Educators Exploring the Impact of Our Beliefs - Steve Barkley

Educators Exploring the Impact of Our Beliefs

“Our beliefs drive our behaviors.” That’s a statement that Kyle Coppes featured in an article titled “Student Laziness Is a Myth, Here’s Why.”  Coppes reminded me how our beliefs, often unconsciously, effect decisions we make in a classroom from moment to moment. Coaches can play a key role in surfacing those beliefs so that teachers can decide if they consciously want to react according to that belief or to purposefully implement a different behavior.

Coppes illustrates that the belief that laziness exists limits the behavior of any teacher who encounters it and that can be harmful. Believing that some students are lazy gives the teacher a “get-out-of-jail-free card.” If a student does not complete a task on time, and laziness is the culprit, then giving a zero or assigning detention is the right teacher action. “Laziness, as a character trait, is something that needs to be punished in one way or another, for if left alone, it will only grow into the impediment of a successful life beyond school.”  Believing that the student is lazy leaves no room for teacher inquiry, no need to investigate to discover what really may have gotten in the way of that student’s success. If a teacher holds firmly to the belief that laziness is a myth, they are compelled to inquire: What stopped my student from succeeding?

A post titled  How Does a Teacher’s Personal Beliefs Impact Student Learning provides several examples of beliefs and teachers decisions:

  • Teaching Style– If a teacher believes that students learn best through independent exploration, they may use project-based learning or inquiry-based approaches in their teaching. If a teacher believes that direct instruction is the best way for students to learn, they may use a lecture-based approach in their teaching. The teacher’s personal beliefs and teaching style can influence the level of engagement, motivation, and thus student learning.

How might either of those beliefs be influenced by this belief? “For every student who loves a particular subject, there is another who is afraid of it, and another who finds it uninteresting.” (Lee Ann Jung)

  • Expectations: If a teacher believes that students can achieve high academic standards, they are more likely to set high expectations and provide the necessary support to help them meet those expectations. If a teacher believes that some students are inherently less capable than others, they may not set high expectations for those students and may not provide the support needed to help them succeed.

How might this belief about learning impact decisions around expectations?While diversity in our classroom can pose instructional challenges, it is also an asset! There is an opportunity for students to learn from and with one another, gain an understanding of the interdependence within society, and celebrate one another’s unique qualities. Diversity is in no way a limitation as long as we keep it top of mind when designing instruction and assessment.” (Lee Ann Jung)

  • Feedback: A teacher who believes in the importance of positive reinforcement may provide more positive feedback to their students, while a teacher who believes in the importance of constructive criticism may provide more critical feedback. The type of feedback that a teacher gives to their students can impact their motivation, self-esteem, and overall learning outcomes.

How would this belief influence a teacher’s choices on feedback? “Students not only vary in their skill level and preferences for academic content, but also in their social-emotional skills, development, and learning.” (Lee Ann Jung)

I have often discussed with school administrators, staff developers, and instructional coaches the need to explore teachers’ beliefs about teaching and learning in order to implement any change in instructional practices. In Joellen Killion’s writing about HEAVY coaching, she stressed the importance of causing teachers to examine their beliefs and alignment with their decisions and actions.

“Coaching heavy occurs when coaches ask thought-provoking questions, uncover assumptions, and engage teachers in dialogue about their beliefs and goals rather than focusing only on teacher knowledge and skills. For example, rather than talking about what a teacher decided to do in a lesson, the coach asks the teacher to describe his or her belief about teaching, student learning, and student capacity to learn. “

“The purpose of interaction at the belief and goal level rather than at knowledge and skills level is to facilitate teachers’ exploration of who they are as teachers as much or more than what they do as teachers. At this level, deep reform can occur.”

Creating opportunities for continuously exploring and challenging teaching and learning beliefs is key to effective educator leadership.

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