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A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

What Is the School Leader’s Role in Building Collective Efficacy?

By Beate Planche — December 02, 2019 6 min read
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Today’s guest blog is written by Beate Planche, an instructional coach and educational consultant as well as a sessional instructor for Western University’s Graduate Ed. Program in Ontario, Canada.

When collective efforts are harnessed to become focussed school improvement efforts, the power of this kind of collaborative effort builds positive mindsets, relationships, and trust among a staff as well as impacting student outcomes. Belief in our collective ability to make a difference is powerful and linked to notions of collective efficacy. It is something I recently wrote about in this article for the Canadian Association of Principals Journal.

Jenni Donohoo (2017) writes that collective efficacy involves shared beliefs among a staff that they can positively influence student outcomes including those for students who are disadvantaged in some way.

Ken Leithwood’s recent work (2019) reinforces that the impact of collective efficacy, while indirect, results from staff who become highly efficacious in their ability to apply improvement efforts. We also know from John Hattie’s work (2012) that collective efficacy is seen to have an effect size that can mitigate student-achievement difficulties or student home environments that are less than positive.

We also know that collective beliefs about improvement are not enough. They must be supported by practical actions that align with goals, resources, profitable use of time and staff strengths. Harnessing the power of collaborative work in schools requires specific actions and learning conditions.

Donohoo (2017) writes about six enabling learning conditions including capitalizing on the influence of teacher leaders, gaining consensus regarding goals among a staff, making it possible for teachers to gain knowledge about each other’s work, building agreement on shared goals and developing cohesion amongst the staff, leadership which is responsive to the needs of stakeholders, and finding ways to differentiate supports and interventions for both staff and student needs.

The contributions of the school leader in the work of harnessing the power of a collective such as a school staff are numerous and very influential. Let’s consider the notion of influence as seen in the following roles for the school leader:

The School Leader as a key Individual on staff
Stephen Jacobson (2010) contends that while teacher quality has the greatest influence on student motivation and achievement, the quality of leadership matters in terms of the motivation of teachers and the quality of their teaching. Effective school leaders work to build the capacity of others and create a culture where collective efficacy can take root.

The School Leader as a steward of collective effort
Helping a staff come to consensus on what school goals will be sustained during a school year is considered an enabling condition for the development of collective teacher efficacy. This requires the school leader to work with teacher leaders to align district goals with school goals. School goals can be developed from classroom data, “putting a face,” as Lyn Sharratt (2019) contends, in a way that personalizes responses to individual student data. Collective efforts need to be focussed on the evidence of learning needs that we see in our classrooms through formative assessment on a daily basis.

The School Leader as a key resource and an effective manager
Practicalities are important, and managing resources, distributing opportunities, and resolving conflicts while continuing to nurture relationships with all school stakeholders are considerable challenges. These demands require leadership but also management skills combined with dependable responsiveness. Finding ways to ensure that teachers can work together as collaborators taxes timetables and organizational supports. School leaders need to respond to day-to-day realities with a variety of skill sets including demonstrating fiscal responsibility, facilitating skills, and the ability to manage complex stakeholder and community relationships.

The School Leader as a champion and co-leader
Growing understanding of what it means to develop equitable learning processes is a goal that school leaders must champion and share with teaching colleagues. When school leaders are willing to share leadership, it helps to create more leaders within a school. Sustainability depends on developing a cadre of collaborators, motivated to ensure greater student equity, who have the knowledge, skills, and practices to inquire critically as to how to meet the needs of students who are marginalized or disadvantaged in some way. Developing more equitable schools requires a willingness to grapple with issues of poverty, discrimination, and social justice through culturally responsive pedagogy.

The School Leader as a model and reflective co-learner
Modelling the dispositions of a co-learner is a key leadership stance today. Attending professional learning with teachers models a willingness to co-learn, especially when leaders approach personal learning with humility. Teaching is a difficult job with great complexity. Working to embed a culture of learning takes time and a lot of effort.

As Lyn Sharratt and I found out in our own research into how to best lead collaborative learning (2016), an inquiry approach sets the stage for deeper and more sustainable learning efforts. Clarifying learning intentions, co-constructing what success for staff and students will look like, establishing midpoints for assessment of collective efforts, and modeling the importance of feedback in learning are all aspects of collective efforts where a school leader can be both a model and a co-learner

A culminating role for the school leader becomes The School Leader as a change coach. Becoming a change coach is pivotal to moving schools forward. Great coaches are keen observers, empathetic listeners, motivating facilitators, and positive models who work relentlessly to support the growth of others.

When school leaders and school staff work in a manner that demonstrates that “we are in this together,” a sense of efficacy—a belief that we can make a difference—grows for both individuals and a collective who are committed to the same goals. Beliefs in positive change must be mobilized and harnessed to become effective actions, and school leaders are the key influencers in the process.

In conclusion, the contributions of school leaders are sometimes hard to quantify but are immeasurable in terms of importance and potential.

Beate teaches students in Western’s three-year online doctoral program in educational leadership. Beate is also a former principal and superintendent with the York Region District School Board which is just north of Toronto. Presently, Beate is also the chair of Learning Forward Ontario, one of two Canadian affiliates of Learning Forward.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Donohoo, J. (2017). Collective efficacy: How educators beliefs impact student learning. Thousand Oaks, CA. Corwin Press.

Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. New York: NY. Routledge.

Jacobson, S. (2010). Leadership effects on student achievement and sustained school efforts. International Journal of Educational Management. (25 (1), 33-44.

Leithwood, K. (2019). Leadership development on a large scale: Lessons for long-term success. Thousand Oaks: CA. Corwin Press.

Sharratt, L. (2019). Clarity: What matters most in learning, teaching and leading. Thousand Oaks: CA. Corwin Press.

Sharratt, L. & Planche, B. (2016). Leading collaborative learning: Empowering excellence. Thousand Oaks: CA, Corwin Press.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.