Psychoacoustics of learning environments: A people-centred approach to noise

file_000-4As I write, it’s a rainy day. Our small apartment is on the top level of the building, located on a semi-busy road. Not a highway nor a freeway, more of a connection between suburbs. I’m quite used to the steady stream of traffic noise  and today, as it’s raining, so there is the added wet-road swoosh accompanying the sound of the cars and buses. I can work with this ambient sound. Some would probably call it noisy, and find it unproductive, but I am now used to this environment. My focus is occasionally broken by an inconsistent sound, a transient noise: a motorcycle, construction work or siren. My mind works out each of these almost subconsciously, they’re just a ‘blip’ to my work. It’s only the fairly unusual sounds that make we stop and think, “That’s a helicopter”.

Sound is an important consideration in the workplace and learning environment. This week I shared an article on LinkedIn that seemed to touch a nerve: How does noise affect productivity in the office? It had around 1700 views and more comments and likes that any other post I can recall recently. Noise is a sensitive and a personal subject.

From reading the white paper linked to this article (ref below), I began to understand the realm of noise vs sound, noise sensitivity, productivity and concentration. It is so much more than measuring decibels and meeting approved standards to achieve a productive working or learning environment. An individual’s response to noise is subjective, and the report explores how considering psychoacoustics can help designers to take into account the human elements – personalities, working styles and preferences – when designing the appropriate acoustic working environment. The report says that noise is the most significant cause of dissatisfaction in the workplace, leading to loss of productivity.

“The better we can understand the individual and take a human approach, from that perspective, the better environment we can create.”
Paige Hodsman, Saint-Gobain Ecophon. (

Obviously, as I was reading, my mind was making links to the innovative learning environment. The activity-based workplace is a helpful comparison to the innovative learning environment. Activity-based work enables choice – where to work, who to work with – depending on the nature of the task. This working environment is designed with a range of affordances, such as meeting rooms, focus rooms and quiet zones. Innovative learning environments, which some seem to consider to be large noisy open barns, can also be designed and zoned for the different kinds of work that engages the learner. Sound, and its unwanted sibling, noise, are pertinent considerations in the design of  learning environments.

“Let’s stop this madness of open plan classrooms right now, please.” said  Julian Treasure in his TED Talk  Why architects need to use their ears.

It doesn’t need to be an either/or argument. Either we have walls up and quiet classrooms, or we have no walls and sheer bedlam. Utilising the knowledge we have now, there can be a both/and solution for schools. We can have open, shared and collaborative spaces, and also allow for the noise sensitivity, the psychoacoustics need to be addressed in school.

I found this paper fascinating and will share more insight into psychoacoustics and potential considerations for schools.


Ref: Oseland, N. &  Hodsman, P (2015) Planning for Psychoacoustics: A Psychological Approach to Resolving Office Noise Distraction Prepared for: Saint-Gobain Ecophon


Growing a professional learning community in your school: ONE thing that you need first.

Effective and lasting change in schools, or any organisation for that matter, is a result of a strategic process, designed to meet the needs of the school, rather than ‘sending a couple of teachers off to a workshop’. When I first started at SCIL we decided to run workshops on a variety of educational topics, such as ‘Learning Matrix ’ or ‘Web 2.0 Tools for the Classroom’. These were often presented to a disparate group of educators sent along to learn some skills for their own classroom and tick a few accreditation boxes along the way. Something started to feel not quite right with this ‘lone ranger’ methodology.

We instinctively knew that for effective pedagogical change, we needed to encourage teams to come, to participate in a facilitated process. This was a catalyst for Design/Engage. We believed that effective professional learning, leading to change in mindset and practice, could really only happen through a learning community.

“The most promising strategy for sustained, substantive school improvement is the developing ability of school personnel to function as a professional learning community.” (DuFour & Eaker, 1998)img_8242.jpg

Professional: expertise, knowledge and experience in a particular field

Learning: ongoing and fed by curiosity

Community : characterised by mutual cooperation, emotional support and personal growth, working together toward shared goal

For effective professional learning in community, there is one key characteristic that needs to be in place,

“It is evident that among faculty members looking to improve their schools as professional learning communities, a commitment to trust is frequently regarded as an important pre-condition.” (Cranston, 2011,p. 61).  

