What do we mean by collective efficacy?

According to the social cognitive theory popularized by Albert Bandura (1997), efficacy beliefs are the key mechanism of individual and organizational agency, or the choices individuals and groups make to engage in activities in pursuit of specific goals. The stronger a teacher or a faculty’s perception of their capability to attain a given goal, the more likely they are to pursue that goal and put forth the effort necessary to achieve success (Goddard, Logerfo et al., 2004; Bandura, 1997).

There is a rich research base linking individual teacher efficacy, or a teacher’s expectation that he or she will be able to successfully bring about student learning, with teaching behaviors that foster students’ academic achievement and affective traits like motivation and self-esteem. Individual teacher efficacy contributes to student achievement because high-efficacy teachers try harder, use management strategies that stimulate student autonomy, attend more closely to low-ability student needs and modify students’ ability perceptions (Ross et al., 1998; Ross et al., 2004).

Efficacy scholarship in education has pursued a similar line of inquiry by treating not only individual teachers but also schools as the unit of analysis (Goddard et al., 2000; Goddard, 2001; Hoy et al., 2003; Ross et al., 1998; Ross et al., 1998; Ross, 1998; Ross et al., 2003). The perceived collective efficacy of a faculty represents the beliefs of teachers that the faculty as a group can execute the courses of action required to educate students successfully (Goddard, 2001; Goddard, 2001). Collective efficacy is a measure of group-referent efficacy beliefs across teachers in a school, or responses to questions like I believe the faculty as a whole has the ability to educate students. Levels of collective efficacy beliefs vary greatly across schools, and are strongly linked to student achievement (Goddard, Hoy, & Hoy, 2004).

Over the past decade, studies have found that levels of collective teacher efficacy not only explain between-school variance mathematics and reading outcomes, but do so regardless of student demographic characteristics. The power of collective efficacy perceptions to influence organizational outcomes lies in the socially transmitted expectations for action, or normative press (Sampson et al., 1999). In schools with a high degree of perceived collective efficacy, teachers learn that effort and classroom success are the norm. These high expectations create a press that encourages all teachers to do what it takes to succeed with students. Therefore, teachers in organizations with high levels of collective efficacy are more likely to accept challenging goals and put forth the effort required to help students learn, and to give up less easily when confronted with obstacles. In schools where collective efficacy is lower, it is less likely that teachers will be pressed by their colleagues to persist in the face of failure, or to make changes to their practice when students do not respond initially to their instruction (Goddard et al., 2004). Further, when efficacy beliefs are low, faculty are less likely to accept responsibility for students' poor performance and more likely to point to student attributes as the cause of student failure (Goddard et al., 2000).

Efficacy studies grounded in social cognitive theory have traditionally shown schools’ past mastery experiences, operationalized as previous years’ student scores on standardized tests, to be the most influential source of efficacy belief formation among teachers. Later efficacy scholarship found that context variables related to school structure added power to explanations of collective efficacy beliefs over and above the effects of prior student performance (Adams & Forsythe, 2006). Here school structure was defined, on the one end of the spectrum, as an organization in which the rules, regulations, and procedures were helpful and lead to problem solving among members. On the other, a hindering structure forcing conformity to rigid rules and regulations, characterized by strict hierarchy, rule dependence and teacher sense of powerlessness.

In the most recent examination of sources of efficacy belief formation among faculties, Goddard et al. (2010) focus on principals' and teachers’ ongoing, enactive experience in schools (Bandura, 1997) and specifically on teacher collaboration around instructional improvement. This approach is directly in line with the theory driving the Internal Coherence project, and enables us to make progress on the next level of work identified by the field:

Future research is needed to identify the types of teacher education, ongoing professional development, and school reform initiatives that build in teachers the resolve that they can effectively serve socioeconomically disadvantaged students... we need more knowledge to know how conditions might be changed to improve schools by strengthening collective efficacy beliefs. Thus, now is the time for new research that examines more closely how perceived collective efficacy is developed and how it may be strengthened in school organizations.

(Goddard, LoGerfo and Hoy, 2004)