This article could be very short. What makes teachers effective? One simple, truthful answer: Teachers believing that they can be effective.
It isn’t that easy—is it? In some ways, it is. A teacher’s belief in their own efficacy is the starting point for many things that follow: high expectations, connecting with all students, working hard, and collaborating as a professional. If we don’t believe that our work will actually make an impact, then many of these are a waste of time.
Do You Believe in Your Teaching?
Researchers have found that teachers who believe they can be very effective—i.e. the instruction of decisions that they make can leverage student learning—have the best results in the classroom. This research is highlighted by the Visible Learning research from John Hattie, which I have referenced in this article.
As an educator, if you believe the Visible Learning research to be reliable and valid, then it makes most sense to look at the top of the list, where you will find teacher efficacy as number one. The effect size of teacher’s belief in their effectiveness is higher than any other, and by a decent margin.
So, if it is that simple, then why don’t we just tell all teachers that they need to start believing they can be effective? If they just start doing it, then student outcomes would improve. How hard can it be?
In reality, it can be very hard. All educators can be drawn into the blame game of making excuses for our students. Whether it’s the parents, the culture, electronics, the system, the previous teachers—just fill in the blank for what we can blame.
Making a Change
How do we change mindsets when it comes to education? And how do we help teachers see that their belief in their own effectiveness matters a great deal? These are important questions with complex answers, and there are some strategies that we can try to help teachers improve and change their mindset.
Here are some things we can try to see if we can improve teacher efficacy, and therefore student outcomes, to enhance student achievement:
- Show them the data: For some teachers, the most convincing argument is to see it in black and white. This is the information, this is the research, and it is clear. They need to know that the beliefs of teachers profoundly impact what happens in the classroom for students.
- Network and collaborate: We know that teachers learn best when learning from other teachers and when their learning is self-directed. This could be an opportunity for a teacher to take something of their own to network with other teachers, and then to see how it impacts their learning—or better yet, student learning. Some teachers are particularly motivated to try a certain technology tool. They believe it will help to improve their classroom objectives by networking, and by collaborating with other teachers, the teacher can see the impact of efficacy in other rooms.
- Coach them: By using reflective questioning with teachers and principals, we can help them to see how factors within their control can create change with students. For most of us, just being “told” to change won’t actually change anything—we need to work through it ourselves from the inside out. For more information on this, look into cognitive coaching models and other coaching techniques.
- Approach from another angle: There are other ways to help teachers “see” the possibility of their impact, including student feedback. Have teachers survey students about what helps them most to be successful in the classroom. They probably won’t mention state standards or their parents, and will likely name the teacher as their biggest support in learning.
- Challenge all excuses: As discussions happen within the school and within teams, teacher leaders need to not hesitate when challenging the excuses that teachers make. If the conversation starts with, “Parents these days…” we need to hit the pause button and refocus. This should be done with professionalism and kindness, and can stem the tide of teacher efficacy if it becomes part of the culture.
- If possible, remove barriers to success: Some excuses can be real barriers to helping teachers to improve. When we get into preaching about efficacy, we can start to dismiss any excuse as just a teacher’s desire not to change. This may be the case, but a teacher may also have a legitimate reason for the suggestion/excuse. As much as possible, we should remove these from the mindset of teachers to help them see what they are doing as meaningful.
This list isn’t exhaustive by any means, but by coaching and supporting teachers, we can help them to see the impact they have on student success. This in turn creates more student success and a great school culture.
Get the support of your peers and more! Join MimioConnect, our interactive teaching community, and get access to teaching tips, engaging content, and connections with other educators.