Imagine standing at the base of a towering mountain staring at the summit seemingly far out of reach. The trail ahead is steep and winding but provides moments to catch your breath as switchbacks moderate the steepness of the trail. Along the way, you encounter fellow hikers and exchange lessons learned from your experiences along the trail and team up to overcome obstacles and persevere through difficult stretches together. You take heart as you see smiling hikers descending the trail noting most are no more fit or stronger than you are. If they reached the summit, you can do it too! The descending hikers share words of encouragement and smiles that show the joy found in their achievement. The certainty that you can summit this mountain is contagious. You’ve got this! Being a teacher today is a little like hiking the trail to the mountain summit, and believe me, you don't want to take to those trails alone.
What is Collective Teacher Efficacy?
Collective Teacher Efficacy is a group’s belief that through their collective action they have the ability to positively impact outcomes for all students. Educators with high levels of Collective Teacher Efficacy understand their power as change agents both individually and how that power is magnified when high efficacy beliefs exist within a group of educators.
Why does Collective Teacher Efficacy matter?
Educators with high levels of Collective Teacher Efficacy hold beliefs that are in perfect alignment with the dispositions of a UDL practitioner. When teachers have a strong belief in their collective ability to meet the needs of all learners, they are more likely to implement UDL practices effectively and create inclusive learning environments. Educators with high efficacy believe that their actions as an educator in the classroom cause student learning. UDL practitioners believe that all students can learn at high levels and become expert learners when barriers are removed in the learning environment. These beliefs complement and strengthen one another. Research has shown that there is a positive correlation between high teacher efficacy and improved student outcomes. Since being added to the Visible Learning work as a factor influencing student achievement, Collective Teacher Efficacy has persisted as one of the most powerful predictors of positive student outcomes with an effect size of 1.34 in the most recent publication (Hattie, 2023). A positive correlation between high teacher efficacy and the implementation of inclusive practices has also been found (Woodcock, et.al. 2022). It is clear that efforts to implement inclusionary practices can only benefit from educators holding high efficacy beliefs.
When teachers have a strong belief in their collective ability to meet the needs of all learners, they are more likely to implement UDL practices effectively and create inclusive learning environments.
Beyond boosting the likelihood of successfully implementing inclusionary practices, high levels of Collective Teacher Efficacy foster educator resilience in the face of challenge, increase teacher leadership, improve implementation of initiatives, support a culture of believing students can meet high expectations, and are linked to greater job satisfaction and commitment to the teaching profession (Donohoo, 2018).
How is Collective Teacher Efficacy created?
The sources of efficacy are largely within the control of individual teachers. In this post, I am focusing on the sources rather than the enabling conditions, which are more systemic in nature. Intentionally utilizing the sources of efficacy can begin as an individual practice or can be fostered in partnership with like-minded colleagues. I believe, and research shows, that approaching this work as a team is your most powerful option, but if you don’t feel you have access to such colleagues, don’t let that be a barrier to jumping into an efficacy practice.
Note that the sources of efficacy outline below are the same for all people in all contexts. The discussion is in the context of teachers in the classroom, but the sources are relevant for all!
The Sources of Collective Teacher Efficacy
Mastery Experiences - This occurs when an individual or a group takes action, and in monitoring the results of their action, gain evidence of meeting their goal or overcoming an identified challenge. This requires teachers and teams of teachers to have clarity regarding a desired outcome and intentionally monitor how their actions impact or cause results. Just like when hiking, mastery experiences are not only reaching the mountain summit, they are navigating obstacles and persevering through rough sections of the trail. Each incremental stage of progress matters.
Vicarious Experiences - This occurs when an individual or group observes the mastery experience of others and become convinced that they can take the same or similar action as the other group and achieve the same or similar outcomes. Teachers can engage in vicarious experiences when colleagues share a mastery experience, or they can seek out stories from sources beyond their immediate school or district setting. In our hiking metaphor, vicarious experiences include seeing your hiking partner navigate an obstacle or seeing like peers returning from the summit and knowing you too can reach the peak.
