I’ve had a long history with the idea of efficacy… dating back to when I decided to become a teacher (age 5, true story) and knew only one four syllable word (Mississippi – again, true story, but admittedly an odd choice for a girl from small town Saskatchewan). I became a teacher because I wanted to help others love learning… and I believed in my ability to make it happen. This belief was based on evidence, not arrogance. Year after year I watched my mother and her Grade 2 students do amazing things that decades later would be explained by research into the brain and learning, differentiation, and quality classroom practices. Armed with twenty-one years of this research and a newly minted B.Ed., I began my teaching career with a clear end in mind – fostering a love of learning in my students.
Like all first year teachers, I was challenged by my thirty-two Grade 1 students and all they needed to learn. The path that we followed that year was not direct, not perfect, and certainly not without setbacks. But I did not give up or take it personally. Because I believe in the power of teaching and the ability of a skilled practitioner to make a difference for learners, I became what Regie Routman calls a teacher-learner. For the next twenty years I studied the art and the science of teaching – learning from my students, colleagues, mentors, professors, authors and then applying my learning to my teaching and reflecting on the impact on student learning. All the while believing in my own ability, and that of my colleagues, to make a difference in the lives of children.
I learned the word ‘efficacy’ when I began training as a coach. I still credit the word with being hired as a consultant. As I remember that interview, I was asked about the qualities of a person who, in my opinion, would make a good consultant. I responded that I believed they wanted someone efficacious – someone who believed in her or his own ability to make a difference, and further, believed in the efficacy of teachers and would view the role of consultant as supporting and developing that efficacy. This has been my mission for the last fifteen years.
On my reading list this year was Collective Efficacy: How Educators’ Beliefs Impact Student Learning by Jenni Donohoo. It is helping me think about something that occasionally happens when I do a demonstration lesson or work in residence, teaching a class with a group of teachers observing. In the debrief following the lesson sometimes a teacher will say, “Of course that worked. They had to pay attention with so many of us in the room.” And each time it happens I pose these questions:
- For what reasons was this carefully designed lesson successful with these learners at this time?
- What factors within our control might have contributed to the success of this lesson?
- How might we develop the capacity to talk about the power of the thinking, planning, and impact of a professional teacher and leader?
What we do matters. Why we do it matters. How we do it matters.
Collectively, we need to both believe and live this.
Donohoo, Jenni. 2017. Collective Efficacy: How Educators’ Beliefs Impact Student Learning.Thousand Oakes, CA: Corwin.
Routman, Regie. 2000. Conversations: Strategies for Teaching, Learning, and Evaluating. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
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