Why joint practice development is the answer to developing collective efficacy

Posted by Andy Newell on November 10, 2017

Speaking at the recent Optimus MATs Summit I was preceeded at the podium by Sir David Carter, National Schools Commissioner. He highlighted that most MATs have now developed effective diagnostics for areas of strength and weakness but still have a long way to go in terms of systematically driving improvement. In his words, striking the right balance between “weighing the pig and fattening the pig”.

I was struck by how this is a useful analogy system-wide and that while MATs feel this challenge acutely due to their scope, all schools need to carefully reflect upon how they blend assessing and developing their impact.


Teaching matters most

It may sound trite but within the maelstrom of improvement strategies and competing demands it's easy to overlook the beating heart of school improvement; better teaching. No other “controllable” factor is more closely linked to better outcomes for learners. No area of leadership focus is more impactful.

Historically, most schools have used accountability processes to identify teaching deficits and to align CPD provision accordingly. Three factors are now undermining this approach:

  1. Resources - much CPD, particularly external provision, is prohibitively expensive.
  2. Impact - the most prevalent forms of CPD lead to low levels of sustained behaviour change.
  3. Learning culture - using hard accountability processes as the primary CPD diagnostic tool undermines the free sharing of practice and personal challenge which underpins great CPD.

Given the lack of traction associated with traditional CPD it's understandable many school leaders have reframed the problem as one of “human capital” i.e. hiring better qualified teachers. Yet, on the whole, human capital measures e.g. master’s qualifications, are only weakly correlated with improved outcomes. As Dylan Wiliam puts it, it's far more productive to “love the one you are with.”

Great teachers rarely enter the profession that way. Teachers that have been shown to have the greatest impact on outcomes are those that continue to improve after others have started to plateau, typically around year 4 in the profession. This, therefore, is the single greatest question for every school leader: is improvement inherent with your organisation such that every teacher improves just because they teach in your school?


The shared characteristics of effective CPD

There is much research evidence about what makes CPD effective. Impactful CPD programmes have different surface features, but below the waterline there are crucial shared characteristics.

Coaching, Teacher Learning Communities, Cycles of Inquiry, Deliberate Practice and other effective programmes are all ingrained in the day-to-day of teaching, they are not one-off events. There is still a role for transmission activities but they are integrated within a broader blend of learning activities; from research and theory through to models and examples, practise and feedback.


Effective programmes are deeply rooted in classroom practice and the study of the intimate relationships between teaching and learning, in John Hattie’s words, they support teachers to be students of their own impact. They rely heavily on lesson observation to make learning visible, to share challenges and successes and to support refinement over time. For this reason, these programmes can be challenging to scale up and sustain due to the cost and other challenges associated with traditional modes of lesson observation.

Effective programmes all rely upon (and if implemented with sensitivity - build) a culture of collegiality, trust and high-aspirations to support the honest sharing of professional challenge and vulnerability.

Most importantly effective programmes, in one way or another, engage teachers in a cyclical process of:

  1. Making tacit practices and challenges explicit and shared
  2. Holding practice up to the light of research or the experience of others
  3. Iteratively implementing refinements based on an ongoing analysis of impact
  4. Sharing findings and supporting others   

All such programmes may be best described as including cycles of joint practice development (JPD).


Collective Efficacy and JPD

John Hattie’s recent meta-analysis of factors impacting learners outcomes shows teacher collective efficacy with the largest effect size of 1.57. An impact of this magnitude simply cannot be ignored. Yet collective efficacy is virtually absent from the debate around improving schools.

Collective efficacy can be defined as:

Collective self-perception that teachers in a given school can make an educational difference to their students over and above the educational impact of their homes and communities.(Tschannen-Moran & Barr, 2004)

This isn’t some wooly academic concept. Efficacy can be measured and developed. It's clear that collective efficacy and the quality of CPD are inextricably linked. Teachers with high collective efficacy must, by definition, have confidence in those same cycles of JPD that enable them to grow collectively by identifying challenges and adapting their practices iteratively to improve learning.


Culture; the oil in the engine of JPD

It's been said that “culture eats strategy for breakfast” but in terms of developing collective efficacy through JPD it's clear that they are both crucial and interlinked.

JPD activities

Strategy and tools


Making tacit practices and challenges explicit and shared

Easy access to data and shared visibility of the impact of teaching on learning. Tools to reflect upon learning at a granular level

High-trust collaborative environment where sharing is regarded as the first step towards growth

Holding practice up to the light of research or the experience of others

On-demand access to research and visibility of different strategies in action

Openness to challenge and new ideas. Collective endeavour

Iteratively implementing refinements based on an ongoing analysis of impact

Collaborative working and contextualised feedback to refine new methods over time

Collaboration and openness to feedback. Tenacity driven by shared moral purpose.

Sharing findings and supporting others  

Tools and systems to measure impact of new strategies and frictionless environment for dissemination of findings

Collegiality and high social capital

In this analysis it becomes clear how placing high stakes summative assessment of teaching at the start of this process can undermine the critical cultural developments required for success. Furthermore, it is evident that through careful roll-out and effective change management it's possible to use JPD to drive the development of high-trust culture.

At IRIS Connect we’ve worked with the EEF to explore whether a structured programme of JPD, delivered via our platform, could support concrete changes to classroom practice and through incremental change management, reinforce the kind of trust-based learning culture needed to develop collective professional efficacy.


Film Club

IRIS Connect film clubThe outcome of our successful project into “Developing classroom dialogue and feedback through collective video reflection” was Film Club. A range of JPD programmes available to all schools via the IRIS Connect platform. It places JPD “on rails” by introducing the key components as part of a simple, fun, learning experience. Film Club fosters collaboration and develops positive high-trust learning culture by establishing positive norms and taking an incremental approach to the challenge of sharing and classroom practice.

It uses video to expose teachers to a range of practices, build reflective skills and radically reduce the costs associated with in person lesson observation. 95% of teachers participating in film club reported positive changes to their classroom practice as a result.


How can this be used within and between schools?

Critically for MATs and other distributed organisations Film Club plays a role in building a common language of development. For example, “Higher order questioning” often means different things for different teachers and in different locations. Building trust-wide collaborative activities creates common ground and critically the visibility of teaching and learning in differing contexts.  

IRIS Connect Film Clubs contain micro-accreditation as teachers receive certificates of participation for each of the modules. MATs may replace these certificates and assessments with their own. Film Clubs may also be adapted to reflect trust-wide principles and even their own illustrative videos. Importantly, Film Club gives CPD leaders detailed information about the progress of each participant enabling far more effective targeting of limited coaching and mentoring resources.

Film Club is completely free to all IRIS Connect customer schools, it's also available to non customers via our content licensing programme. If you would like to know more, please get in touch.

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