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November 1, 2021

Reader's Guide / Keys to Supporting Educator Efficacy

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    Professional Learning
    School Culture
    Instructional Strategies
    November 2021 Cultivating Educator Efficacy feature image
      How do we develop a sense of efficacy in our work—the confidence that we can accomplish meaningful things and have a positive impact? This is a pertinent question across industries, but it is especially critical in K–12 education right now. Collective efficacy among teachers—that is, when educators in a school believe they can positively affect student learning—is now increasingly recognized as a key (if long-underutilized) driver of student achievement. At the same time, schools are facing momentous challenges and pressures this year as they seek to rebuild in the midst of a pandemic. As a result, many educators may be feeling a distinct lack of efficacy—or even a sense of professional fatigue or demoralization.
      As Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey write in their column in this issue, we are at an inflection point where we need to be sure to "address the rebuilding of educator agency with the same vigor as we do the recovery of student learning."
      This issue of Educational Leadership aims to provide critical support to school leaders—including teacher leaders—in meeting that challenge. It looks closely at key adjustments schools can make to their instructional cultures to bolster and tap into educator efficacy, both in the individual and collective sense. As the articles make clear, such changes are particularly important in the current climate of crisis response and recovery—precisely when "whole educator" needs are easy to lose sight of.
      The authors featured in this issue offer a wealth of detail and a range of insights on cultivating educator efficacy, but there are a few key themes running through the articles. They represent good departure points for reflection or discussion.
      Collaboration and feedback. Several articles emphasize that, to support educator efficacy, schools need to develop richer collaborative cultures where teachers can observe and learn from one another, analyze problems of practice, and refine instructional strategies. Of course, the importance of collaboration among teachers is not new, but the key here is to ensure a focus on authentic adult learning and development, not just student issues. Such collaborative spaces can be sources of modeling, support, and improvement—all elements of efficacy.
      Closely related to collaboration is the importance of positive, constructive feedback, from both administrators and peers. To be effective in heightening efficacy, feedback should be closely tied to specific instances of teaching practice. As Chase Mielke writes, "free coffee and donuts are always welcome, but what teachers want more is affirmation that their practice is making a difference."
      Effective practice and impact. But educator efficacy is not merely a matter of support and affirmation. To believe they can make a difference, as several of our contributors point out, educators must see evidence of that in their work. According to Thomas R. Guskey, this often means "changing teachers' experience," primarily through supporting them in the use of effective practices and providing them reliable evidence of their impact. A teacher's belief in her ability, in other words, is preceded by intentional action—by the hard work of learning, practice, and refinement. It is more data-driven than magical.
      Teacher voice and support. This leads to the important cautionary note that efficacy, particularly collective efficacy, is not something that can just be expected of educators as a matter of attitude or "team spirit." As Paul Emerich France argues, collective efficacy efforts that are foisted on teachers without allowance for sustainable conditions or teachers' own input can veer dangerously close to toxic positivity. True collective efficacy, as B.C. Preston and Jenni Donohoo write, is complex. It makes room for disagreement, problem solving, and "interruptions" of the status quo (Preston).
      For educators as well as other professionals, efficacy is always in part about being seen and valued.

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