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Wednesday / July 26

How to Achieve Collective Efficacy in Virtual PLCs

It’s often this time of the year that I hear my peers, colleagues, and friends utter the phrase “I would exercise more if I had more time”… “I’m going to clean out the garage once I find the time”… I will clean out my closets…during break when I have more TIME…” All valid and purposeful activities we want to do that we must somehow make TIME for if they are to be accomplished.

I was struck recently when a peer grimaced and took a deep sigh at the idea of using their time for professional learning when discussing their attendance at a training to improve their practice. I would imagine that you have heard this before—or maybe it is something you too have uttered. My thoughts here are not to judge but to shed a little light on what it means when we are convinced that we do not have TIME for professional learning.

Think about the concept of self-efficacy: “The conviction that one can successfully execute the behavior required to produce outcomes” (Bandura, 1977). We make time for the things we want to do and for those things that we believe will produce the desired result that we are seeking. How often do we say we don’t have time to clean our closets, but we find the time anyway —or a host of other activities that somehow are successfully completed even though we did not have the time. Why does it seem to be harder to find time when it comes to engaging in professional learning?

Three Questions to Ask Yourself

Reflect on these questions:

  • Do I want to improve my practice for the benefit of student learning?
  • Do you believe improvement in your practice will produce the desired outcome?
  • Is this your “work” as an educator?

If we know that engaging in professional learning opportunities gives us the power to improve our practice for the benefit of our students (outcomes), what could be a more important use of our time? I hope you answered YES to all of the questions above. If you answered NO, there are other questions you should be asking yourself regarding your ability to demonstrate self-efficacy as an educator. Efficacy expectations are a major determinant of people’s choice of activities. (Bandura, 1977, p.194) When efficacy is high, teachers are more accepting of change and more likely to try new teaching approaches.

Can we agree that the  more we use TIME as a reason for not engaging in professional learning to obtain a desired outcome of improving our practice that directly impacts student learning, we are not demonstrating self-efficacy?

I propose a theory of action which fosters Collective Efficacy (Donohoo, 2017) as a real solution to the issue of TIME and allows the process of teacher collaboration to flourish BEST through the power of Virtual Learning Communities.

“If educators’ realities are filtered through the belief that they can do very little to influence student achievement, then it is very likely these beliefs will be manifested in their practice.” (Donohoo, 2017, pg 7)

Collective teacher efficacy, which has an effect size of 1.57, is when we bring teachers together to focus on learning so they can all maximize that teacher-student relationship influence that matters so much (Dewitt, 2017).

“By strengthening collective teacher efficacy, teachers will develop the resolve to persist against challenges and realize increased student results.” (Donohoo, 2017, pp 36)

There is significant evidence that collective efficacy increases effort and positively improves student performance.

Guiding Question: How can we make this happen and also harness the time we don’t have to do the things that will benefit us and our students the most? We can engage in Virtual Learning Communities.

A Theory of Action: Action Steps that Foster Collective Teacher Efficacy- (Donohoo, 2017) Virtual Learning Community (VLC): A Professional Learning Design that fosters Collective Teacher Efficacy (Alexander, 2013)
Step 1: Creating Opportunities for Meaningful Collaboration The tools in VLC’s support collaboration (discussion threads, chat boards, video conferencing, upload of documents for sharing, peer observation tools and upload of videos, blogs, wikis, podcasts) among all members of a school or district community of learners but allow them to adjust their TIME (synchronous or asynchronous) for learning according to their needs (access to the platform in anytime, any space, any place). This is the essence of the Learner-Learner Model.
Step 2: Empower Teachers The VLC supports self-directed learning. Learning experiences are designed for differentiated learning needs. Users manage content at their own pace, engage with resources and other learners in ways that allow them to dig deeper and engage at levels that support their learning gaps around specific areas of focus. A VLC is designed for the selection of choices of interactive activities with other learners. The learning is dynamic and personalized.
Step 3: Establish Goals and High Expectations The VLC provides participants with an opportunity to reflect on their learning around goals and apply skills in support of their specific learning needs. This Transformative Learning process involves a profound shift in ways of being and knowing oneself and the world – community (Baumgartner, 2001). Embedded in the design of a VLC is a reflection on experiences, assumptions, and beliefs leading to the adoption of a new perspective, changed view and growth in practice based upon goals through ongoing discussion and reflection experiences.
Step 4: Help Interpret Results and Provide Feedback VLC’s are spaces where participants share data and provide strategies to address participant learning gaps. Participant Learners engage in Action Research to address deficits in student learning. Examples of evidence of student learning from assessment results, student work samples and classroom observations are shared and uploaded to the VLC. Peers provide feedback and collectively determine strategies based upon the evidence of learning. The guiding question for the community remains, “Are students improving academically because of the teacher’s learning in the VLC which results in improvement of practice?”

