“Yes we can.” – Barack Obama, Oscar Zia, and Bob the Builder
“Si se puede.” – Cesar Chavez and Delores Huerta
Work yourself out of your job! Pursue redundancy! That should be your objective as an educational equity leader.
That’s right. If you want to close educational gaps, ensure inclusive practices, and develop cultural competence, your aim must be to work yourself out of your job. If you want to help teams, school districts, and schools improve access and achievement for all students and eliminate the predictable patterns of disproportionality between student groups, you must prepare yourself to hear, “See ya later. We don’t need you anymore.”
Wait! Before you write me off, allow me to clarify. I don’t mean that you should get yourself fired. What I mean is that in order for you to be a successful educational equity leader, your group must outgrow their need for your assistance. This is the sign of a job well done; it is the result of superb leadership and effective facilitation.
In other words, an educational equity leader needs to begin with the end of his or her job in mind. Her leadership task is to foster collective efficacy in her group, using the tools of cultural proficiency, for the period of time necessary for that group to stand on its own feet in effectively pursuing and implementing educational equity in its school or institution. This requires the leader to give away his knowledge and skills and to have faith in the group’s capacity to eventually facilitate itself.
The equity leader needs to come from a place of love for his or her group and to look kindly on what she may be tempted to perceive as shortcomings in the group’s cultural competence or proficiency. He needs to refrain from using guilt or shame in any guise, particularly with participants from historically-privileged demographic groups such as white, male, Christian, or heterosexual. In fact, participants from these demographics may consciously or unconsciously expect to be talked at, left out of diversity conversations, or generally treated in ways conducive to guilt or shame. An effective equity leader recognizes the need for forgiveness both on the part of those who have historically been wronged by an inequitable system and those whom the dominant culture has served well and who have benefited from the very same system. In this way, successful leaders help groups change their minds, build shared mindsets focused on equity, and transform their environments. They kindle the vision and nurture the goal that the group can achieve educational equity and operate on its own, without the educational equity leader. The leader demystifies the process. The group can then facilitate its own journey.
WHAT EXACTLY IS COLLECTIVE EFFICACY?
To achieve equity and excellence, a group must have collective efficacy in regard to its cultural proficiency. That is why collective efficacy needs to be the primary mental model and top priority of every leader who is committed to educational equity, whether that leader’s position is consultant, superintendent, principal, team leader, teacher, or committee chair. According to Gibson (2003), collective efficacy is a term that represents the shared belief of the group members in their group’s operative capabilities. The group believes that it can get things done. To that end, the educational equity leader’s primary goal must be to equip the group with the knowledge, attitude, skills, aspirations, and behaviors necessary to transform its own policies and practices into policies and practices aligned with equity, inclusion, and cultural competence.
The concept of collective efficacy comes from the concept of self-efficacy. Self-efficacy reflects an individual’s beliefs in his or her own capabilities to engage in, and to successfully complete a course of action (Bandura, 1997). It’s the “I can do it” attitude and belief. Because self-efficacy fails to sufficiently explain group performance, the concept of collective efficacy evolved. The concept of collective efficacy runs parallel on the group level to the concept of self-efficacy on the individual level (Katz-Navon, 2005).
Collective efficacy is not simply the sum of the self-efficacy of each individual group member. In this instance, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Collective efficacy is a property of the group that emerges from the group engaging in its work. To group members, collective efficacy reflects “what we think about us” (Mischel & Northcraft, 1997). The group replies affirmatively to the question, “Do we believe that we have what it takes to do what is needed to eliminate learning and achievement gaps?” The shift from self-efficacy of individual group members to the group’s collective efficacy occurs in two steps (Chan, 1998):
- Group members shift their frames of reference from their individual capabilities to those of the team.
- The group brings the concept of collective efficacy to the forefront of its consciousness through discussion, evaluation, and agreement.
WHY SHOULD WE INVEST IN EQUITY-FOCUSED PROFESSIONAL LEARNING?
The benefits that collective efficacy brings to an institution are remarkable. Greater bang for the buck would be hard to imagine. John Hattie (2008, 2011) illustrates the power of efficacy in his ground-breaking study of meta analyses (a study which is ongoing). His Visible Learning books contain the most exhaustive study of educational theory and practices in the history of education. Hattie found a “hinge point” (or a threshold with lack of educational progress on one side and educational progress of varying degrees of intensity on the other side) that allows us to compare almost any educational intervention or influence from direct instruction to cooperative learning to assigned homework. The hinge point is the effect size of .40. Any intervention or influence that meets or exceeds this effect size translates into at least one year’s worth of academic growth for one year’s worth of time in the classroom. One of Hattie’s most recent findings (2015) is that collective self-efficacy has the greatest effect size – a whopping 1.57 – of any educational intervention studied to date.
