Exploring Teachers' Beliefs and Values - Steve Barkley

Exploring Teachers’ Beliefs and Values

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 bring about a change in instructional practices.

In earlier blogs I have connected to JoEllen Killion’s writing about HEAVY coaching where she stresses the importance of causing teachers to examine their beliefs and alignment with their decisions and behaviors.

“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.”

I found a parallel to this process in my continued reading of Thinking Fast and Slow.  Author Daniel Kahneman cites examples where information that should change people’s decisions had no effect. (The “helping experiment“ -page 171-174)

In a staged experiment , 6 participants were in isolated booths and heard each person share problems they were facing.  After each spoke once a plant in the group mimicked a seizure and called out for help. What do you think happened? After three rounds of the experiment were conducted only 4 of the 15 participants came out of their booths to help.

While most of us would assume that we would rush to help, the study identifies that we are more likely to be relieved that there are other people hearing the call for help. Being the lone person available to help, most of us would step forward but in a position where other people have the opportunity to help we might not step forward.

When the experimenters later asked people to predict what individuals they had just seen on a video would do should they be in the situation described above, those who had studied the experiment made the same predictions that the persons would help as did the people who knew nothing about the “helping experiment” outcomes.  Kahneman suggests that the students who studied the experiment outcomes learned nothing.

As I read this I realized I have heard instructional leaders say the same things about their staffs.  “ We had a three day training, examined all the research as to why the old practice was ineffective and the next week teachers were still using the old practice. “ Anyone who has explained the mathematical fallacy of giving a zero for missing work and then averaging scores has dealt with the large number of unchanged decisions from the teachers in the session.

Kahneman concludes, ”To teach students any psychology they did not know before, you must surprise them. But even causal statistic will not change long-held beliefs or beliefs rooted in personal experience. You are more likely to learn something by finding surprises in your own behavior than by hearing surprising facts about people in general.”

Planning for teachers to be surprised by their own behavior is often an effective coaching strategy. Have you ever provided a teacher with data like:

  • Approval given to male vs female students
  • Questions asked of male vs female students
  • A video clip of students at centers
  • Timing of the length of transitions between activities
  • Time students spend waiting for the teacher
  • List of non -participating students after a “discussion”

These options often generate a teacher commitment to exploring a conscious change that seldom occurs from reading the research.

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