Building Team Efficacy
For 10 years, I have had the pleasure of working with collaborative teams of teachers who are in the beginning stages of their PLC journey. Over that period of time, I have had the opportunity to witness some phenomenal teams and some very dysfunctional teams. What separates the two? The answer is efficacy.
Efficacy is simply defined as the ability to produce a desired or intended result. This may be defined simply, but there is a high level of coordination and focus required to achieve collective efficacy. In order to produce a desired result, the team must first agree on what result they want to produce and the methodology to produce it, and then work collaboratively through the process. Wayne Hoy, from The Ohio State University, provides a tool that helps teachers measure where they are on the efficacy continuum. You can access the tool here.
In a PLC, the desired result is student learning. Not just learning for a few, but a PLC team works toward learning for every student. My experience has taught me that educators tend to embrace this concept philosophically but become stagnant when they do not have the tools, structures, and attitudes necessary to bring that wish to reality. If frustration sets in, teams can revert to psychological defense mechanisms, which make the process even harder.
So, in 10 years of observing, guiding, and coaching teams, I have seen two common threads that all of the teams with high efficacy possessed; they kept their collaborative conversations focused on the four essential PLC questions, and they never spoke negatively about students, parents, or colleagues. These might sound like simple principles, but they become the foundation for powerful collaboration.
- Keep the collaborative focus on the four essential questions: What do we want students to learn? How do we know if they have learned? How do we respond when students don’t learn? How do we respond when students have learned? These four corollary questions were designed to keep the collaborative team focused on the real work—student learning. To stay totally focused on these corollary questions takes discipline and peer pressure. When times get tough, it is easy to start to venture into other topics and vent frustration over things that are outside of our control. Make a commitment to stay focused on these four questions, and your efficacy will increase.
- Avoid speaking negatively about students, parents, or coworkers. One of the biggest issues that we hear from schools struggling with the PLC process is that the collaborative meeting can turn into a “complaint session.” Complaining is the by-product of frustration, and it is very counterproductive. It breeds pessimism and a negative codependence with colleagues that prevents the team from finding quality solutions to problems because they are consumed by the negative atmosphere that they have collectively created. Students, parents, and coworkers are flawed, but spending precious time venting to others about their imperfections only serves to undermine professional effectiveness.
I would highly suggest that any school or team struggling with getting good results from their collaborative teams try my advice. What do you have to lose? If you apply these two simple principles with fidelity, I am confident that your teams will soar, and your students will be the ultimate beneficiaries.