A friend recently shared a quote from Lysa Terkeurst’s book, Uninvited, “The mind feasts on what it focuses on. What consumes my thinking will be the making or the breaking of my identity.” I have yet to come across any statement that so succinctly states the conundrum placed on teachers’ hearts when we ask them to respond to the statement, “All students can learn grade level benchmarks.” The manner in which this statement is posed to staff makes the critical distinction of whether the consequence which flows from the exercise makes or breaks the identity of the teachers, individually and collectively; has a positive, motivating effect or a negative, diminishing effect on their motivation; or elicits reflective growth or dismissive resistance. Proactively providing clarity on the purpose increases the likelihood of tapping positive energy of staff.
The value of inquiry about staff belief about the ability of all students to learn at grade level is NOT whether they answer yes or no. The value lies in how much the dialogue inspires curiosity about the validity of the current belief of their personal and collective ability to affect student learning.
Efficacy beliefs are the foundation of human agency. Unless people believe they can produce desired results and forestall detrimental ones by their actions, they have little incentive to act or to persevere in the face of difficulties. Whatever other factors may operate as guides and motivators, they are rooted in the core belief that one has the power to produce effects by one's actions. (Bandura, 2001)
Consequently, prior to submitting the inquiry to a staff, it is important to create a safe environment for staff to be candid about their beliefs. Teachers should be assured that the survey of their beliefs is not to indict them, but to promote their individual and collective wonder about barriers that prevent the full attainment of the grade-level benchmarks by all students. We want their minds to feast on which students are not learning and why, rather than fending off a perceived attack on their prior extent of success. John Hattie endorses the importance of safety in professional dialogue among his six signposts toward excellence in education stating, “School leaders and teachers need to create school, staffroom and classroom environments where error is welcomed as a learning opportunity, where discarding incorrect knowledge and understanding is welcomed, and where participants can feel safe to learn, re-learn, and explore knowledge.” (Hattie, 2009)
By identifying varying experiences and perceived barriers to a greater extent of learning in a safe learning environment, staff members can have cognitive dissonance. Therein lies the opportunity for progress. Teachers may not make the cognitive leap immediately to thinking all students can perform at grade-level benchmarks. However, realization of variance of results and constructive dialogue to identify and remove barriers to more students learning at grade-level benchmarks can lead to small wins that can be parlayed into increased collective and individual efficacy beliefs. Consistent research findings support collective efficacy beliefs as a strong predictor of student achievement trends as noted by Roger Goddard:
...where teachers tend to think highly of the collective capability of the faculty, they sense an expectation for successful teaching and hence are increasingly likely to put forth the effort required to help students learn. Conversely, where perceived collective efficacy is lower, it is less likely that teachers will be pressed by their colleagues to persist in the face of failure or that they will change their teaching when students do not learn. (Goddard, et.al.,2004)
Each iteration of success reinforces acceptance of challenging goals, positive norms, and perseverance in the face of obstacles. So principals and teacher leaders must be intentional when initiating belief conversations so as to promote openness to change rather than defensiveness against attack.
- Paul Beatty
Bandara, Albert, “Social Cognitive Theory, An Agentic Perspective,” Annual Review of Psychology, 2001. https://www.uky.edu/~eushe2/Bandura/Bandura2001ARPr.pdf
Goddard, Roger D., Wayne K. Hoy, and Anita Woolfolk Hoy, “Collective Efficacy Beliefs:Theoretical Developments, Empirical Evidence and Future Direction,” Educational Researcher 33(3):3-13 · April 2004. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/240801496_Collective_Efficacy_BeliefsTheoretical_Developments_Empirical_Evidence_and_Future_Directions
Hattie, John, Visible Learning, New York: Routledge Publisher, 2009.
Terkeurst, Lysa, Uninvited, Nashville, Nelson Books, 2016.