Professional Learning

Putting Theory Into Practice: Building Collective Teacher Efficacy

6 Min Read
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I attended the Model Schools Conference in 2018 and 2019 and am continuously thinking about how I can make an impact on student achievement. About eight years ago, I was trained as a literacy coach and staff developer at Ohio State University. At that time, I learned to intentionally think about what I am teaching and why I am teaching a particular skill or strategy. This is the model I used as a visual for my students:

Model Schools Conference

These questions allowed me to plan lessons around relevant experiences, and if you were to ask my students what they are learning and why, they could tell you. But I needed to think deeper and understand to what extent different strategies truly impact student achievement. Not all strategies are equal in their return on investment (ROI) in this sense.

After MSC 2018, I dove into John Hattie’s work and read his book 10 Mindframes for Visible Learning: Teaching for Success, and I also read Dr. Bill Daggett’s book Making Schools Work and Weston Kieschnick's Bold School. I spent time doing research on the ICLE website as well. I determined that our thinking, learning, and teaching are works in progress, and that marrying my previous coaching experience with John Hattie’s research on effect size and the Rigor/Relevance Framework for learning was a way to ground my thinking.

Left to Right: Teachers Cynde Ciesla, Monica Fitzgerald, and Erika Gilbert of North Syracuse Central School District at MSC 2019.

The Role of Collective Efficacy in Teaching

Albert Badura, a renowned psychologist, defines self-efficacy as having confidence in the ability to exert control over one’s motivation, behaviors, and social environment. Developing our self-efficacy along with thinking about how to make our work a collective practice is key to optimizing the best opportunity for the growth of our students. In Hattie’s latest meta-analysis in 2018, he discusses what factors impact student achievement the most. Based on his research, he ranks collective teacher efficacy—the belief teachers have that together, they can positively affect students—as having an effect size of 1.57. What does this really mean? A .40 effect size has the potential to increase student achievement equal to one year of growth in one year. A 1.00 effect size has the potential to increase student achievement by two to three years in one year. Collective teacher efficacy tops the list with the highest impact for student achievement.

The question then becomes, “How might we build a positive culture first? One that allows for teachers to build relationships with one another, and to listen, trust, and encourage one another on and toward a common goal of educating our students?” We need to dig in and do the “deeper thinking” work of our practice using common language. We know that surface-level tasks, such as rote memorization and copying notes, eat up time and have little ROI. When educational leaders support the work of teachers, it sets the stage to allow for teachers to work together for the benefit of each other and our students. There is great potential to have tremendous gains for our students. According to Dr. Adam Drummond, author of The Instructional Change Agent, building culture needs to happen from Day 1 to Day 180. In his book, he writes, “Knowing your staff personally and professionally requires significant investment and time.” Only then can you identify strengths and “utilize these strengths to enhance the school culture.”

Building Collective Teacher Efficacy

Think about it. Collective teacher efficacy is ranked at a 1.57 effect size. Building the culture is the precursor to obtaining this effect size. Culture in a school is all about how adults interact, communicate, and behave amongst themselves and with visitors to the building, and this directly impacts student achievement. We tend to focus on teaching first rather than building a culture that allows for the more important work of preparing our students for the 21st century. Some school districts switch the order—culture first—and over time, one could see a positive culture reaps amazing benefits for students. What if all schools switched the order? This would help build a positive culture—one where teachers trust one another, practice norms of communication, and work together to make an impact.

The Rigor/Relevance Framework

How can we ground these conversations around a common framework and facilitate learning based on students’ needs? Dr. Bill Daggett’s Rigor/Relevance Framework offers an opportunity to do just that. It’s a framework that spans content areas and allows educators to have common language across disciplines, grades, and classrooms. This framework allows educators to anchor their thinking in research and use common language.

Daggett’s framework challenges us to plan, think, reflect, and innovate based on the needs of our students, not just for today but also for the future. It’s a philosophical approach to teaching that allows us to think deeper about what and why we teach our students. I have grown so much in my practice by using this framework and taking the time to intentionally think about what and why I am teaching. Imagine collaborating around the data and and allowing best instructional practices to be innovative. This is the true essence of collective teacher efficacy. Here is an illustration that shows the framework’s four quadrants.

Rigor Relevance Framework 2

Below are the questions related to culture and relationships you should ask when building a culture of collective teacher efficacy and applying the Rigor/Relevance Framework:

  • What is the measurement of our culture?
  • What steps are we taking to improve the culture?
  • How might we improve so all adults feel trust and empowerment to teach and learn?
  • What are we doing in our classrooms and schools to build culture and relationships?
  • What are some practices teachers, coaches, and administrators can put into place to optimize their work around building a positive culture?
  • What are some ways we could continually build relationships with students?
  • How might we incorporate the Rigor/Relevance Framework into our curriculum and collectively think and talk about our practices?
  • What does it look like when a lesson is in Quadrant A, B, C, or D? Relevant? Rigorous?
  • How might we find ways to have someone coach us around this framework?
  • How might we have a coach guide our thinking in our schools and our district?

Build the culture and relationships first! My experiences at the Model Schools Conference have led me to think and reflect on my teaching practices and to understand the power of a positive culture and how important it is in the work we do as educators. We need the positive culture in place to do the harder work of educating our students.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.


Join more than 5,000 educators in 100+ sessions at the 31st Annual Model Schools Conference in Orlando, Florida, from June 25–28, 2023.

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