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Teachers cannot narrow their self-definition to being representatives of aca- demic disciplines only. They must think of themselves as teachers of students as well as teachers of a particular discipline. Influencing student motivation becomes part of their job description, as well as teaching social skills. And they become particularly interested in the skills for getting students to exert effective effort (see Chapter 14, “Expectations”).


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8. Belief: Children’s learning is primarily determined by their effective ef- fort and use of appropriate strategies. “Intelligence,” or the ability to learn, is not a fixed, inborn trait. All children have the raw material to learn rigor- ous academic material at high standards.

Most Americans believe that intelligence is a fixed, innate trait that is endowed at birth, is unevenly distributed, and determines how well a student can do. This belief in the bell curve of intelligence—that only a few students are smart enough to learn sophisticated academic material at high standards—has huge implications for teaching and learning.

“You can get smart” (Howard, 1990, p. 12). Teachers who have internalized this belief believe it is their responsibility to give their students

p the belief that ability can be grown,

p the confidence that it applies to them,

p the tools to accomplish it, and

p the desire to want to.



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Effective effort and good strategies are the principal determinants of academic success.

Teachers who believe that almost all of their students can achieve at a high level given the right conditions—that students can increase their ability through ap- plication, focus, and good strategies—are almost driven to rethink their role as a teacher. That new conceptualization would include being a teacher of strate- gies as well as a teacher of an academic discipline. And it would include an implied obligation for the teacher to diversify his or her teaching to match dif- ferent student learning styles. When a student isn’t learning, it would drive the teacher to ask, “How might I approach this differently or alter the conditions?” And it would certainly imply developing the commitment to—and repertoire for—conveying high-expectation messages to students.

Others (Gould, 1996) have documented the history of the bell curve’s limit- ing view of intelligence, with its sad consequences for students. We present this history in Chapter 14, “Expectations,” and we make the case that intel- ligence can indeed be developed and that effective effort and good strategies are the principal determinants of academic success (Howard, 1990; Resnick, 1995; Dweck, 2007). Our point is that a teacher’s belief about the nature of intelligence and its limits (or limitlessness) forms a powerful frame around the motivation to expand his or her teaching repertoires. Anyone serious about professional development must address this belief system to unleash the full energy of adults to expand their capacity to reach all students.

9. Belief: We can get underperforming, low confidence students to be- lieve in themselves. We really can change their attributions so that they outperform their own internalized stereotypes.

This is a belief about teacher efficacy. It means that not only do we believe that all students can learn and that effective effort is the key to academic success, we also believe we can get our students to believe it too and act from that belief. Furthermore, we believe it is our job to do so. Chapter 14, “Expectations,” de- scribes in some detail how we carry out that commitment. These how-to’s are further elaborated on in High Expectations Teaching (Saphier, 2017).

Having completed over seven decades of desegregation since Brown v Board of Education, we are experiencing the de facto resegregation of schools through socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic neighborhood stratification. We are faced with significant achievement gaps for African American, Latino, and other stu- dents of color in our society. Communicating positive expectations and dis- solving persistent negative stereotypes—perhaps, even internalized (Howard & Hammond, 1985)—is especially important. The roots of what students will do are planted firmly in their beliefs about what they can do. What are we, as



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educators, doing to help students, especially students of color, become believers in themselves as achievers? Avoiding the negative Pygmalion behaviors which we describe in the Expectations chapter will be a good start, but what’s next? A steady stream of authors and researchers are telling us that new curricula and new, tougher standards are not enough.

“First, without a doubt, the indispensable characteristic of successful teachers in low-income-area schools is a positive attitude. It is not enough for a teacher to use the right words. The critical question is, what implicit and explicit mes- sages are students getting from the teacher about their ability to learn?” (Frick, 1987, p. 20). No wonder Hattie (2009) finds that teacher efficacy has the highest effect size of all the behaviors he reviews. The more teachers can press for and attribute success to ability and effort as students go through school (rather than luck or easy work), the more success we will have with all students. “If you have a C average or below, you should spend three hours studying for this test” means, “That’s what it will take to get an A, and you can do it.” This conviction about student capacity makes it incumbent on teachers to teach students how to exert effective effort; many come to school not knowing how to do so. That adds a new dimension to the job of teaching.

Maybe, each school needs a person to shepherd that new job, a person in charge of “exceeding expectations,” someone who shakes us up and goes around pe- riodically reminding us to re-examine what we are expecting and demanding of students in the way of performance. Perhaps, that will be one effect of this chapter on you. In the end, the hope and the promise of this area of performance is that it will elicit better performance from students and give them more equal and fair school experiences.

10. Belief: Racism in our society and a dearth of cultural proficiency in our classrooms exert a downward force on the achievement of students of color that must be met with active countermeasures. To achieve our espoused goal of educating all children to a high level, we need to become culturally proficient and anti-racist.

Due to the importance of this belief in The Skillful Teacher Framework, we ex- plore it in a separate chapter, Chapter 4, “Cultural Proficiency and Anti-Racism.”



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Essential Beliefs About Teaching Knowledge and Skill:

p Teaching is intellectually complex, difficult, and demanding work. The knowledge and skills required to teach successfully are on a par with that required for proficient practice in architec- ture, engineering, or law.

p The nature of professional knowledge is defined by “areas of performance,” “repertoire,” and “matching,” not effective behaviors.

p A professional teacher’s knowledge bases are many, diverse, and complex. Skillful teaching re- quires systematic and continual study of these knowledge bases.

p The development of skillful teaching requires deep collaboration and non-defensive self- examination of practice in relation to student results.

Essential Beliefs About the Learning Environment We Create:

p The total environment of a school has a powerful effect on students’ learning.

p Learning is constructed as learners assimilate new experience with prior knowledge.

p Learning varies with the degree to which a learner’s needs for inclusion, influence, competence, and confidence are met.

Essential Beliefs About Teacher Efficacy:

p Children’s learning is primarily determined by their effective effort and use of appropriate strat- egies. “Intelligence,” or the ability to learn, is not a fixed, inborn trait. All children have the raw material to learn rigorous academic material at high standards.

p We can get underperforming, low-confidence students to believe in themselves.

To check your knowledge about Beliefs About Schooling, see the exercises on The Skillful Teacher website at www.RBTeach.com/TST7.



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