Building collective efficacy is a hot topic in educational circles as a result of John Hattie’s meta-analysis of what works best in education. While many of the research-supported characteristics of collective efficacy may seem out of reach for the average teacher, one simple practice, applied in my moderately small district, is powerfully and systematically building collective teacher efficacy. That tool is group, student-centered instructional coaching that employs an action research cycle.
What is Group Coaching—and what are the Benefits?
Group, student-centered coaching comes out of Diane Sweeney’s (2018) work and my district opted to offer this as an option for all K-12 teachers. Most teachers tried this option the first year and all continued during the second year of implementation.
Teachers gave many reasons for their support of group coaching:
- They enjoyed the collaborative pre and post-observation discussions.
- They liked learning about and applying a new strategy in their classroom.
- They appreciated the use of video to see how the strategy was implemented in other teachers’ classrooms.
- They expressed the benefits of a system that offered new learning for experienced teachers and support for inexperienced teachers.
- They found it satisfying to see the difference the strategy made in students’ learning based on pre- and post- assessment information.
What Does the Group-Coaching Process Look Like?
To begin the group-coaching process, the instructional coach conducts one to two pre-observation conferences with the group of teachers. During the first meeting, the group of teachers discuss their students’ most pressing needs. Often, teachers have reviewed their student data and come with pre-determined problems. The problems may include behavioral, motivational, or learning needs.
The second topic of conversation logically follows and is focused largely on exploring which strategies may best address the student challenges. The coach generally provides expertise and guidance during the strategy discussion. Often, teachers need guidance in terms of finding proven instructional strategies to address the observed problem.
Teachers then come to a consensus on the strategy they wish to implement. The strategy is further explored and refined through action research framed around this question: What impact will the strategy have on the identified problem?
Between the first and second meetings, teachers determine the pre-assessment data used to measure student learning related to the identified learning target. The same post-assessment is used to determine growth. Essentially, teachers are answering their research question using this data.
During the second group coaching session, training on the new instructional strategy is provided. The training can be provided in a number of ways. Members of the group who are adept at the strategy can sometimes act as trainers. The coach may provide the training. The training can include video from other teachers in the district who have implemented the process, webinars from the Internet, or professional literature. Other training options may include a trip to another district to watch the strategy in action. The organization of the training is generally part of the responsibility of the instructional coach and may last for several sessions.
As the instructional coach comes into the classrooms, he or she observes the teacher implementing the new instructional strategy. The coach may pose a single question or make a comment following each lesson, but most of the conversation occurs outside of the classroom observation.
During the coaching round, the instructional coach records the classroom instruction on video. This video is uploaded to the teacher’s personal file. Teachers review their own videos and reflect on their strategy implementation and on students’ responses to the strategy. This reflection is analyzed in both a group post-observation conference and in an individual post-observation conference. In addition, the coach prepares a highlight reel showing implementation strengths from each teacher during the group coaching round. Because the reflection is focused on the student learning and the strategy implementation, teachers feel less defensive and are free to make critical observations.
How Does Group Coaching Build Collective Teacher Efficacy?
This coaching process builds collective efficacy by providing a bridge from professional development in theory to professional development in practice. Without teacher learning, there can be no growth in student achievement because there can be no change in instruction. Supported learning is a key component of the group coaching/action research process.
A second reason this process builds collective efficacy is that it promotes teacher collaboration focused on students’ assessment responses. Collaboration helps teams of teachers identify student patterns and gives the teachers the power to disrupt those patterns. As pre and post assessments measure the impact of the instructional strategy or the disruption, teachers can determine the benefit of a specific strategy. This adds tools to the tool belt of each teacher.
Finally, the reflection made possible through the use of video represents a powerful strategy for change. While teachers may have their own perceptions of effectiveness, student video provides actual evidence of that effectiveness. Using a common framework for this reflection adds to consistency of the reflection. As coaches lead this reflection with well-designed questions, reflection moves from surface to deep, transformational reflection. The aha moment with a teacher learner is just as powerful as the aha moment with a student learner. These moments are cultivated through reflection.
Teachers’ general comments during the group and individual conferences are collected as evidence of the impact of coaching. Here are some direct quotes from this collection of comments:
- This was the first time that I felt I was coached rather than evaluated.
- I felt I grew because I learned a new strategy. It was not stressful.
- I felt like the suggestions were practical and helpful. I wish I had had this coaching process all the time because I learned so much.
- I was excited to see the growth in my students. I was amazed.
Hattie, J. (2017). 250+ influences on student achievement. Retrieved from https://www.visiblelearningplus.com/sites/default/files/250%20Influences%20Final.pdf.
Sweeney, D. (2018). Student-centered coaching for schools, districts, and educational organizations. Retrieved from https://dianesweeney.com/.
Jodi Owens-Kristenson is an instructional coach for a district in southern Minnesota. She is also a part-time instructor for Capella University. She has served as a classroom teacher, interventionist, content-area teacher, and literacy coordinator during her career.