Saving time: Collaboration

Written by: Adam Riches | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Time is our most precious commodity and it is often in short supply. In this five-part series, Adam Riches looks at how we can change common practices to help save time and improve teaching and learning. Part three focuses on powerful collaboration

As the saying goes, two heads are better than one and this is something that is directly applicable to simplifying teaching practice.

A department of 15 teachers collaborating effectively is much more effective than a larger group of people working in isolation.

When I think about collaboration, I always think about planning. However, there is so much more to collaboration than that.
Creating a culture of collaboration is not straight-forward. It can be hard to persuade people to work openly with each other.

But if you can get staff to see the positives, you can simplify practice and reduce workload for teachers significantly.

United we stand

The hero leader model is not sustainable and a school where teachers are all pulling in their own direction leads to a disjointed approach for staff and for learners.

As schools continue to improve, the realisation that centralised, top-down systems are not always sustainable is becoming more apparent. Change is something that cannot be driven by the few, it needs to be driven by the many to succeed.

Getting colleagues to believe in the theory and evidence supporting a certain approach or way of working is one thing, but true buy-in comes from the staff being able to see how changes translate into their individual classrooms and departments.

To build a real sense of collaboration and shared direction in school, you need buy-in from all. Dufour (2007) states that staff need to rally around an initiative or project and without a good level of buy-in, trying to implement change will only generate resentful compliance, which may lead to ultimate failure.

Reciprocal accountability (Elmore, 2006) is an approach that can heavily influence collaboration through empowerment. Champion working together for a collective goal and you can have a huge impact on student outcomes.

A collective approach

The concept of collective teacher efficacy was introduced in the 1990s by Albert Bandura and is rooted in his concept of self-efficacy (see further information). He defines collective efficacy as “a group’s shared belief in the conjoint capabilities to organise and execute the courses of action required to produce given levels of attainment” (Bandura, 1997).

Bandura found that the positive effects of collective teacher efficacy on student academic performance more than outweigh the negative effects of low socio-economic status.

Put simply, a collaborative approach to teaching can have a huge impact on both staff and students, and can help to simplifying practice.

Hattie and Zierer (2018, p26) cite Rachel Eells (2011) and her synthesis of various research projects, which identified collective teacher efficacy as pivotal to student progress. Eells’ paper conducted a meta-analysis of 26 studies on collective teacher efficacy and found that “the weighted average effect size ... was 0.617”.

This number can easily be converted into Cohen’s (d=1.568), which is the number Hattie reports. For those of you unfamiliar with Professor John Hattie’s work, that is more than twice the impact of feedback (d=0.72) and classroom control (d=0.52) – the conclusion is clear: together teachers can achieve more, especially if they collectively believe it.

Eells cites the following as the main factors contributing to increased collective teacher efficacy:

  • Advanced teacher influence: Defined by the degree to which teachers are provided opportunities to participate in important school-wide decisions.
  • Goal consensus: Reaching consensus on goals not only increases collective efficacy, it also has a direct and measurable impact on student achievement.
  • Teachers’ knowledge about one another’s work: Teachers gain confidence in their peers’ ability to affect student learning when they have more intimate knowledge about each other’s practice.
  • Cohesive staff: Cohesion is defined as the degree to which teachers agree with each other on fundamental educational issues.
  • Responsiveness of leadership.

Collaborative leadership

Traditionally, leadership is the few directing the many, but the face of top-down leadership is changing. Collaborative leadership signifies a process of working together which requires sharing power, authority, knowledge and responsibility (Jameson, 2007).

The concept of shared leadership may imply that more than one person exercises a degree of leadership, but Jameson reminds us that the term “does not necessarily include real sharing of power, authority and responsibility at different hierarchical levels ... in its more advanced development it may resemble ‘collaborative leadership’.” (Jameson 2007).

Involving staff in the delivery of CPD, decision-making and processes helps to build the collective teacher efficacy within a school. Collaboration and team-work is something that needs to be built over time and involving others in the process of leading is something which can lead to more simplified channels of communication and a better overall understanding of how the school operates and functions. Moreover, a sense of heightened responsibility following decision-making processes allows for buy-in from staff.

Conclusion

If you look at any really successful school, one of the key things that will be evident is staff cohesion and collaboration. However, introducing collaborative practice into your department or school needs to go beyond just planning together if you want it to have an impact on outcomes and workload. 

  • Adam Riches is a senior leader for teaching and learning, a Specialist Leader in Education and author the upcoming book, Teach Smarter. Follow him on Twitter @TeachMrRiches. Read his previous articles for SecEd, including in this series, at http://bit.ly/2DhTAJu

Further information & resources

  • Bandura: Self Efficacy: The exercise of control, WH Freeman & Co, 1997. For the collective research papers of Albert Bandura, visit https://albertbandura.com/albert-bandura-self-efficacy.html
  • Dufour: In praise of top-down leadership, School Administrator, November 2007: http://bit.ly/2uXuADE
  • Eells: Meta-analysis of the relationship between collective teacher efficacy and student achievement efficacy and student achievement, 2011: http://bit.ly/3958KNf
  • Elmore: Leadership as the practice of improvement, Graduate School of Education, Harvard University, June 2006:
    http://bit.ly/2OqyDz4
  • Jameson: Investigating collaborative leadership for communities of practice in learning and skills, Lancaster University, 2007.
  • Hattie & Zierer: 10 Mindframes for Visible Learning, Routledge, 2018. For a useful overview of what Professor John
  • Hattie’s Visible Learning research says about collective teacher efficacy, visit http://bit.ly/2RU3W7F


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