Collective Teacher Efficacy and High School Reorganization as Small Learning Communities: An Action Research Project in Southwestern Colorado
Lashinsky, Diane DiSante
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As a high school principal, I have been immersed in seeking effective ways to create school conditions in which teachers can perform their best instructional work with students. Small learning community (SLC) environments are a high school design model with which I have over ten years experience in both theory and practice. Of particular interest to me has been the role of teachers related to a successful school change process, more specifically during the reorganization of a comprehensive high school into SLCs. This capstone project began in Washington State in 2005, and then transitioned to a new school in a new state in 2007 when I moved to Colorado. Through my study, I developed a conceptual framework that suggests a relationship between cognitive psychology and the experiences of teachers within changing school conditions. As a leader, I wanted to learn more about how to inspire teachers to work together and develop the highest level of collective efficacy that potentially would translate into deeper student learning and increased achievement. In 2007, I accepted a new position as Principal at a Colorado high school that was beginning to explore SLCs as a school design. I asked the questions: 1. In what ways, if any, does the collective efficacy of teachers change as my high school undergoes organizational change towards smaller learning communities and more personalized learning environments? ¬¬¬ 2. How might high school organizational factors, associated with the transition to small learning communities, associate with the perceived efficacy of teachers? These factors include, but are not limited to, shared school goals; school improvement priorities, teacher inclusion in decision-making and decision-making processes; and principal practices that build teacher leadership capacity. My capstone project evolved into a three-part inquiry process. First, was the measuring of collective teacher efficacy and documenting the changes that were happening in Alpine View High School (AVHS) as part of converting to small learning communities. In hindsight, this was the more rudimentary part of my work, yet provided important foundation for deeper and more complex learning. Next came deeper clarity and understanding as I worked with my findings, expanded on them, and made meaning of what the "data" suggested. This struggle proved to be the most important aspect of my capstone as a "leader for learning". Lastly, has been the reflective process as I revised my understanding of school leadership, adult learning, and the complex conditions that need to be considered during a significant school change process. Through my capstone learning, I enlarged my conceptual framework to include the critical role of school leadership within the context of teacher efficacy and successful high school change. Two important bodies of research guided my capstone inquiry. The first addresses high school reorganization to small learning communities as an effective mechanism to improve student achievement. In addition to using broader scholarship studies, the specific planning and implementation of changes at AVHS were guided by recommendations found within two significant research meta-analyses (Cotton, 2001 and Oxley, 2008). The second body of research addresses teacher efficacy as an important factor in school effectiveness, with particular focus on collective group efficacy. A quantitative research instrument for measuring collective teacher efficacy (Goddard, 2002) was used to describe this important construct for my study. In addition, qualitative data from staff survey and teacher leader interviews was gathered. Themes were mined that further connected leadership behaviors and school conditions, as described in the literature, which associate with collective teacher efficacy. Primary Findings of my capstone include: A) Collective efficacy did not seem to change over three years as my high school moved through the process of reorganization to small learning communities. If anything, it declined slightly. B) Quantitative measuring of a complex construct, such as collective teacher efficacy, may be too simplistic to understand high school reorganization as an authentic and real-time practice inquiry - especially if my goal is to learn as a leader. School change is affected by both internal and external factors, both of which must be considered as part of the strategic path. In short, complex measures are needed to understand complex issues. C) School leadership matters. My capstone inquiry, findings, and subsequent reflection underscore the importance of principal leadership in a high school. Of particular importance is my increased awareness and understanding regarding the human and symbolic frames of leadership in school change (Bolman and Deal, 1998) and the specific needs of teachers during significant school change processes (Ross, 2004). In addition, this capstone study and reflections on my work will influence my professional practice and future directions in school leadership. My learning includes but is not limited to the following: A) Leadership for school change benefits from using a specific conceptual framework, in which overlapping parts integrate together. My proposed conceptual framework is described in the final chapter of this capstone study. B) Collective teacher efficacy is a critical factor in predicting and planning for effective teacher collaboration, sustainable school improvement, and increased student achievement. Principal efficacy is also important and a topic for future further study. C) Transformational leadership behaviors are intricately tied to developing collective teacher efficacy. To foster collective teacher efficacy, principal leadership must include opportunities and strategic actions for 1) shared school goals; 2) shared decision-making; 3) improvement plans with goals that match teachers' perceptions of needs; and 4) empowering others as leaders. (Ross, 2006). D) The importance of gathering qualitative longitudinal data as part of a plan for continuous school improvement is forever etched in my leadership toolbox.
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