 2004).
So does it make a difference? Well in a nutshell, yes. Research points towards a correlation between collective efficacy and student outcomes. Tschannen-Moran and Barr (2004), for example, found that collective teacher efficacy accounted for 18% variance in maths, 28% in writing and 14% in English. Goddard, Hoy and Hoy (2000) also found positive relationships between collective teacher efficacy and student achievement in reading and maths. Collective teacher efficacy, it seems, is a strong predictor of levels of student achievement.
So what connections can be made between the construct of collective teacher efficacy and teachers working together in a collaborative learning space? My wondering is if collective teacher efficacy can be found to make a difference at a school level, then whether the same concept can be applied on a more localised teaching team scale. Does the fact that a team of three teachers working together - in a sense a micro organisation - impact on student outcomes as a direct function of their collective belief in what they are doing? Perhaps the construct of Collective teacher efficacy gives us a tool with which to measure it.
Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy : the exercise of control: New York : W.H. Freeman, c1997.
Goddard, R. D., Hoy, W. K., & Hoy, A. W. (2000). Collective Teacher Efficacy: Its Meaning, Measure, and Impact on Student Achievement. American Educational Research Journal(2), 479.
Tschannen-Moran, M., & Barr, M. (2004). Fostering Student Learning: The Relationship of Collective Teacher Efficacy and Student Achievement. Leadership & Policy in Schools, 3(3), 189-209.