Erica Martin

Erica Martin is a literacy specialist at Kildeer Countryside School District 96, located in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. She has experience as a district leader, reading interventionist, and classroom teacher.

CFA Data Inquiry Helps Foster Collective Teacher Efficacy

In a school with strong collective efficacy, all of the faculty feels they have a hand in helping each child excel. Students are valued for the diversity of their learning profiles, and teachers work together consistently despite which classroom a child calls his or her own.

According to Tschannen-Moran & Barr (2004), collective teacher efficacy is the “collective self-perception that teachers in a given school make an educational difference to their students over and above the educational impact of their homes and communities” (p. 190). Collective efficacy truly makes a difference in how we educate our students, but efficacy doesn’t just happen organically. We can’t expect better results for the students we serve simply because we proclaim they are all capable of learning at high levels; we have to truly believe it. This is where a professional learning community (PLC) comes into play.  

The vital commitment of a PLC

When educators set out to transform their schools into PLCs, they dedicate themselves to ensuring high levels of learning for all students (DuFour et al, 2016). This unwavering commitment to students becomes a driving force within a PLC, compelling educators to do whatever it takes to help all students succeed—regardless of any challenges they may face. Through the PLC process, educators cultivate an environment in which collective efficacy thrives.  

As Jenny Donohoo explains in her book Collective Efficacy: How Educator Beliefs Impact Student Learning (2017), teachers with an elevated sense of efficacy “show greater effort and persistence, a willingness to try new approaches, and attend more closely to the needs of students who are not progressing” (p.xv). In fact, collective teacher efficacy ranks number one on John Hattie’s list of factors influencing student achievement—with more than triple the effect size of home environment and parental involvement (Donohoo, Hattie, & Eells, 2018). Rather than pointing to outside factors (“That student just doesn’t care,” “Her parents aren’t supportive,” “He is a slow learner,” etc.), educators with high efficacy take personal responsibility for student learning and look to their own teaching for answers. One of the strongest ways to foster collective efficacy in a PLC is through common formative assessment (CFA) data inquiry.

CFAs as the gateway to collective efficacy

As a reminder, CFAs are team-designed assessments used for monitoring student mastery of essential learning throughout a unit of instruction (Baily, Jakicic, & Spiller, 2013). By engaging in a team analysis of CFA data, teachers have the opportunity to examine their students’ results in comparison to other students taking the same assessment. Using this basis of comparison, teams determine the impact of their instruction and share ideas, methods, and strategies for improving student learning. Inside these CFA data discussions is where collective efficacy lives and breathes.  

In schools that do not function as a PLC, teachers typically plan, teach, and examine their practice in isolation. They close their doors and teach the way they always have, and may rarely discuss learning practices or individual student needs with colleagues. Essentially, without the support of a collaborative team, teachers stand alone against the challenges they face in helping all students succeed. If their students struggle to make progress, these teachers cannot turn to their teammates to reflect on CFA data, determine the strengths and weaknesses of their teaching, or discuss ways to improve learning. Instead, they must rely solely on their own insights, practices, and expertise—which sometimes just aren’t enough.

Overcoming negativity, no matter what

Despite their best efforts, teachers can feel defeated, believing they cannot make a difference. Unfortunately, in this environment, “negative beliefs pervade the school culture,” and educators often choose “not pursue certain courses of action because they feel they or their students lack the capabilities to achieve positive outcomes” (Donohoo, Hattie, & Eells, 2018, p.41). Thus, the blame game ensues and teachers may dismiss a student’s lack of growth with circumstances outside of their control: “low student achievement as an inevitable byproduct of low socioeconomic status, lack of ability, or family background.” (Tschannen-Moran, M. & Barr, M., 2004, p.192).  

Within the collaborative culture of a PLC, these negative beliefs simply fail to take root among teammates. Instead, members of a PLC continuously evaluate, refine, and elevate their practice through an ongoing cycle of CFA data inquiry and action research. When CFA data shows a lack of student progress, teachers tap into the collective expertise of their teammates to develop strategies, scaffolds, and interventions that bring students from striving to thriving.

Perhaps a teammate has a strategy that led to positive student outcomes or a suggestion on how to enhance learning for students who are still grappling with a particular skill. Together, teachers persevere until all students, regardless of whose class they are in, master essential learning. It is through this cycle of collaborative CFA data inquiry that teachers deepen their knowledge, improve their practice, and know for sure that they made an impact. Trust among teammates intensifies when teachers collaborate at this level, and students ultimately make greater gains.  

CFA data inquiry fuels teachers’ sense of collective efficacy by providing teams with tangible evidence that their efforts are paying off for students. Seeing a direct link between their instruction and positive student outcomes rewards teachers with the motivation and encouragement needed to persevere in the face of any challenge (Donohoo, Hattie, & Eells, 2018). Rather than crossing their fingers and hoping for positive results, teachers know that they make a difference. This sense of collective efficacy is powerful and transformative in bringing hope and success to all our students.  


Bailey, K., Jakicic, C., & Spiller, J. (2013). Collaborating for Success With the Common Core: A Toolkit for Professional Learning Communities at Work. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Donohoo, J. (2013). Collaborative inquiry for educators. A facilitator's guide to school improvement. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Donohoo, J., Hattie, J., & Eells, R. (2018) The power of collective efficacy. Educational Leadership, 75(6), 40-44.

DuFour, R. (2010). Raising the bar and closing the gap: whatever it takes. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

DuFour, R., DuFour, R., Eaker, R., & Many, T. (2016) Learning by doing: Second edition. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

DuFour, R., DuFour, R., Eaker, R., Many, T., & Mattos, M. (2016) Learning by doing: Third edition. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Tschannen-Moran, M. & Barr, M. (2004). Fostering student learning: The relationship of collective teacher efficacy and student achievement. Leadership and Policy in Schools, 3(3), 189-209.

No responses yet.