Sunday, February 26, 2012

Improving Collective Teacher Efficacy

In my last post, I wrote about my concerns regarding the influence that NJ's proposed teacher evaluation reform may have on collective teacher efficacy (CTE). I am concerned because there is evidence that improving CTE in schools will lead to increases in school and student outcomes. So, school leaders should be aware of these positive associations and consider taking steps to improve CTE in their schools. I try to do this on a regularly basis, so I hope our new teacher evaluation system does not "undo" much of the work we have done over last several years.

I must admit, though, I am not quite sure about how to improve CTE. There is little evidence in the academic literature regarding antecedents of CTE. Two pieces of evidence that I have reviewed include transformational leadership behaviors and mastery experiences as two means to improve CTE in schools. The evidence for transformational leadership behaviors to improve CTE was presented by Kenneth Leithwood and his colleagues. Much of the work in the area of mastery experiences has been done by Albert Bandura. Unfortunately for the practicing school leader, neither of these pieces of evidence provides a clear direction for improving school CTE.

Given the potential for CTE as a school level variable that leaders can target to improve school and student outcomes, I hope scholars continue to investigate variables that might influence CTE. Perhaps these investigations will include examinations of school, teacher, and student level variables. I look forward to reading about such studies to learn more about how school leaders can improve CTE in their schools, because without the evidence, we cannot be sure our efforts to improve CTE will actually work. At best, we can only hope our efforts minimize any destruction to CTE that might be caused by the many policy reforms currently in the spotlight.

If you have been leading to improve CTE in your school, please join the discussion to share your approach.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Teacher Evaluation Reform in NJ: Will it Cultivate a Culture of Efficacy?

In a memo from Acting Commissioner of Education Christopher Cerf, NJ's proposed teacher evaluation reform model will categorize all teachers as being "ineffective", "partially effective", "effective", or "highly effective." Principals will determine these categorizations from a variety of measures. Fifty percent of these measures will be from determinants classified by the DOE as "learning outcomes" and 50% will be from those items deemed "effective practice." The "learning outcomes" component will be based on measures such as standardized tests and student growth, with less emphasis on all students achieving some predetermined benchmark of performance. Acting Commissioner Cerf did not touch on examples of measures that might comprise the "effective practice" component, which suggests this might be a local decision. As a principal, my "thoughts without thinking" (see blink by Malcolm Gladwell) about this proposed reform are positive overall, but I am concerned with the four categorizations of teacher performance and their subsequent influence on self and collective efficacy.

Albert Bandura has done a great deal of research in self and collective efficacy applied to many different situations. Self efficacy is one's belief that he or she is effective at achieving the task at hand, while collective efficacy refers to individual member beliefs about the effectiveness of the group as a whole. As a school leader, I can't help but think Acting Commissioner Cerf's proposed teacher evaluation categorizations will have negative influences on teachers' sense of self and collective efficacy, which has the potential to be disastrous for schools. Why? Well, Bandura has written extensively about the four sources of information, including mastery experiences, vicarious experiences, verbal persuasion, and emotional arousal, to improve efficacy. Much of the efficacy research points to mastery experience(s) as the strongest source of information to improve both self and collective efficacy.

Can you imagine teachers' reactions when they get an evaluation that suggests they are "effective" or "ineffective" teachers? What will these categorizations due to teachers' beliefs about self and collective efficacy? It is important to reflect on these questions, because collective teacher efficacy has emerged as one of the few school level variables for which there is evidence to suggest that we can mitigate the strong influence of student/school socioeconomic status on achievement (see the work of Bandura, Roger Goddard, Wayne Hoy, Page Smith, and Scott Sweetland). As collective teacher efficacy improves, so does school/student performance. From my perspective, these proposed teacher evaluation categorizations are more likely to negatively influence teachers' self and collective efficacy, which might result in decreased school/student performance.

So, what will administrators need to do to continue to cultivate a culture of efficacy when Acting Commissioner Cerf's proposed teacher effectiveness categorizations are likely to destroy it? I'm interested in your thoughts, so please join the discussion.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Be the Lead Learner

As an elementary school principal, I continually try to improve my level of efficiency. Most of us feel the days and years passing us by more quickly as we age. I remember reading that one's perception of time changes with age due to the slowing of synaptic transmissions and subsequent conduction velocities in the brain. Although I have some formal education in biology and human physiology, I'll stop trying to explain this phenomenon right here. If you know a neurophysiologist, please try to get a more detailed explanation of this for me.

In any event, my intent with this post is to encourage you to make some time to read, think, and write on a regular basis. I encourage our teachers to do this, but I think it is especially important for principals to do this. We all know that the days of principals serving a primarily management role are long gone, but the idea of being an instructional leader, I believe, is often times a "pie in the sky" conception of leadership. But I hear it....a lot! Depending on whose definition of instructional leadership you choose to subscribe to, the behaviors and tasks associated with this leadership style vary considerably. I recall attending a workshop once where a presenter defined instructional leaders as principals who spend at least 51% of every school day in a classroom. Obvious to me, this presenter was never a principal. Nonetheless, there is evidence to support principals embracing specific instructional leadership functions to improve student achievement and school outcomes, and I continually try to improve my ability to engage in such behaviors and emphasize these tasks. Read some of the work by Wayne Hoy, Philip Hallinger, and Kenneth Leithwood for more details.    

Taking time to read, think, and write is critical to my development as a principal, and it demonstrates my professional commitment to doing all that I can to get all students to learn. I feel this allows me to assist our teachers in areas of need, continually improve our data analysis practices, and help our students and school continue to improve. When I take the time to read, think, and write, I truly feel like I am the lead learner in our school. Modeling this behavior has influenced both teachers and students in our school to do the same. Perhaps it's time for the educational leadership researchers to begin investigating this new conception of leadership....principal as lead learner.

Please share your thoughts.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Teacher Autonomy and the Status Quo

In an earlier post I touched on the importance of professional oriented educators to improve student learning and school outcomes. One way that principals can cultivate a professional school climate is to provide teachers with autonomy. Through some of his work, Richard Ingersoll found that school outcomes, with regard to both teachers and students, improve when teachers have real decision making authority over the social issues that occur in schools. Ingersoll found these positive outcomes when teachers had the autonomy to contribute their perspectives. This is just one piece of evidence that readily comes to mind to support providing teachers with the autonomy to make a real difference in student learning. Empowered teachers are better teachers who will challenge the status quo and push student learning forward. Autonomy does not suggest that principals throw teachers out on an island (or central office administrators doing the same to building level administrators for that matter) and tell them to "just get it done." Administrators need to support their teacher and administrator colleagues as they become more autonomous.

Administrators who desire to cultivate an autonomous school or district climate not only need to support other educators when needed, but they also need to know when to back off to give educators a chance to take some risks to push it forward. Autonomy must be cultivated because it is a skill. Unless your school is filled with a load of educators who prefer to be directed from a Theory X management perspective, educators should challenge each other to practice autonomy. This is not an easy task, so when you begin to struggle, ask your colleagues and administrators the challenging questions to help you become more autonomous. That's right, ask for help so you can become more autonomous. Sounds counter intuitive, but a certain degree of dependency is needed to practice autonomy in education. And, I seriously doubt that any administrator worth his or her weight would tell a fellow educator to, "just get it done."

Here is a challenging question for this blog's readers: How can educators handle those colleagues who are not ready for the rigors of autonomy? Please join the discussion.