Inspire Idaho: The secret to success in Donnelly

They eat lunch together every day. The 10 teachers at Donnelly Elementary surround the rectangular wooden table in the teachers’ lounge for at least 30 minutes — every day — to talk about their students.

They share ideas and offer feedback. They talk about specific kids and their academic and social needs. They vent, plan and celebrate.

The daily time in seclusion is paying off. Standardized test scores are on the rise, attendance is high and discipline incidents are low.

“It makes us more powerful when we eat together,” said Debbie McCoy, a teacher at Donnelly Elementary School. “Instead of dividing educators, we are working together to be the best.”


Eating lunch together is just one feature of a teaching and learning philosophy introduced by superintendent Jim Foudy. To have a positive impact on student achievement, he believes in an approach called “collective efficacy” from the book “Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning” by John Hattie.

With the help of students, teachers and parents the district changed their mission statement in 2014 from “Educating Students for Life” to “Developing Life – Long Learners Today.”

Collective efficacy is the shared belief that “we will do whatever it takes to never marginalize anyone,” Foudy said.


“The best part about that change was removing the word students,” Foudy said. “For the first time, the mission statement applies to all of us.”

When teachers are confident in their ability, persistent through challenge and innovative in their practices, students will benefit, according to the teachings in Hattie’s book.

How it works

Every Wednesday the entire staff meets for 45-minute team meeting. No one leaves until the meeting is over.

“This is personal investment of what is going on here,” said David Pickard, the principal at Donnelly Elementary School.

Every Friday the entire school comes together for a student-led meeting to discuss community rules in the building and school business.

“This approach, or way of thinking, collaboratively, has definitely preempted our amazingly positive school climate,” said Deirdre Abrams, a teacher at Donnelly Elementary School. “There is a lot of joy in the building and a feeling of pride in both students and teachers.”

The staff at Donnelly Elementary School believes the ingredients for success is high-quality instruction and effective positive management mixed with the joy of teaching and learning.

Collective efficacy refers to a staff’s shared belief that through their collective action, they can positively influence student outcomes, including those who are disengaged and disadvantaged.

Teachers measure success through a combination of test scores and climate. They regularly ask each other:

  • How are we doing compared to others in the state and how do students behave?
  • Do students seem to like school?
  • Do students connect and apply learning from year to year?

The purpose of collective efficacy at Donnelly Elementary is for students to feel valued, challenged and rewarded, who feel connected to their community, and who bring authentic skills to the table in their future. For staff, its about feeling happy, committed and rewarded while at work.

“Our size is one of the components of success,” McCoy said. “Some of the elements could work in a larger school, if you had a good group of teachers.”


Andrew Reed

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