What type of trust?

Bryk and Schneider (2002) described trust as the basis for developing social capital, and identify three types:

Organic Trust is based on the moral character and designated authority of leadership and is given unconditionally. This kind of trust has often been seen in faith-based environments, clergy and lay-leaders, had almost unquestioned trust. Yet, this basis has been somewhat eroded today, as we frequently see tragic cases of abuse of such trust. 

Contractual Trust is transactional. Basic actions and outcomes are agreed upon, in accordance with stated terms. In this era of high-stakes testing and parent expectations and government agendas, it is a fear that education could be translated to these terms.

Relational Trust, John Dewey observed that a good school is more like a [functional]  family than a factory (Bryk and Schneider, 2002). Relational trust forms the basis of the ‘family’ interactions. Despite personality differences and clashes, there is a bedrock of connection that enables relationships to be maintained. 

Relational trust is the foundation of the effective professional learning community, and essential for effective and lasting change.

On a personal note, I firmly believe that in the 21stC faith-based schools and communities need to be built on the notion of ‘relational trust’. One that is evident in a leader’s ongoing trustworthiness, rather than on the basis of moral authority alone.


Bryk & Schneider (2002) Trust in Schools: A core resource for improvement
Ch2: Relational Trust
DuFour & Eaker (1998) Professional learning communities at work: Best practices for enhancing student achievement: Best practice for enhancing student achievement

School Education: A both/and solution? Standards & accountability AND joy & creativity

I’m a big picture, solutions-focused kind of person. I love solving problems and making things better. As a result, my biggest stressor is when I can’t see a way through. I’ve just listened to a podcast: Why school teacher Gabbie Stroud loved and left her career. Then I read her piece in the Griffith Review, Fixing the system. And then I wanted to sit down and have a good cry.

My husband and I listened to the 50 minute podcast on a 40 minute journey home from visiting my father on a Sunday afternoon, at one point I said, “take the long way, we need to hear this to the end.” Gabbie painted a picture of a loving teacher, investing deeply into her students, but she finally left the profession due to the pressures of testing, data-gathering and standards. She writes,

How did I get here?

I was burnt out because successive Australian governments – both left and right – have locked Australian education into the original model of schooling first established during the industrial revolution. Each decision made keeps us stuck in an archaic learn-to-work model, now complete with ongoing mandatory assessment of our student’s likely productivity and economic potential.

Fundamental to this model is the idea of standardising.

Standards, standardising and standardisation.

Making every kid the same.

Making every teacher the same.

If I was successful in my job, that’s what would happen.

Based on that, I don’t want the job any more. (Griffith Review 51)

As Gabbie spoke of the excitement of pre-service teachers desperate to start with their own class, I remembered the feeling. As she talked of small children competing for your attention and hanging off every word, I also recalled the joy of investing into these young lives.

But I left the coal-face before standardised testing became the behemoth, along with its associated pressures. So when I read that “the latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics suggest 53 per cent of people who hold a teaching degree do not currently work in education” (Here), I despaired. When the NSW Education linked student progression to the HSC (final Year 12 exams) to their achievement in the Year 9 NAPLAN (national standarised tests) I despaired again. (Here)

I understand accountability. I understand benchmarking. I understand that governments have fiscal responsibilities to ensure that funds are spent in such a way that our nation will progress and measurement mechanisms are the pragmatic response to this.

But is this at the cost of sucking the joy out of teaching and learning? Great teachers teach, not ‘facilitate’ – they know their students, they have knowledge, they can adapt their pedagogy to bring out the gold, and they enjoy what they do. On Australian 60 Minutes last weekend disruptive principal, Peter Hutton, from Templestowe HS in Melbourne was asked by the reporter about the kinds of students they produce at his school, Peter replied, “We’re not a factory, we don’t ‘produce’ students.”

