PLC Team Efficacy: If We Think We Can, Can We?
You’ve probably heard the saying, “If you think you can, you can. If you think you can’t, you can’t. You’re always right!” (Not sure who originated that saying, but mothers everywhere seem to have adopted it!)
The question is, “How much truth is there to it?” In a 2007 Issue Brief by C.D. Jerald for the Washington, D.C. Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement, he summarized key points from several researchers that indicated teachers with a strong sense of efficacy were indeed more willing to try multiple instructional methods to meet the needs of their students and were more persistent and resilient when things didn’t go well initially. This is probably not surprising. Attitude matters.
The deeper question as it relates to PLCs is, “Can involvement in a PLC help teachers on the team develop a greater collective sense of self-efficacy; and if so, how to begin?” The getting-started list below, while not comprehensive, reflects some key factors researchers have found, as well as what I have experienced working with school improvement efforts in eight schools.
How to get the “can-do” attitude going within teacher teams:
- Paint the picture. Take teacher teams to visit other schools where they will “see” how school teams work together and hear testimonials about the value of team collaboration in improving student learning. If there are no other schools in travel distance, a video can help paint the picture; but first-hand experience is more powerful. Schedule time for those who go on the visitation to share with their faculty colleagues. Emphasize the things you saw during the visit that your own faculty is already doing – then point out specific ways that your faculty will need to grow. (Always honor the past as a foundation on which to build future success!)
- Go for quick wins at first. Provide a taste-test of the benefits of collaboration for teachers and for students. Have PLC teams pick one specific skill that students struggle to master (such as identifying the main idea of a text). Provide teams with the time to share ideas and brainstorm teaching strategies around this one skill. Ask the question, “What evidence would let you know that students are successful or making progress?” Have team members agree to a teaching plan and common assessment strategy for addressing this specific skill with their own students within the next week (short time frames are best).
Reconvene the team afterwards to reflect on how it went, and how their students performed. What were the benefits of collaboration for them and for their students? Remember that positive experiences change attitudes, and many teachers may not have had positive experiences (or sometimes any experiences) collaborating with their colleagues around sensitive topics like revealing their instructional practices and looking at student results. Acknowledge honestly that teamwork isn’t always going to be easy, but having the support of colleagues means that someone will be there to help.
- Build capacity for leading productive PLC teams. The coaching mantra of “I do, we do, you do” applies here. Teachers need modeling, structure, and guidance on all aspects of the work PLC teams undertake – from identifying priority standards and analyzing data, to collaborating to meet the needs of students who struggle to learn or those who are ready to move ahead. Principals or coaches who invest the time to teach protocols and build facilitation skills within their leadership teams will create a pride in ownership and accomplishment throughout the faculty. “At the elbow assistance” and “just-in-time-learning” help to manage the concerns of teachers new to collaboration.
- Celebrate successes along the way. If “nothing succeeds like success”…then nothing motivates like acknowledging those successes. Seek out ongoing opportunities to honor the work that teachers are doing and how it is impacting student achievement. Involve teachers in planning these celebrations. Every goal attained builds confidence to continue the journey.
A few years ago I was an investigator in a study to identify the common success factors that were present in twelve high-poverty, high-performing schools throughout the state in which I lived. I visited seven of the twelve schools personally. These “beat the odds” schools ranged from urban fringe, to rural, to smaller city schools. Despite their different environments, the single factor that most clearly stood out with each faculty was their absolute determination and collective resolve to ensure that every student learned. At the time, I referred to them as human bulldozers, ready to plow over any obstacle! With the leadership of their principals, they had empowered themselves.
In a corroborating study conducted by Hoy, Sweetland, and Smith (2002), they found that collective efficacy “was more important in explaining school achievement than socioeconomic status.” This rings true from my own experience. Much can be done to develop collective efficacy among school teams and, in doing so, the culture of the school shifts from blame to bravo!
Hoy W.K., Sweetland, S.R., & Smith, P.A. (2002). Toward an organizational model of achievement in high schools: The significance of collective efficacy. Educational Administration Quarterly, 38(1), 77-93.
Jerald, C.D. (2007). Believing and achieving (Issue Brief). Washington, DC: Center for Comprehensive Reform and Improvement.
Protheroe, N. (2008). Teacher Efficacy: What Is It and Does It Matter? (Research Report) Principal, May-June (www.naesp.org).