Committee for Children Blog

How Do We Set Collective Teacher Efficacy in Motion?

This post was written by guest bloggers Doug Fisher, PhD, and Nancy Frey, PhD, authors of All Learning Is Social and Emotional and professors of educational leadership at San Diego State University.

I was about to change the channel. Another COVID-19 story was too much for me that day. While it’s important to be informed, our collective mental health requires that we limit the focus on negatives and find humor and joy in life. But the teaser caught my attention: Nurses were leaving their communities to travel to New York and help at overcrowded hospitals there. The first two nurses were a couple, traveling by car across the country and recording their journey. The second was a man who left his wife and two young children to help where it was needed most. In an interview, this second nurse reported feeling overwhelmed and ineffective when he arrived in New York. For two weeks, nothing seemed to go right. People were getting sicker and sicker; many were dying. His self-efficacy—the feeling that he could make a difference—was compromised. There was no sense of collective at the hospital, just sorrow and loss and a sense of helplessness. 

Then something changed. A very ill patient started to recover and was transferred out of the ICU. In relaying this experience, the nurse said something to the effect of: “Things changed that day. We realized we could make a difference. Shifts seemed shorter and teams had a new sense of confidence. I was able to go home knowing that, someday, my kids would understand why I left to take care of other people. I wanted them to see me as a person who did what he could.”

Making a Difference

If you’re reading this post, you’re probably not a health care worker. You’re probably an educator. The title of this post is about collective teacher efficacy. As you read the story of the nurse, did you get a sense of the power of the collective? Did you see the social and emotional impact of the collective experience? As in so many situations, our social and emotional well-being is bolstered when we work with others and see the impact of our efforts. For this nurse, his work was the same before and after treating the patient who recovered. But his work was perceived differently after that patient because his team finally saw the positive impact of their efforts.

Isn’t that why we joined the teaching profession? To have a positive impact? None of us can do everything for every student, but together we can meet a lot of needs. Collective efficacy makes workplaces healthier and a sense of pride of accomplishment grow. Schools or teams with strong collective efficacy believe in their power to change lives and have systems in place to do so. These teams look for evidence of their impact. To paraphrase author and educator John Hattie: Evidence of impact is the fuel of collective efficacy. It certainly was for the nurse on the news, and it is for all of us in the classroom, as well.

Finding Common Ground

Collective efficacy begins with a shared goal. There’s no point in coming together if we don’t have something we need to accomplish together. An agreed-upon goal, or “common challenge,” can serve to align team members who can then allocate resources toward accomplishing that goal. Without a goal or common challenge, teams flounder and collective efficacy is diminished. How many times have you gone to a meeting and wondered why you were there, and what the other people there hoped to accomplish? In those instances, the lack of a clearly defined common challenge did not build your collective efficacy.

A common challenge encourages teams to engage in intentional learning. It encourages them to share ideas and resources, seek feedback, and monitor and adjust. When they do these things and move closer to their goal, they learn to attribute the success to the group. That’s when collective efficacy grows and when individuals feel good about their organization.

Social-Emotional Skills Can Help

Social-emotional skills play a significant role in team success. For collective efficacy to be created and maintained, the individuals who make up a team need to have strong social skills and relationships. Team members need to trust one another, and they need to establish effective systems for communicating. Each team member should ask themself: Would I trust me? Am I trustworthy? Team members should also recognize that effective communication includes taking turns, sharing ideas, asking clarifying questions, and more.

In essence, self-efficacy and collective efficacy build upon one another. Both types of efficacy require strong social-emotional skills.

Building those social-emotional skills takes time and energy. It would be an understatement to say that our ability to tap into these already scarce resources has diminished during the COVID-19 pandemic. The physical distancing of teachers from each other and from their students makes the relationship building required for collective efficacy even more challenging. But the importance of these social-emotional connections—and how intertwined they are with our sense of impact and achievement—has never been more evident.

When students return to schools, a new common challenge will emerge: to re-create a safe and empowering learning environment. Let’s take this challenge on together.


Committee for Children is collaborating with Dr. Fisher and Dr. Frey to develop a new social-emotional professional learning program for K–12 educators. Learn more at SecondStep.org/SELA.