I would love to find a both/and solution. Pendulum swings and bandwagons have dominated the sector for too long. Standards, effective teaching measures and achieving outcomes matter, but not at the cost of relationships, creativity and joy. Will the current students have the memory of that amazing teacher that sparked something, who instilled the lifelong joy of learning?

Hope so.





It’s time to rethink pre-service and early career teachers… We want them to stay!

In the second week of the new school year in Australia the Grattan Institute, an independent think tank, released the report Engaging Students – Creating classrooms that improve learning. It is important to consider the holistic environment that promotes learning and engagement in students. Student behaviour and the choices that they make are critical to the overall success of the students’ experiences at school.

“Any parent knows that the best intentions can disappear under pressure – yet we expect teachers to get it right every day” (p.8)

This report seeks to affirm teachers in their role, recognising the difficulties faced in the classroom and makes recommendations at the school level and government/system level.

Much of my reading and thinking is around the physical environment and engaging learning for students, but the management of behaviour is a dynamic that can’t be ignored. It is another one of those under-the-surface-of-the-iceberg elements. Innovative learning environments, passionate teachers and creative content is insufficient unless the cultural and social norms of the learning community are known and shared.

The Grattan Institute report outlines some startling statistics about the impact of disengagement on learning. The disengaged students at the heart of the report are not those displaying overtly aggressive behaviour, but are disruptive and passively disengaged. It states that unproductive students are, on average, two years behind peers in literacy and numeracy, while passively disengaged students do just as poorly as disruptive students.

Attitudes and mindsets of teachers are addressed, stating that stressed teachers can get caught in a damaging cycle when student behaviour escalates. Many of us recall teachers decades ago who would yell, humiliate students, they would use sarcasm and even punish the entire class. This type of teacher behaviour benefits no one. I do hope that teachers like this are no longer in the profession.

The experience of the pre-service teacher that is really under the microscope here. In an era when too many young teachers are leaving the profession in the first five years, they identify the ‘number one’ professional development need is managing student behaviour. It seems we are failing them in their initial teacher education and then the quality of induction and mentoring once they commence in the profession.

 While managing student behaviour as a new teacher is one of the greatest stressors, it appears that the time spent on this during initial teacher education is minimal. Quality in-school practicums are essential, learning from exemplar teachers on how they establish routines and parameters in their classes.

What if we took this one step further, that exemplar schools became places for initial teacher education, as it occurs in the UK. Schools could work in partnership with universities, providing a more effective progression from theory to practice. With each innovation and technological shift in the 21st century, the world of students change. Schools are better placed as the incubators for young teachers, providing real-time understanding of the emerging generation at school. Then, once they commence as a fully-fledged teacher, ensure a mentor/support program is in place. 

No ‘sink or swim’ attitudes welcome here.


First things first: Principal as change agent

Before we even begin to think about teacher being a change agent, we first need to ensure the conditions are in place for the principal be an effective agent of change in the school. 

What do teachers think about the change styles of principals? You may be surprised by what they think. The article “The Relationships Between School Principals’ Perceived Change Facilitator Styles and Teachers’ Attitude to Change” (Bagibel, 2014) researched teachers’ attitudes to change and principals’ change facilitator styles. The researchers concluded that the principals’ styles are determine teachers’ attitudes to change to a significant degree. This post graphically represents the findings from the research paper.


Ref: Bagibel, M. et al 2014, The Relationships Between School Principals’ Perceived Change Facilitator Styles and Teachers’ Attitude to Change”, ISEA Vol 42, No. 3

A Leadership Strategy: Ask not what your people can do for you (rather, the other way around)

My part in the research project ILETC is looking at the role of the teacher, adapting and changing mind frames and practices to take the opportunities that the innovative learning environment affords. This cannot happen in a vacuum, it is effective and lasting when change is the result of leadership, clear vision and the collective pursuit toward a shared future.

just-add-techI noticed this picture on twitter recently. We just can’t add technology, or add new furniture and hope for the best. If we believe in enduring change for the good of society, then the iceberg metaphor applies. It’s all the hard work that happens beneath the surface that makes change go the distance. We are in an era of unprecedented change in education, one in which disruption is necessary in education, for a generation unlike those who have gone before. In their report for A Rich Seam, Fullan and Langworthy (2014) outline ‘new pedagogies’:

The ‘new pedagogies’ are not just instructional strategies.They are powerful models of teaching and learning, enabled and accelerated by increasingly pervasive digital tools and resources, taking hold within learning environments that measure and support deep learning at all levels of the education system.”

