Building Collective Efficacy: How School Leadership Supports Ninth-Grade Teams in Implementing a Developmentally Responsive High School Transition.

Maginnis, Erik, Administration and Supervision - Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Dexter, Sara

The transition from eighth to ninth grade is a challenging academic, social, and developmental time for the students involved. The literature addressing this transition has shown that both academic performance (Alspaugh, 1998) and academic interest (Dotterer et al., 2009) can decline during this period, which can lead to long-term negative effects both academically (Smith, 2006) and emotionally (Isakson & Jarvis, 1999; Newman et al., 2007). This study proposes that students are supported in this transition through the implementation of a developmentally responsive transition which addresses the psychological needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness identified as crucial in self-determination theory (Ryan & Deci, 2000). In turn, secondary school leaders have a responsibility to build the collective efficacy of their ninth-grade teaching staff to implement these transitions and to tend to these pressing student needs. As a construct, collective teacher efficacy has been shown to improve student performance regardless of previous achievement or demographic characteristics of the student body (Goddard, 2001), as well as to improve teacher retention (Skaalvik &Skaalvik, 2007), stress (Klassen, 2010), and self-efficacy (Goddard & Goddard, 2001). Fostering this efficacy can yield hugely positive results for both students and faculty.
In this capstone project, I researched the ways in which school leaders understand developmentally responsive transitions for students and the ways in which leaders support their implementation. In addition, I studied leadership practices that best support collective teacher efficacy aimed towards the transitional experience for students. The conceptual framework for the study hypothesizes that by tending to the leadership domains of “setting directions” and “developing people” (Leithwood & Louis, 2012), a school leader can enable the four sources of collective teacher efficacy: mastery experiences, vicarious experiences, affective state, and social persuasion. In turn, the framework posits that by enabling those sources, the faculty will be positioned to implement a developmentally responsive transition and tend to the student need for competence, autonomy, and relatedness; that successful implementation then recursively fosters a stronger sense of collective efficacy.
This study was conducted at three private Catholic high schools in the mid-Atlantic region. Each school had similar enrollment and demographic construction. Data was collected between September and December of 2019. The study was a mixed-methods design: qualitative data were collected in the form of semi-structured leader interviews, document analysis, and teacher focus group interviews; quantitative data were collected in the form of teacher collective efficacy surveys. These data were then analyzed through the lens of the elements of the conceptual framework.
Findings from this study showed that the leaders at each secondary school in this study were well aware of the transitional difficulties for ninth-grade students. Each leader worked to create an environment of support and growth for students during the transition, and each leader supported faculty to implement a developmentally responsive transition in a number of different ways. In turn, each leader strove to foster teacher collective efficacy through the ways in which they supported the faculty tasked with implementing these transitions, with a focus on collaboration, teacher leadership, and transformational leadership.

EDD (Doctor of Education)
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