Change is hard. Organizational change is harder still.

How might leaders take action to make engaging with change less difficult? The key may lie in developing efficacy.

What Is Efficacy?

Cognitive Coaching authors Arthur L. Costa and Robert J. Garmston define efficacy as “the quest for competence, learning, self-empowerment, mastery, and control.”

Why Is Collective Efficacy Important?

According to John Hattie—Professor of Education and Director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute at the University of Melbourne, Australia—collective efficacy has a positive effect on student learning. Nienke Moolenaar—faculty member of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Utrecht University in the Netherlands—stresses that collective efficacy shapes the future orientation of a faculty. Finally, Albert Bandura—Canadian-American psychologist and the David Starr Jordan Professor Emeritus of Social Science in Psychology at Stanford University—tells us that for people to act, they must believe their actions will produce results. In sum, the literature points to collective efficacy as being a potential hinge point for successful school change.

How Does a Leader Foster Collective Teacher Efficacy?

Author and educator Jenni Donohoo offers six “enabling conditions” that support building collective efficacy. Below are questions to explore each of these conditions, along with examples of how we, at the American International School Chennai (AISC), leveraged them as part of our transition to a standards-based learning system.

  1. Advanced Teacher Influence

What opportunities can you give teachers to give input on key decisions that will affect them? How might allowing influence on decisions communicate your trust in your faculty?

At AISC, teachers were invited to serve on a steering committee to guide our shift to the standards-based learning system. Committee members shared their insights with faculty and solicited their input on key decisions throughout planning and implementation. Teachers helped define expectations and the speed of implementation, and identified the professional development required for a smooth transition.

  1. Goal Consensus

What are some ways leaders may facilitate reaching goal consensus throughout the change process? How might taking part in goal setting ensure greater clarity, increase teacher commitment and increase energy for moving forward?

Our faculty explored the “why” and reached a consensus of the proposed shift toward a standards-based learning system. As we implemented each part of the system, we ensured that faculty reached a shared goal on how—and how fast—to move forward.

  1. Teachers’ Knowledge About One Another’s Work

How might a deeper knowledge of each other’s craftsmanship lead to reciprocal learning and support? How might co-constructing new learning empower faculty to lean on and learn from each other?

Implementing our standards-based learning system represented new learning for all involved. Together the faculty wrote rubrics and unit plans, gave feedback to each other, and moderated student work through the lens of the new system. This meant teachers within and across disciplines iterated together to support a common goal.

  1. Cohesive Staff

How might increased congruence with organizational goals empower a faculty to move farther and deeper? How might group cohesion serve supporting individual needs while still attending to the shared initiative?

The “why” of our change initiative was always front and center: Our shift to a standards-based learning system was about improving student learning and improving instruction and assessment. In the most challenging moments, the faculty could rally around a shared commitment. Alone, each of us felt isolated. Together, we felt invincible!

  1. Responsiveness of Leadership

What might happen if principals viewed one of their fundamental responsibilities as helping faculty be more effective? How might principals protect teachers from issues that may limit their ability to focus on the change initiative?

Through our transition, I remained vigilant for signs of teacher burnout and frustration. Sometimes this meant changing a timeline or delaying other initiatives. Other times, I needed to just loosen the pressure valve by naming the level of challenge, the weight of the workload, and the pressure the faculty put on themselves to succeed. In more than one meeting, I asked teachers to turn to each other and say “it is okay not to be perfect.”

  1. Effective Systems of Intervention

What might be some ways that leaders can build in checkpoints to monitor success? How might a leader intervene if the change initiative is not effective?

As we rolled out the new standards-based learning system, we built in documentation, reporting, and communication quality control checkpoints and intervened as necessary. Most exciting was gathering data about the impact the change had on student learning and working collectively on next steps. The faculty found it comforting to know there was a safety net in place and liberated to know that they were free to make mistakes as part of the iterative process.

What’s Next?

Whether beginning a change initiative or taking stock midstream, leaders can engage one or all of these enabling conditions to foster collective efficacy. This, in turn, will not only impact student learning but also increase faculty capacity to engage in change in the future.

Which condition might have the biggest impact on your faculty? What might you start (or stop) doing to enable it? While this blog post focuses on faculty, most change involves the entire school community. How might you apply the enabling conditions to your entire community?

Joelle Basnight is the high school principal at the American International School Chennai in India. A school principal for over 13 years, she was one of the 2019 U.S. State Department Principals of the Year. Follow her on Twitter (@BasnightJoelle).


1 Comment

  • Joelle, you picked a great topic to write about.
    I can not begin to tell you how much collective efficacy can help improve the morale of an entire school. There must be a shared belief that we can have a positive impact on our students regardless of the difficulties the face. When we empower each other we are able to empower our students.

    Anastasios Koularmanis

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