At my school and among my professional learning network, we have been having a lot of discussion lately surrounding teacher efficacy. Teacher efficacy is easy to explain — not always easy to collectively and genuinely live out. Teacher efficacy is a teacher’s belief in his or her own capabilities to get results in the classroom.
That in and of itself sounds like a no-brainer, so allow me to add on: Teacher efficacy is a teacher’s belief in his or her own capabilities to get results in the classroom from all students. It’s that last part of the definition that makes all the difference.
Teacher efficacy is research based and proven. In 2009, John Hattie published profound research on what works best for student achievement. He used effect size to compare the impact of a variety of influences on students’ learning. For example, he researched whether things like class size, teacher feedback, homework, parent involvement, etc had an effect on achievement. An effect size of 0 means it has no effect on student achievement. An effect size of .2 would be a small effect. An effect size of .6 would be a large influence. In his latest research, collective teacher efficacy is given an effect size of 1.57 — making it the number one factor in influencing student achievement.
The belief that we can get all students to learn at high levels doesn’t always come naturally because not all students are excited to come to school and learn. Some students are unmotivated. Some are disruptive or distracted.
Here’s what personally fuels my own belief that I can reach even those students who struggle: It’s the understanding that these students weren’t born without curiosity or motivation or desire to learn. There is or has been something in their environment that has made it more difficult. There could be a physical or mental barrier that is keeping them from engaging or focusing or learning at the same rate as peers. That isn’t their fault. I cannot allow them to think that these things are allowable excuses to check out of the learning process.
I believe in my students, and I believe in my abilities to teach them. But just you or I alone with this efficacy is not going to induce high-reaching change in our youth. All teachers must make this mind shift. The expectations I put on a kindergartner may be only the seed that gets planted. If that student’s future teachers don’t have the same belief in his or her abilities, then that seed never grows. Teacher efficacy must be collective.
This can be challenging at times. There certainly are students along the way that challenge this mindset. Students whose behaviors make me need to pause and take a breath. But I always come back to the reality that they are just kids. Not all of them have been dealt the same hand. It would be unethical for me to only set high expectations for those dealt the same hand as me. If a student has a particularly rough day in the classroom, there are definitely steps that must be taken in regards to consequences. I can tell you, though, that I always reflect deeply on these situations. I always come back to these students and hug them. I tell them I love them. I tell them I believe in them and I am here to help them every step of the struggling way.
You just can’t give up on kids.
Amelia Brown is a National Board Certified Teacher at Taylor Mill Elementary School in Kenton County. She is a 2017-2018 Hope Street Group Kentucky State Teacher Fellow.
Photo by Tim Lauer, CC-Licensed.