Quality Implementation: Leveraging Collective Efficacy to Make “What Works” Actually Work


Jenni Donohoo & Steven Katz

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    Ray Navarro, a California fire chief, and his fellow firefighters always shared a strong conviction that they could succeed, despite all other circumstances. Navarro described how this worked to their advantage during a particular rescue that he and his team will never forget. It was a nearly impossible situation they encountered on January 12, 2012, when they were called to the scene of an accident on Highway 101 in Buellton, California. Kelli Groves, a second-grade teacher, and her two daughters were in a horrific automobile crash. The BMW that Kelli was driving was so badly crushed, it was barely recognizable.

    Kelli was traveling to San Francisco with her ten-week-old daughter in a rear car seat and her ten-year-old daughter in the backseat next to her infant sister when a semitruck ran over the car, damaging it so badly, it seemed impossible that anyone could have survived. In our interview with Ray Navarro, he described how the firefighting team put their training and practice to use as the team got into “operational mode.” Below, Ray described how the team stayed focused, relied on their training, and worked interdependently during the two-hour rescue operation.

    “I recall when arriving on the incident and scene, we had three different things that were going on at the time. We had a semitruck that had demolished Kelli’s BMW. The semitruck went over the highway where there was a gap between two bridges, fell one hundred feet, and exploded into flames. Unfortunately, the driver had perished. Hazardous materials had spilled from the truck, and we have this car dangling off a bridge by a tire with people inside. Kelli could feel the heat from the flames coming up the cavern between the two bridges and informed us her daughters were in the backseat. We were also dealing with a traffic jam and a road closure on a major freeway.

    “With that,” Ray continued, “arriving on the scene, the acting captain made a call for more help. He asked for more resources because originally the call had been sent out as a single engine call. We knew we had to access additional resources and then use them to the best advantage. In other words, we placed people in positions where they needed to be.

    “It was my responsibility to develop teams: a cutting team, a stabilizing team, a paramedic team, and another team to stand by because we still had a fire underneath us and the BMW had gasoline in it, so we also needed a rescue team with extinguishment. From the team aspect, we looked at this and said we have to divide ourselves up to get the job done. Our emphasis to Kelli was ‘We’re going to get all of you out. It’s going to take a while but we’re going to do this.’ As a team, we didn’t have to say what our job was, we just did it, and that came as the result of practice and training” (R. Navarro, interview, October 18, 2017).

    Ray noted that as the firefighters were reassuring Kelli, they were getting no response from her children. He continued to describe what they did next. “We needed to steady the vehicle, so we got a rope and used a tow truck as an anchor in an attempt to stabilize Kelli’s car. I remember looking at one of our firefighters whose only job was to watch the rope. I saw him kneeling with a constant eye on the rope. If we lost any tension, he would call out to us. It might have seemed like an unimportant job, just kneeling there, but it was one of the most integral parts of teamwork. We had men on top of that BMW and if the rope slackened, their safety was in jeopardy” (R. Navarro, interview, 2017).

    Kelli’s oldest daughter was enveloped in the car with metal all around her. Ray and his team had to peel the pieces of metal off of her in order to get to her; they could hear her moaning from her injuries. Ray noted that “we just went to work. Kelli and her children became part of our team, and we reassured her of that telling her ‘we’re not going to let anyone go!’ When you make it personal to yourself, you leave no one behind” (R. Navarro, interview, 2017). Ray noted that Kelli and her daughters were what made their rescue team relevant and that they weren’t going to fail because if they failed Kelli and her girls, they failed themselves.

    In what Ray described as a “divine moment,” the team was approached by drivers of a military truck with an arm-like crane. The truck had broken down only moments before the accident happened. The crane was able to provide the stability needed to free Kelli and her daughters from the wreck. Ray reflected on the significance of this. He noted, “Others, who belonged to a different discipline—these were naval guys—had the tool we needed, and their instinct was to help” (R. Navarro, interview, 2017). With the help of the extended team, Kelli and her daughters were freed from the wreck and airlifted to a hospital in Santa Barbara. They all fully recovered from their injuries.

    Ray shared with us a final thought from his team’s successful experience in what he referred to as “The Bridge Incident.” He said that there was an urgency to reopen the highway but that in the midst of everything, the team needed to pause. Ray asked for ten minutes, gathered the team in a circle, and acknowledged the incredible job that everyone did in saving three lives. He said that after the wave of emotion that was going to take over, he knew the team would need to debrief so that they would have a better understanding of what took place.

    The Bridge Incident is an example of how confidence in the power of the collective helps teams overcome extraordinary obstacles. When recounting the events, Ray noted, “It was never our focus that we couldn’t do this. It was our watch, as a team, we knew we could do what it would take to keep Kelli and her daughters safe” (R. Navarro, interview, 2017). Key elements of the teams’ success included that they were well trained in the best practices required to get the job done, they were able to execute these practices in response to the task they faced, and they adjusted their strategies accordingly. The team was coordinated and relied on each other in jointly interdependent ways. Most importantly, they shared the belief that they could succeed. This example shows the power of collective efficacy—the belief that a team can accomplish its goals despite difficult circumstances.