They explain that a new process of change is required, called “inherent change”, an almost organic process, “built around humankind’s need to… be doing something intrinsically good and… to do it socially”.

This ‘new change leadership’, necessary for these new pedagogies to take hold is not considered to be either top-down or bottom-up, it needs to be,“both and, it is also sideways. Ideas and energy flow vertically and laterally…. The role of leaders is to simultaneously help the organisation ‘let go’ and ‘rein in’”.

The Essential Leadership Model, outlined by by Knuth & Banks (2006) is based on Maslow’s Hierachy. It considers what the teachers need from the leader and outlines “a set of knowledge, skills and dispositions required for meeting those needs”. During the leader’s ascension, toward the apex there are key checkpoints, questions that leaders need to ask themselves for the vision realised. This is my simplified version of Knuth & Banks strategy:

First Level: Your actions match your words
Leaders model core values and principles. You are able to inspire trust and articulate vision. Principle-centred leaders inspire trust by displaying consistency between core values, words and actions.

Leader Checkpoint 3: Is your internal compass in or out of alignment?
If your words and actions don’t match there’s no need to go any further.

Second Level: My physical and material needs matter to you
The work environment is clean and attractive. Sound, air-quality and safety needs are considered. Teachers have the resources they need to do their job well.

Third level: I am appreciated for my contribution
Leaders actively foster a sense of belonging. Encouragement and recognition is personalised. They put a human face on policies and systems.

Checkpoint 2: Is it your priority to ensure the basic needs of your people are met?
Without valuing people, clear systems, policies and training for staff, a leader’s energy is consumed by chaos or disorganisation and probably interpersonal conflict.

Fourth level: We’re on a journey together
As a community we own the vision, good systems are in place and we are able to direct our collective energies to our core mission.

Checkpoint 1: Do you feel like settling?
It’s all humming along nicely now, let’s just enjoy this. The fourth level is considered the ‘false apex’.

The Apex: Higher order change
This is rarely linear, rational or comfortable. It is disruptive, chaotic and tested by ambiguity. Leaders here demonstrate adaptive leadership skills. This is where the disruption happens. Remember: it isn’t actually an end point.




Fullan & Langworthy (2014) – A Rich Seam: How new pedagogies find deep learning
(Ch 6 The New change leadership)
Knuth & Banks (2006) The Essential Leadership Model,  NASSP Bulletin, 1 March 2006, 4-18

Culture & values must relate to everything, even school uniforms. Especially for girls

As students in Australia get ready to head back (or even start) school, many are making sure that they have the right gear, in this part of the work this usually includes the school uniform. In an era that we espouse so-called ‘21st century’ education, characterised by ‘choice, autonomy and flexibility’, the school uniform seems somewhat anachronistic, at least on face-value. There are many deep and broad elements to this discussion, but in this piece, I’m considering it from a perspective based on my experience and observation.

The article in the Sydney Morning Herald (9 Jan) Why do we still make girls wear skirts and dresses as school uniform quoting gender research that dresses and skirts:

screen-shot-2017-01-12-at-2-51-23-pm“restrict movement in real ways; wearers must negotiate how they sit, how they play, and how quickly they move. Skirt-wearing, consciously and unconsciously, imposes considerations of modesty and immodesty, in ways that trousers do not”.


It also goes on to talk about the negative impact of this on girls in being actively engaged in sport.

“A study conducted in one Australian primary school in 2012 found that girls did significantly less exercise over a two-week period when wearing a school dress than they did when wearing shorts.”

I don’t think that abandoning uniforms in Australia is on the horizon, some would even say that it is un-Australian to consider it, nor is cancelling dresses (or tunics, as they are called in Australia) and skirts from the list. It’s about ‘choice, autonomy and flexibility’. School uniforms are seen as important social-levellers and provide affordable options for families to dress their kids for school each day. This isn’t that ‘either/or kind’ of argument, but I will go into that a little later.

