In the previous three parts of this blog, we have looked at the effect of collective efficacy on student achievement, influences upon collective efficacy and supports needed to foster collective efficacy. This final installment discusses a model for professional development for school leaders that enables them to foster a culture of efficacy in their building.
SURN: School University Research Network
The School University Research Network (SURN) at the College of William and Mary in Virginia designed a series of professional development activities to support new building leaders. Participants were identified by collaborating district leaders because of the role novelty, their inexperience, and their diversity of background and preparation for the role. The SURN team developed a comprehensive professional learning experience for principals, designed specifically to strengthen instructional leadership capacity, supervisory skills, and a professional network of job-alike colleagues working and learning together to resolve problems of practice.
During initial development of the SURN Principal Academy program, the SURN team (DiPaola, et. al.) identified several mentor principals to work alongside more novice participants to facilitate team-building, tabletop discussions, and to accompany teams on collaborative school visits. Mentor principals indicated that they had as much to learn about instructional leadership and supervision as their more novice colleagues. In short, it became clear that neither longevity nor experience translated directly into the technical expertise necessary to bring about meaningful instructional change; rather, narrowly focused, ongoing, and job-embedded professional learning experiences for principal were necessary to bring about measureable improvements in classroom practice.
The SURN Principal Academy was designed to build principals’ knowledge of high-yield instructional strategies (Hattie, 2009); to increase their expertise with tools in order to collect evidence of classroom teaching and learning and provide immediate feedback to teachers; and to facilitate collaborative observation conferences in order to engage teachers in reflection and professional learning and improve classroom instruction.
Academy participants used digital observation tools (DiPaola & Hoy, 2008; eobservations.com) to collect evidence of high-yield strategies and share data with teachers, conduct pre/post observation conferences with teachers, and implement professional goal setting that targets more effective utilization of high yield strategies. The observation tools were tightly aligned with indicators of high-yield instructional strategies and allow principals to provide immediate, data-driven, focused instructional feedback to teachers (Hattie, 2009). The electronic tools facilitated the collection of focused classroom data, made it possible to immediately share those data with teachers, and created a data base for analysis of data at the classroom, grade-level, subject area, and school-level which could then be used to plan professional growth for individual teachers, grade-levels, subject areas, as well as setting annual school goals (eObservations).
Teachers who reported higher frequencies of instructional interactions with their principals reported a greater degree of instructional change. A positive correlation was found between teachers’ perceptions of principal support and instructional change, while perceptions of principal support related to instruction were higher with increased frequency of principal interactions. Teachers reported that feedback, supportive, modeling, and engagement behaviors of their principals positively impacted their instruction. More specifically, teachers reported that their classroom practice were influenced in four major ways:
- The principal provided written or verbal feedback on the teacher’s classroom instruction, student work, or behavior that clarified expectations and goals.
- The principal supported teachers’ instruction, provided resources, and encouraged risk-taking while providing a safe, non-threatening environment for adult learning.
- The principal was knowledgeable and modeled instructional strategies, professional expectations, or other behaviors related to school goals, including, but not limited to, leading/facilitating professional learning.
- The principal was visible in classrooms and around the school, observing instruction, interacting with students, teachers and parents, actively engaged in meetings and workshops, and accessible.
Building Collective Efficacy Through Leadership
Though targeted professional development principals learned how to identify and celebrate mastery experiences; provide vicarious experiences by either modeling instructional strategies themselves, or having others in the school model and demonstrate their expertise; collect relevant classroom data and provide specific nonjudgmental feedback to teachers
Data collected from these observations were used to; plan and provide differentiated professional development; and collaboratively work with teachers to reduce stress and anxiety, as well as encourage risk-taking and experimentation. In essence, building teacher efficacy through all four avenues. Principals recognized that the resources for extraordinary improvement were under the roofs of their buildings. They learned to tap those resources and grow those resources, and felt the power of professional capacity (Fullan & Hargreaves, 2014).
Collegial collaboration across a school is crucial to effectively serve all students. Such collaboration brings together diverse thinkers who engage in authentic conversation that can help shift thinking, which inspires growth and learning. School leaders who create a culture of efficacy enable an ongoing process of growth, reflection, and instructional improvement facilitated by meaningful and ongoing interactions within their schools.