Social Persuasion - This occurs when an individual or group is persuaded, by a trustworthy or credible source, to believe that they can take action and achieve their desired outcome. This can accompany a vicarious experience that occurs in relationship or in another context that allows for reciprocal interaction. Social Persuasion during a hike includes a hiking partner sharing their learning from the trail convincing you that you can meet the challenge or descending hikers offering a word of encouragement from the perspective of someone who has already navigated the trail, knows its challenges, and believes you can conquer it as well.
Affective States - This is all about mindset! This is the feeling or emotion that an individual or group brings to the process of trying to impact outcomes or overcome challenges. In climbing the mountain, this is the mood or the tone you bring to the adventure.
While all sources of efficacy have value and should be leveraged, the most powerful source of positive efficacy amongst teachers are mastery experiences. “When teachers witness their students succeeding on a higher level of academic tasks than the teachers previously thought possible and understand their students’ success as a consequence of their efforts, teachers change previously held beliefs about what their students can do.” (Forman et. al., 2017). It is easy to see how the implementation of UDL, which prioritizes firm, grade level goals for all students with flexible means, provides guidance in removing barriers, and emphasizes all students becoming expert learners, would have a reciprocal relationship with teachers having the type of mastery experience described above. Both growing efficacy and growing inclusionary practices focus on firm goals, or clarity around desired outcomes, and understanding the impact of intentional actions toward those goals.
Putting your Efficacy Practice into Action
You’ve got this! Trying something new, changing your practice, is always challenging. As you move forward in your journey to become a UDL practitioner, you might have to release practices that you previously valued. Be firm but gentle with yourself in this process. Make incremental but steady change. Leverage the four sources of Collective Teacher Efficacy and deliberately foster new mastery experiences for yourself. Both you and your students will ultimately benefit.
When embarking on this journey collaboration is a powerful tool. Seek out those like-minded colleagues and form a team, whether you reconnect with friends from your teaching program, colleagues from a former workplace, or connect with teachers in an online forum, PLC, or professional learning group. Work to find your people. Over time, you will benefit from having a support system to lean on to help overcome the hard moments and to really access all the sources of Collective Teacher Efficacy, specifically social persuasion and affective states.
Embrace change through deliberate actions that feel like “just right” next steps for your practice and your students. To support an interactive cycle of mastery experiences, share your mastery experiences with others to create vicarious experiences and invite them to share their mastery experiences with you. These interactions will foster a network for social persuasion. At the same time, monitor the affective states of yourself and those you surround yourself with. By doing these things, you will become a spark that can light the fire of Collective Teacher Efficacy for you and your peers!
Discover the what, why, and how of Universal Design for Learning.
- Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological
review, 84(2), 191-215.
- Bandura, A. (1997). Self-Efficacy: The exercise of control. New York, NY: W. H. Freeman.
- Donohoo, J. (2018). Collective teacher efficacy research: Productive patterns of behavior and
other positive consequences. Journal of Educational Change, 19(3), 323-345.
- Donohoo, J., Hattie, J. & Eells, Rachel. (2018). The power of collective efficacy. Educational
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- Hattie, J. (2023). Visible learning: The sequel a synthesis of over 2,100 meta-analyses relating
to achievement. Routledge.
- Novak, K. (2022). UDL Now! A teacher’s guide to applying Universal Design for Learning.
- Forman, M., Stosich, E., & Bocala, C. (2017). The internal coherence framework: Creating the
conditions for continuous improvement in schools. Harvard Education Press.
- Woodcock, S., Sharma, U., Subban, P., & Hitches, E. (2022). Teacher self-efficacy and inclusive
education practices: Rethinking teachers’ engagement with inclusive practices. Teaching
and Teacher Education, 117. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2022.103802.
Stephanie Thomas is a dedicated educator with almost 20 years experience as a teacher, interventionist, and district administrator. She has been an advocate for UDL in her role as a district leader by designing and delivering professional learning and laying groundwork for systemic implementation. Stephanie is a NBCT in Early Adolescence English Language Arts and is currently a doctoral student in the Education program at Seattle Pacific University.