As schoolgirl both in primary and high school I was fairly ‘anti-dress’. In my younger years I loved Velvet, the 1960s outdoorsy-kinda-gal in the horsey TV show, National Velvet. In one episode I remember well, Velvet ran home from church and immediately changed out of her dress and into her riding gear. Velvet’s mother despaired that she spent more time in trousers than dresses. This was my story. Whenever I could, I would wear shorts and trousers, however my mother  was intent on me being more of a ‘lady’! (There were tears over this.)

Of course, there are many schools that provide options for girls, trousers and shorts in their uniform. As students get older and desire to follow fashion trends, often the options of the school-style trouser just doesn’t appeal, so the girls just go back to the tunic/skirt and blouse. In addition, some girls will wear a jumper/sweater in summer as the  button-up blouses make them feel uncomfortable. When schools only provide options that seem more 20th century in their thinking, then ‘choice, autonomy and flexibility’ are compromised.

So if a school uniform remains  the Australian Way: How might we…

  • Start thinking differently about the school uniform
  • Create a poliform, providing number of choices
  • Be a bit more on-trend with what we offer to students
  • Have school uniform guidelines that are more agile and flexible
  • Help parents to see that the school uniform rigidly applied does not ‘maketh the man’ nor the woman

I’m sure there are many more ‘what ifs’ in this conversation,  if we put our minds to it. This isn’t a ‘uniforms or no uniforms’ argument, but trying to find some common ground. All I know was that as a school-aged person, I was much freer and able to be myself when I could choose what I wore. As an adult, I’ve worked in an environment of a uniform, and I didn’t like it. Not everybody is like me, there are some who love the idea of not thinking about what they wear. If we truly desire an education system where we are enabling a personal approach to school and life, then our decisions need to match our values and desired culture at every point.

file_000-3I have come to realise, over the years, that wearing a dress is much cooler in summer, but there are some summer days when I will still wear pants or jeans as well. As an adult, I have ‘choice, autonomy and flexibility’.

Now, don’t get me started on ties!


(not expressing the views of my employer)

How schools can ‘Emulate Museums’ for engaging learning? (and it’s not how you might think)


The spatial challenge is to use space dynamically as possible.”
Montgomery (2008)

Four strategies we can learn from museums:

  1. Define the entry and exit experience for students
  2. Create ‘stoppages’ and maintain ‘flow’
  3. Design ‘circulation patterns’
  4. Curate the narrative, deliberately shape the learning experience

file_000-1What are your experiences of a museum as a user? Sometimes we are  captivated, amazed and inspired to learn more after the visit. At other times, from the moment we walked in ‘we knew’, an underwhelming experience awaited.

The concept of space as the ‘third teacher’ came from the Reggio Emilia tradition, when designed deliberately, space can inspire young minds. In 2010 VS Furniture/Cannon Design/Bruce Mau Design/ compiled a collection of ideas, The Third Teacher, encouraging fresh thinking around the context of school and learning. This publication quickly became an inspiration for many educators, with ideas such as: everyone can be a designer, make peace with fidgeting, think hands-on and emulate museums.

#16 Emulate Museums:  An environment rich in evocative objects  – whether it’s a classroom or museum – trigger active learning by letting students pick what to engage with.

In his paper “Space Matters: Experiences of managing static formal learning spaces”, Tim Montgomery (2008) looks the museum as inspiration for places of formal learning, within in the context of universities, but the ideas can equally be relevant to schools. The paper begins with looking at the seminar room, “four walls, desk and chairs”. When thinking about the opportunities inherent in a space, Montgomery cites Chism (2006):

Because we habitually take space arrangements for granted, we often fail to notice the ways in which space constrains or enhances what we intend to accomplish.