    This book is about the power of collective efficacy in schools. Collective efficacy refers to educators’ shared beliefs that through their combined efforts they can positively influence student outcomes, including outcomes for those who are disengaged, unmotivated, and/or disadvantaged. Collective efficacy is a significant belief system for improving student outcomes. When educators share the belief that they can influence student achievement, regardless of some of the difficult circumstances faced in schools today, the results can be very powerful. In fact, research shows that collective efficacy matters more in relation to increasing student achievement than the neighborhoods where students come from and their level of household income (Donohoo, Hattie, & Eells, 2018). That is not to say that demographic characteristics are irrelevant—they are relevant! These things matter; however, what educator teams do to create a better environment for student learning has a clear, measurable, and greater impact on student achievement than do demographic variables. This book is about the power of educator teams in overcoming challenges and obstacles. It is about the important contributions that educators make to students’ lives over and above the impact of students’ homes and communities.

    Collective efficacy influences student achievement because greater efficacy drives behaviors that are instrumental to quality implementation. Quality implementation is a process through which evidence-based promises of improvement-oriented interventions get realized in practice. In the first half of this book, readers will find examples of how educators’ beliefs affect thought patterns in ways that either support or hinder quality implementation. Using examples from both inside and outside of education, readers will learn how an established sense of collective efficacy helps teams figure out ways to make what’s supposed to work actually work given their unique environments. Efficacious teams find ways to exercise control over the challenges that surround them. They also exert greater effort and muster up the strength, motivation, and resolve needed in order to meet challenging goals (as evidenced in The Bridge Incident). Conversely, teams who lack collective efficacy become preoccupied by constraints, show significant reduction in the goals they set, and lower their efforts. Readers will find examples of how the consequences of a reduced sense of collective efficacy impede quality implementation in schools.

    In the second half of this book, we identify factors that influence a team’s interpretation of their effectiveness and outline what educator teams can do to strengthen efficacy-shaping sources. Since successful performance accomplishments are the most significant source of collective efficacy, we share key features of mastery experiences and discuss what teams can focus on in order to create mastery environments. We also examine ways to strengthen vicarious experiences through observational learning. In the final chapter, we discuss two additional sources of collective efficacy, social persuasion and affective states, and consider how teams could use theories of persuasion in order to capitalize on persuasion as an efficacy-enhancing source. Each chapter finishes with a section headed “Time for Reflection,” which presents a number of questions relating to the main ideas in the chapter. These questions are designed to help readers reflect on and mobilize the content in each chapter in a personal way.

    We conclude by encouraging readers to examine the conceptual framework (see Figure 1) we developed. This conceptual framework maps the ideas and relationships among the concepts contained in this book. A key finding from cognitive science is that in order to develop competence in an area of inquiry, learners must understand facts and ideas in the context of a conceptual framework (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000). Our aim is to help educators realize quality implementation by directly utilizing the knowledge gained from reading this book. Therefore, the conceptual framework is offered as a strategy to encourage transfer.

    School improvement depends upon the collective belief that the teaching faculty has what it takes to improve student achievement. If we want to realize the promise of improvement-oriented interventions, one of the most important things we can do is equip teacher teams with the confidence that they have what it takes to improve outcomes for students. The purpose of this book is to help teams achieve quality implementation of evidence-based practices by fostering a sense of collective efficacy. When efficacy is firmly established, educators go outside their comfort zones; use focused, goal-driven activity to improve an area of weakness; and make changes based on feedback received. Theory and practice are brought together in a way that is mediated by context. The result of quality implementation is innovative and lasting change that becomes accepted practice and produces positive outcomes.

    About the Authors

    Image 1

    Jenni Donohoo is the director of Praxis-Engaging Ideas, Inc. and a project manager for the Council of Ontario Directors of Education (CODE). Jenni has a PhD in educational studies and supervisory officer qualifications. Jenni is a former classroom teacher and currently works with systems, school leaders, and teachers around the world to support high-quality professional learning. She has authored many peer-reviewed publications and three best-selling books: Collaborative Inquiry for Educators, The Transformative Power of Collaborative Inquiry (with Moses Velasco), and Collective Efficacy: How Educators’ Beliefs Impact Student Learning. Jenni’s areas of expertise include collective efficacy, metacognition, adolescent literacy, and facilitating collaborative learning structures.

    Steven Katz is the director of Aporia Consulting Ltd. and a faculty member in Applied Psychology and Human Development at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE, UT), where he teaches in the Child Study and Education graduate program. He is the recipient of the OISE, UT-wide award for teaching excellence. Steven has a PhD in human development and applied psychology, with specialization in applied cognitive science. His areas of expertise include cognition and learning, teacher education, networked learning communities, leading professional learning, and evidence-informed decision making for school improvement. He has received the Governor General’s Medal for excellence in his field and has been involved in research and evaluation, professional development, and consulting with a host of educational organizations around the world. He is the author of several best-selling books, including Leading Schools in a Data-Rich World; Building and Connecting Learning Communities; Intentional Interruption; and The Intelligent, Responsive Leader.

    Figure 1 Conceptual Framework—Quality Implementation: Leveraging Collective Efficacy to Make “What Works” Actually Work

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