When teachers believe in their collective ability to make a difference they are more likely to feel empowered to make decisions and act upon them
Early this week, I took part in a professional discussion organised by the International Schools Network(ISN) about teacher agency. It was led by Head of ISN, Max Humpston and I was fortunate enough to meet some fantastic new colleagues: Laurence Cabanne (British International School, Hanoi) and Chris Woodhams (St Joseph’s Institution International,Kuala Lumpur). It was a brilliant discussion that was recorded and will soon be released on the ISN’s website. The discussion inspired me to consider more specific areas around teacher agency and how it links to some of Hattie’s VisibleLearning work, more specifically CollectiveTeacher Efficacy.
Collective teacher efficacy (CTE) is a term used to describe the belief that a group of teachers working together can make a difference in improving student outcomes. Based on Rachel Eells meta-research, CTE has topped the charts in the Visible LearningPLUS Influences of Student Achievement with an effect size d=1.57. As such, CTE has gained recognition as a powerful tool for school improvement. Originally coined by Albert Bandura, CTE shows that when teachers believe in their collective ability to make a difference, they are more likely to collaborate, share ideas or resource, and take collective action to improve teaching and learning in their schools.
Teacher agency refers to the ability of teachers to make decisions and take actions that have an impact on their practice and their students. It has been widely written about and researched by academics, a good place to start is Teacher agency: what is it and why does it matter? by Priestley, Biesta and Robinson. Teacher agency is a term used to refer to situations where teachers have the capacity to exercise their discretion and judgment in adapting their practice and curriculum to meet the diverse and changing needs of their students. Agency is the sense of empowerment that teachers feel when they have a say in what they teach, how they teach it, and how they assess student learning.
The link between collective teacher efficacy and teacher agency is strong. When teachers believe in their collective ability to make a difference; they are more likely to feel empowered to make decisions and act upon them, to change their practice by taking risks and in many cases support others to do the same– teachers’ positive actions can have a huge impact on school improvement.
Collective teacher efficacy can promote teacher agency through shared leadership. When teachers are involved in decision-making processes and have a say in how their school operates, they are more likely to feel empowered and invested in their work, as well as offering more discretionary effort. Shared leadership can take many forms, such as teacher-led professional development, teacher-led networks/partnerships or professional learning community (PLCs). Andy Hargreaves and Michael O’Connor give a great overview of how PLCs were utilised in Canada in LeadingCollective Professionalism (2018).
Collective teacher efficacy can also promote teacher agency through a focus on student learning. When teachers believe that they can make a difference in student outcomes, they are more likely to challenge and improve their practice. This can involve a focus on evidence-based practices. When teachers use these practices and see the impact on student learning, they are more likely to feel a sense of agency and to be invested in their work. They may also feel more inclined to stay in a school or Trust thereby supporting recruitment and retention challenges facing many organisations.
In conclusion, collective teacher efficacy and teacher agency are closely linked. When teachers believe in their collective ability to make a difference, they are more likely to feel empowered to make pro-active decisions and take actions that will contribute to change. This sense of agency can lead to increased commitment to school improvement, a positive school culture, and improved student outcomes. As such, it is important for school leaders to promote collective teacher efficacy and provide opportunities for teacher agency. This can involve professional learning communities, shared leadership, and a focus on student learning. In doing so, schools can create a culture of empowerment and collaboration that will benefits teachers, students, the local community and society more broadly.