What can we learn from museums? The focus here isn’t necessarily the consideration of the artefacts, students displaying museum-quality outputs of their learning, rather the foundational thinking around engaging learners in self-motivating, curated learning experience.

file_000-2On entering a museum, or even prior to the visit, we receive or seek preliminary information, where will we go, what will we see and how should we navigate our way through. “In the museum and the classroom, entering can be disorienting, and yet ignored as not a ‘real part’ of the exhibition/seminar proper” (Montgomery 2008). Consider how important our arrival experience is, at anything we attend, even the classroom space. Often this is the make or the break of a successful event.

The exit is also as a spatial and pedagogical moment, and needs to be planned to finish well. In between, the museum experience itself is carefully curated, deliberately creating the environment to bring the visitors in and engage them.

The strategies of engagement are created through the notions of ‘stoppages’ and ‘flow’. Stoppages as the decision-points, providing choice as their interest takes the visitor, ‘conceptual, unhurried, exhibition pieces’ that capture attention.  Deliberate circulation patterns reinforce the narrative of the curated learning experience, recognising that people people move and learn in different ways – there can be similar flow patterns curated in the classroom.

Space reinforces the narrative. Space management is a question of how the museum guide, or the teacher, through the spatial context enables the learning process by including: paths and subdivisions, enabling choice around the physical process and determining the focus – is it sequential or thematic.

The priority of the museum is the visitor, and at the school, the student.

In spatial terms, it is implied that the student/gallery visitor is primary in the relationship; the teacher/curator’s job is to enable learning”. Montgomery, p.129



The third teacher : 79 ways you can use design to transform teaching & learning. (2010). New York : Abrams

Montgomery (2008) Space Matters: experiences of managing static formal learning spaces. Active Learning in Higher Education, v9 n2 p122-138 2008

Learning to unlearn: Rethinking student success in the 21stC #notNAPLANforYear9

Have you thought about this idea? Those times when you are learning to do something new and your instinct, your embedded knowledge and intuition keeps getting in the way? HBR article: “Why the problem with learning is unlearning?” arrived in my inbox this morning. The author, Mark Bonchek (Chief Epiphany Officer at Shift Thinking), describes his experiences as an American, driving in the UK. I could resonate on the other side as an Australian driving in Europe, “tight right, long left” was my mantra. The more I drove the more my confidence grew as I had almost audible conversations with myself. The purpose was to unlearn and learn simultaneously.

This HBR article is about the new sales environment in a globalised interconnected world. Unlearning is when we choose an alternative paradigm, “Many of the paradigms we learned in school and built our careers on are either incomplete or ineffective”

When Bonchek says ‘school’ in this context he’s probably referring to ‘business school’, however I think there much to learn for K-12 schooling as well. Some points he makes in the unlearning argument, that have relevance for schools:

  • Our thinking is permeated by the mental model of mass communication
  • The world has become many-to-many, but we still operate one-to-many
  • We treat customers as consumers when they want to be co-creators
  • We push messages through channels, even though real engagement increasingly happens through shared experiences

And this one: We move people through a pipeline even though the customer journey is non-linear. Ouch!

In my experiences talking with educators around the world there seems to be a shift toward this pipeline mentality for students. Mass-measurements instruments and common core curriculums represent these singular pipelines. This article comes at a time when many educators in my state (NSW), are aghast at the Minister for Education’s decision to connect Year 9 *NAPLAN Results, under the banner ‘HSC modernisation’. As reported in The Guardian Australia Online (22 Nov 2016): The pressure on kids is absurd, and a new Naplan rule is about to make it worse, by Anne Susskind:

“those who don’t achieve Band 8 in their year nine Naplan (a high level only achieved by about a third of the year’s cohort) will no longer be automatically eligible to sit the **HSC.”

In 2016, this is an example of ‘moving students through a pipeline even though the journey of learning is non-linear’. In my view, this is an unintended purpose of NAPLAN and places undue pressure on early teens. Of course, they aren’t discounted from the HSC entirely at age 14, the test can be retaken. The point is NAPLAN was established as a diagnostic tool, to take a snapshot of our nation’s literacy and numeracy and for schools to identify strengths and areas of growth. I believe this is a retrograde step, for a number of reasons, one being, it reinforces the hierarchy of subjects.

