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The Intersection of UDL and Collective Teacher Efficacy

Stephanie Thomas
Stephanie Thomas
May 15, 2023

I recently had a teacher share with me she wanted to believe that if barriers were removed in the learning environment all students could learn at high levels, but she did not yet believe it. She did not believe that as the teacher in that learning space, she was the most powerful variable in the learning of the students in her classroom. Instead, she believed factors outside of her control were too powerful to overcome. This teacher stands as an awesome example for each of us to be humble and honest. She named where she was at and used the language of growth: she did not yet believe. She had system level support to implement inclusive practices and she was engaged in professional learning to grow any needed strategies and skills. She was seeking belief, and she so clearly wanted to believe. I was so excited to begin a conversation with her about Collective Teacher Efficacy.

What is Collective Teacher Efficacy?

Let’s dive in by asking, what do teachers want for their students? Teachers want their students to be engaged learners who have positive social-emotional and academic outcomes. Teachers with high efficacy believe they have the capacity to take action and achieve positive social-emotional and academic outcomes in partnership with all students in their classroom. 

Teachers with high efficacy believe they have the capacity to take action and achieve positive social-emotional and academic outcomes in partnership with all students in their classroom. 

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.

I am reminded of a dual language elementary school that I know and love. They framed bilingualism as their students’ superpower. The students were so happy and proud and acknowledging their bilingualism resonated with students.  Well educators, I am here to tell you that your superpower is Collective Teacher Efficacy! Your superpower as an educator is believing that you cause learning through the choices you make and the actions you take in the classroom. Your superpower is impactful over and above the variables in a student’s life outside your control.

Collective Teacher Efficacy persists as one of the most powerful predictors of positive student outcomes. When John Hattie added Collective Teacher Efficacy as one of the factors evaluated within the meta-analysis work that makes up the Visible Learning research, Collective Teacher Efficacy became the new number one (Donohoo, Hattie, & Eells, 2018).

Predictors of Positive Student Outcomes
Factor Effect Size
Collective Teacher Efficacy  1.57
Prior Achievement  .65
Socioeconomic Status .52
Home Environment .52
Parental Involvement .49
Motivation .48
Concentration/Persistence/ Engagement .48
Homework .29

Note: Effect sizes are based on Cohen’s d. The average effect size is d=0.40. This average summarizes the typical effect of all possible influences on education. Source: John Hattie

“According to [Hattie’s] Visible Learning research, based on a synthesis of more than 1,500 meta-analyses, Collective Teacher Efficacy is greater than three times more powerful and predictive of student achievement than socioeconomic status. It is more than double the effect of prior achievement and more than triple the effect of home environment and parental involvement. It is also greater than three times more predictive of student achievement than student motivation and concentration, persistence, and engagement” (Donohoo, Hattie, and Eells, 2018). This is a robust endorsement of the power of Collective Teacher Efficacy.

But how can we take that superpower a step further?

Collective Teacher Efficacy and Universal Design for Learning

The connection between Collective Teacher Efficacy and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is belief. Collective Teacher Efficacy is a belief, based in evidence, that through action your desired outcomes can be achieved. Being a UDL practitioner requires belief that all students can learn at high levels. The belief that as an educator you cause learning and the belief that all students can learn at high levels are two sides of the same coin. They must exist in tandem for inclusionary practices to move from a philosophical understanding to an intentional implementation. 

Educational research has clearly demonstrated that teacher belief, both in their own efficacy and what they believe students are capable of, significantly impacts student outcomes. A study from Woodcock et. al. 2022 that examined the correlation between teacher efficacy and inclusive practices revealed that when teachers with high and low efficacy beliefs had similar understandings of inclusive educational practices, teachers with higher efficacy beliefs tended to translate their philosophical understanding into practice with a greater degree of success. In the study,

Teachers with higher efficacy beliefs:

  • Employed more flexible strategies,
  • Were more intentional around learner variability, specifically being more responsive to student strengths and needs, and
  • Supported students in becoming expert learners, specifically focusing on students experiencing success and encouraging students in developing self-regulation skills. 

Teachers with lower efficacy beliefs tended to focus on: 

  • Ability grouping,
  • Managing student behavior, and
  • Differentiating tasks based upon perceived ability, which can lead to understanding challenges students face in the classroom as the result of a deficit in the students rather than a barrier in the learning environment. 

This positive correlation between high levels of teacher efficacy and implementation of inclusive practices suggests that efforts to grow Collective Teacher Efficacy are an important complement to furthering inclusive practices and supporting teachers in truly fostering and exhibiting the dispositions of a UDL practitioner.

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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.

  • 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., Hattie, J. & Eells, Rachel. (2018). The power of collective efficacy. Educational 
    Leadership, 75(6), 40-44. 
  • Novak, K. (2022). UDL Now! A teacher’s guide to applying Universal Design for Learning. CAST.
  • 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.

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