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Collective teacher efficacy: A 4-point plan

Kahului Elementary School in Hawaii employs a teacher support program that’s based on the research of John Hattie about collective teacher efficacy. Here, principal Sue Forbes outlines the school’s four-step strategy.

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Kahului Elementary School

This post is Part 2 of a three-part series on a session about collective teacher efficacy presented by Sue Forbes, principal, and Stacey Hankinson, academic coach, of Kahului Elementary in Kahului, Hawaii. Forbes and Hankinson presented this content at the 2023 ASCD Annual Conference. Be sure to catch the whole story in Part 1 and Part 3.

Teachers are the linchpin to student growth and performance, said Kahului Elementary School Principal Sue Forbes, during her session, “Aloha! Supporting Teachers for Success in Hawaii” at the 2023 ASCD Annual Conference in Denver. 

“[T]eachers are on the front lines. They have the most direct impact on students,” said Forbes. She presented alongside Stacey Hankinson, academic coach at the school.

Kahului Elementary employs a teacher support program that’s based on the research of John Hattie about collective teacher efficacy. Here is the school’s four-point strategy.

Tip 1: When your teachers succeed, students succeed

Administrators need to support teachers so they can better support students, according to Forbes.  

“When you do this, you’re going to significantly increase your student growth and proficiency in every classroom for the long term,” Forbes said. She explained that supporting teachers improves instruction, reduces the size of an RTI program and boosts school culture. 

“You’re going to build a school-wide culture of growth and you’re going to achieve collective teacher efficacy,” she said. “When teachers succeed, students succeed.”

Tip 2: Be the adult that you want to see in every classroom

Administrators must model the behavior they expect from their teachers. “Not every teacher is at the same level, said Forbes. “You need to differentiate your support for teachers.” 

Forbes introduced the hierarchy for teacher professional development. Teachers go through the journey, from the bottom to the top, at their own pace. “This is your pathway for teacher professional development,” she explained. 

The hierarchy: 7 stages

Positive student relationships and high expectations. It’s common for teachers to have good relationships with their students but, in a post-pandemic world, high expectations can be a challenge, even for veteran teachers. ”There’s a sense of, ‘Oh, the poor babies. We’ve got to make it easy. We’ve got to help them succeed,’” said Forbes. She acknowledged the challenges students face but urged leaders to keep pressing forward. “We have to still hold them to those high expectations of learning.” 

Effective routines and procedures. Newer teachers did not have a solid student teaching experience; theirs took place virtually. As a consequence, they’re struggling with routine and procedure. Forbes said these bottom two levels of the hierarchy are like a dance for new teachers.

“These two levels — I call it a bit of a dance,” she explained. “It’s all about learning a dance. What am I doing? Where do my feet go? What page am I on? What time is recess? Don’t forget lunch. What page? How do I do it? They’re looking at their own feet and they’re a little bit wobbly.” 

Standards-based instruction and assessment. This was a school-wide focus for Kahului Elementary and contributed to its students’ success, according to Forbes. “If you have a teacher who’s new to a grade level or new to a content level, they need to focus on this,” she advised. 

Authentic student engagement. Engagement happens in two parts, Forbes said. The first is cognitively — is it compliance or authentic engagement? — and the second is looking at what they’re engaged in. “I’ve seen some very engaged fifth graders working on a coloring sheet,” Forbes said. “That doesn’t count.” 

Differentiated instruction and decisions based on data. Kahului does not have data teams. Instead, Forbes meets one-on-one with teachers about their quarterly student growth data. It’s around this stage that teachers begin turning the corner in their practice.
“This is when the teacher starts looking up and saying, ‘Oh! The kids are here. I’m teaching, teaching, teaching — are they actually responding? This is when they start to get out of their own world, which is really hard. They start that dance with the student and change what they’re doing based on the student’s response.”

Rigor and relevance. This is project based learning, explained Forbes. “High rigor, high relevance,” she said. She pointed back to the preceding levels of the hierarchy as the training ground for implementing PBL successfully. “If you are a project-based learning school and you’ve been trying to get it off the ground and you can’t figure out why some teachers aren’t launching, go back to these levels. I bet you’ll see that they’re there.”

Student-directed learning. In this phase, students are looking at standards, designing their own learning, saying what they want to learn that day, showing their outcomes, developing rubrics so they can gauge their success. “It’s a release from being teacher-centered to being student-centered,” said Forbed. “This is where the teacher becomes a cheerleader and the facilitator and the students are making up their own dance.”

Assessing teacher proficiency levels

Forbes uses a tool called the “Key Indicators for Measuring Teacher Proficiency Levels” to determine where her teachers are on the hierarchy. The two-page document lists each stage of the hierarchy and with it a checklist of indicators for that stage. 

The tool is for the administrator to use, Forbes explained. Administrators review the indicators for each level and check the boxes for those they have observed or know to be true. They stop when they reach a level where they are unable to check all the indicators listed. That is the teacher’s current level.

Forbes knows where each teacher in her school is on the hierarchy. She uses data from her classroom observations and one-on-one conversations with the teachers to identify their position and talk with them about an action plan for growth. “It is so important that the teacher knows where they are and what they’re working toward,” she said. 

Forbes cautioned leaders against providing teachers with a copy of the tool. Too often, they treat it as a list of tasks to complete or they try to do everything at the same time and get overwhelmed. “You can share the process with your teachers but I would not give them this as a checklist,” she said. “It becomes compliance-driven, which we don’t do at our school.”

Tip 3: Think like a teacher and not like a boss 

“You already have the skills you need in order to be an amazing instructional leader; you just have to repurpose them,” said Forbes. “Think of your teachers as your class.”

Administrators planning to differentiate their professional development should spend most of their support time with the first three levels — the content, the standards based instruction and assessment — said Forbes. She recommended focusing on this in training before the school year begins. 

“If you can have professional development at these three levels before school starts, you will set your teachers up for success,” she said. “This is your highest priority. We have to get the teachers at this level up fast.”

Tip 4: You do not have to be an expert on instruction to be an amazing instructional leader

Classroom visits should be for observation only, said Forbes. “I’m there as an observer; I see things,” she said. She provides feedback and then the teacher works with the academic coach on strategies for development.

Read Part 3 to learn how the classroom visits and feedback work.

Kanoe Namahoe is the director of content for SmartBrief Education and Business Services. Reach her at [email protected].