Link between school staff cohesion and student outcomes

It seems that teachers still don’t truly understand the benefits of working together to build the capacity of students.
Building cohesion

In recent years we have heard a lot about 'Collective Efficacy' in schools. The truth is, if you are an educator, school leader or work in schools you hear lots of education “buzz” words, some stick around and some come and go.

Wading through what you should lean into and what you could let pass can sometimes be hit or miss. So, it did not surprise me recently when I asked a group of senior leaders in one of the country’s largest schools whether they knew what the highest drivers of student outcomes were and 'Collective Efficacy' did not make their list.

Despite there being plenty of peer reviewed research, articles and evidence by industry experts and even educators themselves, it seems that teachers still don’t truly understand the benefits of working together to build the capacity of students.

The work we do with schools every day unpacks collective efficacy and what it truly takes for a team of teachers to be 'on the same page' at school. In our in-school research with partner schools over the past five years, we discovered that even the schools who do take the time to use collective language, collaborate, and plan together aren’t always getting the outcomes they would expect.

When we dig a little deeper, we discover that despite teachers and school leaders wanting the best for students they engage with, their relationships with each other are often hindering next level growth.

When teachers truly understand that their relationships and the way they work together could be hindering students from being the best they can be we begin to see even greater outcomes for not only team members but also students.

High performance characteristics for school teams are the same as they are for businesses:

  • High levels of professional trust
  • A feedback culture
  • Ability to effectively collaborate
  • Embracing inclusion and diversity
  • A clear purpose and direction
  • Approaching challenges and opportunities
  • Collective efficacy and interdependence

The truth is no team can build high performance characteristics without first building cohesion. This means school leaders and educators need to continually reflect about how they are functioning as a team and how they could improve.

School teams who develop a common understanding of what “being a team” means, how they can accelerate cohesion and how they can set expectations across the school will see greater benefits for teachers and students.

These high performing teams tend to make higher quality decisions and accomplish more in less time.

They also look at ways to build professional trust, understand each other’s conflict styles and establish plans to build commitment, accountability and results.

They understand that teams can be untidy, unpredictable, dynamic and everchanging and that doing work on “building team” can be all together messy.

They are however, also the trail blazers in education, recognising that team cohesion does not just happen, but it is a strategic choice and that this choice determines the impact that each individual (as part of the broader group) can make on students in classrooms.

Rochelle Borton is founder and Managing Director of EduInfluencers, an organisation that provides professional learning programs, workshops, coaching and consultancy to schools in Australia.

Image by Igor Starkov