If we return to Bonchek’s article, he states that the process of unlearning has three parts:

First, you have to recognise that the old mental model is no longer relevant and effective

Second, you need to create a new model that can better achieve your goals

Third, you need to ingrain the new mental habits

Our instinct, our embedded knowledge tells us that that the only way to ensure quality students enter university is to test them to ensure a high standard in literacy and numeracy. These mindsets need to be unlearning and new ones learned.

The world has changed significantly from the ‘egg crate’ and one-to-many paradigm. New models of learning and measures of success will better serve our young people in the years to come. Perhaps we can embed alternative mechanisms for recognising student achievement and finding new pathways to their learning futures.


*NAPLAN: National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy

Assessing student literacy and numeracy for students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 in Australian Schools

**HSC – Higher School Certificate – NSW final school year (Year 12) credential


Bonchek, M (2016) “Why the Problem with Learning is Unlearning” Accessed 23 November, 2016

Anne Susskind, “The pressure on kids is absurd, and a new Naplan rule is about to make it worse” The Guardian Australia Online. Accessed 23 November, 2016

Collective Teacher Efficacy: The power of more-than-just one

Sometimes I feel like I’m learning a new language. Beside me as I work I have a thick research methodology book to clarify ‘phenomenology’ and ‘epistemology’. There is also Prof Google to double-check new words I come across, not assuming that I know what ‘extant’ or ‘reflexive’ actually mean, or for looking up new words like ‘polyvalent’ (
effective against, sensitive toward, or counteracting more than one toxin, microorganism, or antigen) and ‘attenuated’ (To reduce in force, value, amount, or degree; weaken; diminish). So when I started reading about ‘collective teacher efficacy’ I wanted to make sure I knew exactly what it meant.

img_3001This weekend I have been exploring the idea moving beyond teacher efficacy, and considering the power of a faculty or team of teachers. Teacher efficacy is the capacity of a teacher to believe they can positively  influence the learning outcomes of their students (Goddard, 1990 -reference below). The crux of the matter, with regard to teacher efficacy, is that the teacher believes that their efforts can make a difference, despite the context, and that they display a dogged determination to see this through for the sake of their students. When I work with teachers I am somewhat bemused when they say to me, “yes, but you don’t know our kids, the homes they come from, the struggles they have”. Teachers can be change agents for their students.

The idea of collective teacher efficacy is powerful and is at the heart of agency and collaboration, asking the question:

What is the combined impact of our team’s efforts on the learning achievement of the students we teach?

Where teacher efficacy refers to the impact of a teacher, collective teacher efficacy views the teachers as a team that due to their shared beliefs, shared values and shared commitment, they can create the conditions for the positive learning outcomes of their students. The hypothesis of Goddard’s study was that collective teacher efficacy is positively associated with the difference between schools with regard to student level of achievement. And he found that collective teacher efficacy was a significant predictor of student achievement in the areas of the study, maths and reading. Collective efficacy, according to Goddard, is evident in:

  • Tasks
  • Level of effort
  • Persistence
  • Shared thoughts
  • Stress levels
  • Achievement of group

For collective teacher efficacy two elements are matter:

Analysis of teaching task

Assessment of teaching competencies.

The former considers the school’s resources and facilities, the instructional materials and abilities of students, and the latter relates to the capacity of the teachers, their content knowledge, teaching skills and expertise. The assessment of teaching competencies also includes, “positive faculty beliefs in the ability of all students to succeed”. I’ll say that again… “beliefs in the ability of all students to succeed” (emphasis mine).

When we talk about innovative learning environments many would regard the idea of teachers’ shared practice as a key to this paradigm. If the egg crate classroom model is the less preferred option, then how teachers work together in these spaces is key. When Goddard wrote this paper in 1990, education had fallen off the open/shared ‘bandwagon’ of the 60s and 70s, but now in the 20-teens we are exploring this again and I wonder about the power of collective teacher efficacy when teachers not only share a faculty, but also share the students they teach, the space they work in and commitment for doing the best for their students.


Collective Teacher Efficacy: Its meaning, measure and impact on student achievement (2000) Goddard, Hoy & Hoy, American Educational Research Journal, Vol 37, No. 2 pp 479-507