That means that if a school successfully focused only on developing its collective self-efficacy (the extent to which the community includes staff and students who believe they have what it takes to accomplish their shared goals), that focused effort would translate into almost four years worth of student academic growth for one year spent in school. Wow! That is acceleration. With the potential of a 400% return , why would we not invest our energies on developing efficacy? In terms of pursuing educational equity, we simply cannot afford to ignore the power of focusing on developing the collective efficacy of groups of adults who care for our nation’s children. Based on my experience of working with the cultural proficiency framework for over a decade, I also recommend including students in the process. Including students and increasing the “student voice” — that is: listening to students, learning from students, and leading with students — will only enhance and accelerate the organization’s development into a culturally proficient learning organization.
HOW DO WE “DO” EQUITY-FOCUSED PROFESSIONAL LEARNING?
So how does the successful educational equity leader (the guy or gal who is trying to work him- or herself out of a job) facilitate this shift to collective efficacy? The short answer is: by using and teaching the group to use tools of cultural proficiency. Cultural proficiency helps the leader to help the group help itself. Cultural proficiency is a comprehensive approach. It operates as both a framework (the content) and a process (the journey undertaken by the group). As a framework, it provides guidance for developing cultural competence, redressing inequities, and promoting an inclusive education for all students. The framework has four components: Barriers, Guiding Principles, Continuum, and Essential Elements (Lindsey, 2009). As a journey, it is a transformative process with specific steps that move to awareness and then from awareness to action. Both the content and the process provide an orderly, tried-and-proven system through which a group can develop its collective efficacy.
What does this process of group transformation look like during the time that the educational equity leader is facilitating the group? Early on, facilitators provide the most amount of support. As they guide the group’s journey, they also build sustainability by teaching the group about the structures, strategies, and stances used to facilitate the progression. They release responsibility to the group as its collective efficacy increases (Figure A). Successful facilitators always operate by the principle of providing the least amount of support for the most amount of success. This process usually takes more time than people expect. The time span could be three to five years for a large organization such as a school system to develop sustainability. Or, the time span could be as little as three to five days for a small group to develop its awareness and shared commitment. The facilitator lessens the amount and frequency of support until the group no longer needs the same kind of relationship with the facilitator. This shift happens once the group comes to believe that it has the capacity to guide its own cultural proficiency and transform its own organization into an equitable and inclusive organization. The facilitator’s goal is not one of literal 100% collective efficacy achieved; rather, the goal is a solid, practical level of collective efficacy with which the group can work independently and productively.
Note the horizontal axis. It holds critical implication. Developing any group’s collective efficacy happens over a period of time with the help of a knowledgeable and skilled leader, regardless of whether that group is a team, an office, a school, or a school system. This growth cannot take place through a stand-alone workshop, an episodic seminar, or a motivational speech. It only takes place within the context of an organizational commitment of time and resources to ongoing professional learning and school/program improvement centered on equity, inclusion, and cultural competence.
When the group becomes collectively efficacious, the facilitator is out of a job. Adios!
The only effective way for leaders of educational equity to succeed in their mission is to approach their work with the mindset that they must work to make themselves redundant. If they don’t have this mindset, the limits of their success may include a workshop that goes nowhere, unequipped groups that unwittingly do more harm than good, or a codependent or paternalistic relationship with the groups. None of that serves the students who need equity leaders the most: the underserved students in desperate need of culturally proficient schools with equitable practices and policies.
Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: the exercise of control. New York: Freeman.
Chan, D. (1998). Functional relations among constructs in the same content domain at different levels of analysis: A typology of composition models. Journal of Applied Psychology, 83 (2), 234-246.
Gibson, C. B. (2003). The efficacy advantage: Factors related to the formation of group efficacy. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 33, 2153-2186.
Katz-Navon, T. & Erez, M. (2005). When collective- and self-efficacy affect team performance: the role of task interdependence. Small Group Research, 36, 4, 437-465. SAGE Publications.
Lindsey, R. B., Nuri Robins, K., & Terrell, R. D. (2009). Cultural proficiency: a manual for school leaders / edition 3. Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press.
Mischel, L. J., & Northcraft, G.B. (1997). “I think we can, I think we can . . .”: The role of efficacy beliefs in group and team effectiveness. Advances in Group Processes,14, 177-197.
Hattie, J. A. (2008). Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement. Routledge: UK.
Hattie, J. A. (2011). Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning. Routledge: UK.
Hattie, J.A.C. & Yates, G. (2014). Visible Learning and the Science of how we Learn. Routledge, UK.