As schools struggle to identify what to do to improve student learning, many of us look to researchers for answers—or at least guidance—about which path to take. The work of John Hattie has transformed educational conversations around the globe and caused us to think about not just what works but what truly makes a significant difference. When you look at Hattie’s publications, it is hard to ignore the power of collective teacher efficacy and Hattie’s charge to teachers to “know thy impact.”
Assessment is a powerful tool that is often generates a negative reaction for both students and teachers. When I have the opportunity to work with teachers, I first ask them to reflect on a negative experience they have had with assessment. While those experiences include everything from classrooms pop quizzes, high-stakes tests, to even driver’s license exams, the common denominator is that those negative feelings persist for a long time. But what if we were truly able to turn that in a completely different direction? I believe that assessment can be a source of confidence instead of trauma. Assessment can create collective efficacy in a unique and very authentic way for teachers.
The more teachers know about how to create assessments and how to use the information gained from assessments, the more confident they become. I have certainly seen this firsthand. As a building principal, I worked with teachers as they learned more about both creating and using assessments to make formative decisions. We had countless conversations about our own lack of confidence in writing assessments and usually felt more comfortable using items from the textbook series or written by others than creating them ourselves.
I did notice a point when this changed for almost every PLC team. Once a team felt more comfortable with the standards and had a deeper understanding of what the standards were expecting students to know and be able to do, that team began to feel confident in both evaluating and writing assessment items that reflected those standards. Those same teams then began to realize that the published items were not perfect and they could, in fact, write even better ones themselves. The emphasis in those team conversations moved from worrying about writing good assessments to collaborating about instruction and intervention.
That confidence in creating and using assessments transferred to confidence in the ability to do something positive for students. The improvements in student learning reaffirmed their beliefs. It was the essence of collective efficacy. As those educators worked together to develop their assessment literacy and then used that knowledge to make quality decisions for students, they were far more confident to take on additional standards and new assessments. Collective efficacy is a group’s shared beliefs in its ability to meet its goals (DeWitt, 2017, p. 59).
This is the essence of a professional learning community. When people can come together with shared purpose, shared focus, and shared learning, then powerful results can happen. Teachers who collaborate to build shared understanding of expectations for students and how to truly know when students have mastered it also build confidence in their ability to impact that learning. Together they are truly stronger than they are alone.
Building leaders should do everything they can to develop that collective efficacy. It is not simply assuring teachers that they can have an impact on student learning. It is also by engaging teachers in the challenging collaborative conversations around standards, assessments, and instruction that teachers truly begin to see that impact take shape. It is not quick or flashy work, but it is work that truly makes a difference, both for the educators and for the students. So, who needs teacher efficacy? All of us need it, and our students deserve it.
DeWitt, P. (2017). Collaborative leadership: six influences that matter most. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers: maximizing impact on learning. New York, NY: Routledge 2012.