Belief, Part III

A couple weeks ago I shared John Hattie’s recently updated list of the most profound influencers of student achievement. (Here is a link to that list if you want to see it again: Visible LearningPlus 250+ Influencers of Student Achievement) Hattie identifies “Collective teacher efficacy” and “Teacher estimates of achievement” as two of the highest influencers. I have written for the past couple of weeks about how our belief impacts student achievement. (Here are those posts if you want to go back and check them out: Belief and Belief, Part II).

This week I want to think deeper about how “teacher estimates of achievement” can impact learning. Hattie’s statement: “It is teachers who have created positive teacher student relationships that are more likely to have the above average effects on student achievement.”

Relationships are important. Students spend about six and half hours in our buildings each day. That time is broken down in to set blocks for math, English, science, and so on. But, how much of that time is intentionally spent on building social-emotional learning in students. How much of that time is intentionally spent helping students understand that that can, and will, accomplish difficult tasks with our support. If you multiply those six and half hours by 180 days of school you find that students spend around 1,200 hours a year with adults in our schools. How much of that 1,200 hours is spent on our beliefs and how much of that time is spent relaying academic information to students?

Is the glass half-full or half-empty?… When you get to something challenging (in the curriculum or socially) in your classroom, do you believe students “can” or students “can’t” handle the material or the situation?

When a teacher-student relationship is positive with high expectations, Hattie finds this can have a major impact on overall student achievement. If we believe students can accomplish difficult tasks and we are willing to struggle through the process with students, our impact can be long lasting. By the time students are in high school, they believe things like: “I am just not a very good student,” or “I am not good at math,” or “I am not a good writer.” Our job as educators is to help students believe that no matter what has happened in the past, they can accomplish difficult things. While we have always known qualitatively that relationships matter, Hattie’s research gives us quantitative evidence about how valuable this estimate of achievement is to a student’s future success.

Belief, Part III

It is not surprising that a teacher-student relationship based on low expectations, socially or academically, in the year’s 1,200 school hours typically yields less than positive results. We set students up for living a self-fulfilling prophecy. They continue to believe they cannot accomplish difficult tasks and therefore, ultimately, they do not try. While this negative result is often not intentional on the teacher’s part, and is often born out of frustration from behavior or effort, we need to understand the damage created by setting low achievement expectations by claiming that “students can’t”.

Whether you think students “can” or “can’t,” you will probably be right. Choose to believe students “can” accomplish big things. If the strategy is good for your honors students, it is good for all students. Challenge your beliefs this week. Do you really believe all students can be successful? Do you believe that all students can accomplish difficult learning tasks? If a student struggles, does that mean they “can’t” or does that just mean you have not found the right way to support that student’s learning?

It is your classroom, you have to be the one to choose what you believe about your students, but please understand that whatever you choose to believe has a larger impact than almost any instructional strategy you put in place.

Until next time…keep learning; keep growing; keep sharing!

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