I love visiting the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden! The Garden is especially gorgeous at this time of year. Communities of flowers proudly show off their distinctive hues and graceful forms, waving at appreciative visitors who stroll down the Garden's pathways. These joyful floral alliances are awe-inspiring, a visual metaphor for the growth and beauty that is possible through collaborative relationships.
Like the Botanical Garden, Learning Forward Texas's course Cultivating Leadership: Facilitation Skills that Foster Collaborative Practices promotes growth and productivity within the community. This course equips school and district leaders, including teacher leaders, to nurture and develop learning-focused collaborative relationships within their schools, allowing collective efficacy to bloom with spectacular results for student learning and organizational well-being.
What is collective efficacy and why is it important? Collective teacher efficacy is a belief shared by teachers within a school that “together they can make a difference for students” (Donohoo, p. 3) According to Visible Learning researcher John Hattie, collective teacher efficacy is “the number one factor influencing student achievement” (p. xv). Collective efficacy expert Jenni Donohoo offers this explanation: Educators with high efficacy show greater effort and persistence, a willingness to try new teaching approaches, and attend more closely to the needs of students who are not progressing well. They also convey high expectations, foster learner autonomy, and welcome increased parental involvement. In addition, educators who share a sense of collective efficacy get students to believe they can excel in school. (p. xv)
Learning Objectives for Cultivating Leadership: Facilitation Skills to Foster Collaborative Practices
In a recent conversation, Trish and Diana talked about this upcoming session and also shared some ideas from the course that education leaders can use to grow collective efficacy in their contexts. Here are some highlights of our conversation.
In a nutshell, what is the Cultivating Leadership course all about?
The word "cultivating" is an important part of the title of our session. Cultivating is not typically easy work. It doesn't happen all in one instance. In our session, we look at the incremental ways that we can grow others and help build efficacy over time. Collective teacher efficacy is the foundational belief that our collective efforts as educators are key to student achievement. The research shows that in schools where there is a high degree of collective efficacy, teachers have a positive attitude toward professional learning, and we see high levels of implementation of targeted instructional practices. This positive impact flows down to students. That's what we're all here for! When we provide a collaborative environment for teachers, folks are willing to take risks and innovate, and student achievement increases.
An essential part of building collective efficacy over time involves developing teams. In your session, you talk about the stages of team development. What do education leaders need to know about the stages of team development?
We want all of our teams to be high performing. But leaders sometimes forget that when teams change, when someone new joins a team, or someone leaves a team, the team must go through the stages of development again. When leaders see that a team is in the storming stage, they feel like they've made a mistake. It's important to understand that storming is part of the process; it's not failure. A team will never get too high performing if they don't go through storming. It can be disheartening, but it helps to understand why this happens. In our session, we share specific leadership facilitation strategies to move teams forward in their development so they can work their way up to high performance.
In this course, you also talk about the importance of growing emotional intelligence in ourselves and others. Tell us why you feel emotional intelligence is so important, and talk about some steps that leaders can take to grow emotional intelligence as a community norm.
We have known for decades how important relationships are in education, relationships between and with leaders and teachers, and then, of course, with our students. These relationships are inherently based on and connected to our emotions. For example, when we acknowledge (or don't acknowledge) someone as we walk by them in the hallway, we bring about emotions in the other person and ourselves. Being cognizant of emotions is the first step in emotional intelligence. It's also important for leaders to demonstrate social awareness and to overtly model emotional intelligence. We have to walk the talk. Daniel Goldman’s work tells us that when leaders are competent in social awareness, teachers are willing to accept help which results in higher levels of collaboration, leading to shared goals and commitments. In the session, we talk about a simple model of emotional intelligence based on four essential components.
Learn more about Emotional Intelligence: Emotional Intelligence in Leadership
In this course, you share a wealth of protocols and tools for leaders to use in their facilitation work. Can you give us an example, please?
I love our Irks and Quirks protocol just because of its name if nothing else. It's kind of a favorite for me. But it goes much deeper than the name because this protocol can quickly bring about a shift in the way a group thinks, and it can move the team from collegial to collaborative conversations. The protocol involves two prompts. First, participants are asked to consider behaviors others in the team might exhibit which might frustrate them, behaviors that can prevent effective collaboration. This step is typically pretty easy for participants. Next, participants are asked to think honestly about their own quirks and personal behaviors that might irk someone else. Because these behaviors can be perceived as irks by others, they can be detrimental to the team's functioning. After this reflection time, participants have a structured conversation about their personal insights. This leads to a discussion of team norms and commitments. This protocol is great for new teams, but it's also good for teams that have worked together for a long time.
This is an enormously practical session, isn't it? It sounds like participants can expect to walk out the door at the end of the day with a toolkit of strategies to use both immediately and long-term in their own contexts.
Absolutely. We think relevance and practical application are so important. It doesn't do us any good to have a professional learning session all based on theory without any action. Educators don't have time for that. Certainly, session participants will walk away with resources that they can look back at for deeper learning, but they will also leave the session ready to take strategic actions that will make an immediate positive difference.
I'm inspired by your vision of every educator as a leader. This course is for formal education leaders but it also sounds as if it would be extremely valuable for teacher leaders who have the opportunity to informally make a difference with colleagues on a daily basis.
One of my most favorite audiences is where principals or assistant principals come with a teacher leader group. They have such great conversations, and these teams walk away with a strong plan for strategic action. They've got a little bit of accountability through each other, and they leave the session thinking, "We can do this!" That's powerful.
Both of you have been instrumental in designing and promoting the Learning Forward Texas Annual Conference for many years. What can attendees look forward to at this year's conference?
Our conference is really unique. I don't have to convince people from my district to go to the conference. They hear about the conference, and they want to go. They love experiencing great professional learning on topics that will support their work. This is not a sit-and-get. You're going to be engaged. You're going to interact with and learn from other conference attendees. Everybody you meet at the conference is a practitioner. They practice what they preach. High-quality professional learning in support of student learning is what we believe in. It's our core value, and we're excited to share this passion with our fellow Texas educators.
Click here to find out additional information about the regional affiliates in Texas; Learning Forward North Texas, Learning Forward Southeast Texas, Learning Forward Central Texas, and Learning Forward West Texas.
A day spent in the Botanical Garden elicits a host of energizing emotions – joy, awe, pride, hope, gratitude, and serenity. A day spent with Trish and Diana learning to cultivate collaborative practices will inspire these same emotions, reaffirming our collective capacity to create schools that position all students and educators to thrive.
Donohoo, J. (2017). Collective efficacy: How educators' beliefs impact student learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Sue Chapman is a professional learning consultant and author of MathVentures: 33 Teacher-Coach Investigations to Grow Students as Mathematicians. Connect with Sue at SueChapmanLearn@gmail.com and on Twitter at @SueChapmanLearn.