What is collective efficacy? “When teachers have strong incentives to get better and better at their work, and they are given the opportunity to work together every day in teams to improve student achievement, they never stop seeking and finding information that can help them do a better job,” said NCEE President and CEO Marc Tucker.

A Virtual Learning Community is the most responsive Professional Learning Design, which gives teachers an opportunity to work together demonstrating high levels of Collective Efficacy, thus making the impact they seek to make in this world in their own TIME, place, and pace.

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Written by

Dr. Sonja Hollins-Alexander has been in the field of education for 22 years with 16 of those being in educational leadership at the school, district and higher education levels. During this time, she has served as a school social worker, teacher, assistant principal, principal, assistant director and currently serves as a the director of professional learning for a large urban school district. She also is a professor in the Education Department at Argosy University, Atlanta and Troy University, Covington. Through her professional journey she has had experiences in Strategic Planning, Organizational Improvement, Policy Development, Project and Program Management, Stakeholder Communication and Engagement, Budget Planning, Grant Writing, Instructional Design, Curriculum Development and Implementation, Facilitator of Adult Learning, Conference Facilitation and Design, Quality Assurance Team Member for AdvancED and fully engaged in the development and use of Online Collaborative/Instructional Software.

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Latest comments

  • Hello Lisa,

    Thank you so much for engaging in this conversation with me. In response to your question – ” I wonder how do you begin a truly effective virtual learning community? Is it organic in nature or do you go about it through a structured system?”

    Virtual Learning Communities are born from structure and are often organic (So, there are both methods). When adults come together for learning about specific content to support their work and it is encouraged and set up through their organizational leaders, it is generally born out of a structured process. Most often, we find these in schools when districts purchase a Learning Management Systems for their staff and they create spaces for them to learn or enhance their knowledge around teaching and learning practices. Unfortunately, I often find in the districts that I support, that they only use these LMS for sharing of information through modules or online courses and not sharing of application and evidence of learning which can be seen in video reflections demonstrating what they learned from the modules or sharing of artifacts such as student work that is reflective of the impact of their learning. When this type of information is shared using the principles of Collective Teacher Efficacy as outlined by Donohoo (2017), the online experience transitions from being an “online course” to a Virtual Learning Community. My hope and desire is that these organizations will review some of the strategies in this blog and my publication and consider more effective ways to create collective efficacy through transitioning their online modules to a Virtual Learning Community.

    As far as organic VLC’s this is often accomplished through a variety of Professional Learning Networks; however, there is yet room to grow in this area. Examples of this would be the use of Twitter when you are engaged in ongoing conversations and learning which often happens in a scheduled “Twitter Chat”. Or, when you are attending a conference and the organizer provides a Twitter feed for you and the participants to share during the conference as you reflect on your new learning. In addition, sites such as Ted-Ed offers opportunities for educators to provide reflection on what they view and the responses of others. Also, believe it or not, you and I have started our own community through this conversation on this blog spot through Corwin Connect. To keep our conversation going, I would like to know from you if you have engaged in any of these experiences (structured or organic) and what did you learn that might be helpful to someone else who is seeking to create opportunities to build collective teacher efficacy through this professional learning design?

    • Thank you Dr. Alexander for your reply. I have engaged in several Twitter chats around topics of interest to me. I especially enjoy engaging in the conversations around new innovative issues and ideas happening in education. One of my most recent Twitter Chats was on personalized learning. Although I appreciate the conversations and information presented in these chats, I would like to see these chats expand into more job-embedded learning opportunities for myself. As an educator, it is my responsibility to learn about practices to enhance student achievement in my classroom. Although just being involved in the chat is a great way to learn about new initiatives, ideas, or information, I feel that for me to get better in my practice, I need to be involved in feedback loops. Do you know of any online Virtual Communities that educators can join to obtain feedback on classroom practices and ask questions?

  • Dr. Alexander,

    Thank you for your blog post. As I was reading through your blog a few things caught my attention especially since leveraging teacher self-efficacy plays a huge role in student achievement. Time is always an issue, especially in education but I wonder if we took the time to learn a new teaching strategy, share information, or help a colleague, could we possibly save time? Learning virtually has always been something that appeals to me and if I believe that something will benefit my craft, I will certainly be more willing to engage in the practice. I wonder how do you begin a truly effective virtual learning community? Is it organic in nature or do you go about it through a structured system? If you look at my search history tonight, you would see that I have searched 4 different categories in education and have read extensively on two of those categories because of my interests. Where can an educator find a virtual community to increase knowledge on topics of interest to me?

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