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Why collective belief is more valuable than your technology budget

During the last few years, teachers have been inundated with quick “fixes” for education.

Increased technology budgets.

The creation of maker spaces.

1-1 laptops.

New Common Core Standards.

State of the art classrooms.

Interactive white boards.

Have these “innovations” fixed education?

It would certainly be hard to argue that they haven’t enhanced it. Technology has helped students learn at more individualized paces, while new standards have helped teachers focus on skills over content.

Yet with all of these advancements, in 2016, we still have failing schools.

In fact, in a recent study conducted by “Fair Test,” 10% of schools fell into this category.

But I’m not here to talk about failing schools. We have enough coverage of these schools in the press from pundits and skeptics who believe these schools are beyond fixable.

I’m here to talk about the schools experiencing the greatest success. And ironically, it has nothing to do with superior technology, state of the art facilities, a winning football team or 1-1 laptops. Rather, it has to do with one thing:


I know what you’re thinking. C’mon Kyle, this is what you spent all this time setting me up for? When I saw the headline, I was convinced you were going to offer me an insanely simple strategy that I could easily implement tomorrow.

I’m sorry if that is what you were hoping for. That’s not what this post is about.

This post is about how a simple belief that you can positively effect all students; regardless of age, gender, socioeconomic background or ability, can lead to the most transformative results.

Collective Efficacy

Researchers call this belief “collective efficacy.” It’s the belief that focused efforts of the faculty as a whole will have the most positive effect on student learning.”

I’ve seen the power of this shared belief first hand. I’ve watched students from the poorest neighborhood in San Diego; an area deemed so dangerous that the SWAT team used to monitor lunchtime play, graduate 100% of their students, with 100% attending a four year college. I’ve watched a school that buses students in from the inner- city to a campus over 45 miles away have more of its students pursue STEM majors than any other school in California.

Every teacher in these schools believed they could make a difference. When a student performed poorly, they saw it less as a failure or setback, and more as an opportunity for growth. Every teacher in these schools believed in the competence of their colleagues. They viewed student progress and achievement from a collective mindset. If one math teacher had experienced great success with a new technique, the math teacher next door wanted to know about it.

Bandura, the leading researcher on collective efficacy contends that this belief isn’t going away any time soon. He concludes that once a school possesses this collective belief, and has observed its transformative effect first hand, it's very hard to lose it.

How to get more of it

So how do we increase collective efficacy if we don’t already have it?

What if we are employees of a school that doesn’t share a collective belief in student progress and growth?

What if we are part of a school with an insidious culture of low expectations and negative self- belief?

What if our staff room chat more closely resembles a scene from the ‘Office’ than one between highly professional and confident teaching professionals?

Here’s how.

The list is compiled into the top four, based off extensive research conducted by experts in the field.

1. Share Success Stories: Bandura calls these “vicarious experiences.” They represent an opportunity for colleagues to share moments of triumph and success. The impact these stories have on the culture of the school are profound. Imagine if instead of walking in to a staff meeting with a five point agenda and objectives strewn across the board, you walked in to a sign that read, “let’s celebrate our success.” The meeting then began with the facilitator or school leader retelling specific instances of greatness he saw in the staff that week. Regardless of how deflated you felt regarding the poor performance of your own students, you couldn’t help but be swept away with the belief that things can and will change.

2.Engross yourself (or staff) in continual Professional Development: Find a school similar to yours to model yourself after. Where are the schools with similar demographics, percentage of english language learners, urban or non- urban setting? And which of these similar schools are experiencing the greatest success? Chances are great that this success is replicable. A visit or conversation with a teacher at one of these schools will provide you a fresh outlook while helping you look at your own situation more objectively. You also might want to attend talks or workshops to provide you with a more in- depth understanding of strategies you might employ.

3. Change your affective state: How does your school typically respond to failure or setbacks? Is it often with a pessimistic, “I knew that was going to happen” attitude, or with a more optimistic, “Ok, so we aren’t there yet” outlook. Schools with the greatest collective efficacy have built in safety nets for staff members needing additional support. They are able to move forward with a “fire first” mentality. Teachers are encouraged to take risks and are celebrated irregardless of the results.

4. Pursue shared goals: What’s your #1 goal for students at your school? Is the #1 goal that they all attend college, or is it the #1 goal that they all make a noticeable community impact. Defining clear and concrete goals will allow your school to more quickly reach mastery of those goals. As you approach mastery, your staff will naturally see the growth you have achieved.

In Closing

If you have made it this far, you have already demonstrated the #1 predictor of success for your school; a willingness to grow. I applaud you. Remember, wherever you are at in the journey to collective efficacy, you (and your school) are exactly where you need to be. Collective efficacy is not based upon an out of reach skill set that you will never possess, but rather in the capacity and skills you already have. Share stories of success more than you do stories of failure; treat failure with a “ok, so we aren’t there” outlook; engross yourself in continual professional development by visiting other schools and attending workshops; and finally, connect with other staff members who share similar goals. I look forward to hearing about your success!

Kyle Wagner is a school transformation and project- based learning coach who helps school leaders improve culture and student learning through innovative programs and teaming structures. Learn more at or by sending him an e-mail at

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Kyle Wagner
School Transformation and Project- Based Learning Coach

I coach school leaders on how to lead change and improve student learning through simple, innovative srategies and teaming structures.

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