Reflection not rumination

Recently, one class in particular has been causing me endless anxious and sleepless nights thinking about how to tackle their behaviour, literacy and self regulation problems (er… I mean, “challenges”).

I realised that part of my anxiety was the perception that I owned the problem. I wasn’t aware that this was what I, in fact, thought, until it was brought to my attention by my head teacher. I was convinced that it was my problem and that my actions alone could solve it if I just worked hard enough. It was a very soul-sucking and sleep-depriving trap to fall into.

Unfortunately, this attitude comes from being pummeled with the “reflective practitioner” model at university. Whilst it has been ultra helpful for me to reflect upon good and bad lessons to improve my teaching, I’ve taken it too far with this class. My reflections have crossed into the dangerous territory of rumination, a classic symptom of any type of anxiety disorder or maladaptive thought pattern.

Something I’ve learnt from this realization is that when the “reflective practitioner” model is being plugged to NSTs, it really needs to come with a disclaimer, warning or qualifier, that reflecting is only healthy whilst it is constructive. As soon as it becomes a source of anxiety, it is no longer helpful to your teaching practice.

Whilst I accept now that it’s my responsibility to ensure that these kids learn, there is only so much in that classroom that I am able to control. I can provide the engaging activities, I can provide the very structured environment, I can provide the consistency, I can explicitly teach and model appropriate behaviour, but I cannot control the kid’s motivation or hormone levels, the amount of sleep they got the night before, the time of day I have them, their poor peer relationships or social skills.

This was hard for me to accept at first, making me feel as though I was doomed to suffer through this class for the rest of the year. However, now it is liberating in one sense. I know that I don’t “own” the problem, but that I can try new things to attempt to make changes.

A big thanks must go to Paula Madigan who has given me brilliant suggestion after suggestion to deal with this class, and my HT, who gladly gives me respite from those kids in this class that are just in the too hard basket some days!



Improving Teaching through heightened self efficacy

Self efficacy, what is it? And why is it important for teachers?

Many teachers (and the population generally) turn their nose up at research, thinking that it is something conducted in a lab with limited real world applications. Having done an entire research-based degree (psychology), I can empathize with this view.

Recently however, I have come across some interesting and very relevant research on self efficacy which can really help us in the classroom and in the staffroom. Self efficacy relates to someone’s beliefs that they can accomplish something or succeed in a particular domain or at a particular skill. Whilst it is generally considered more specific than confidence, it might be helpful for present purposes to be discussed as confidence in a particular area.

Research on self efficacy in teachers has found that teachers with high self efficacy, that is, teachers who are confident that they can assist their students in achieving the outcomes and bring about change in their students, are more likely to:

-value student autonomy in the classroom
-allow more student directed learning
-praise than criticize students
-persevere with low-achieving or behaviorally challenging students
-raise student achievement levels
-try new strategies, resources and materials
-be more flexible in the classroom

I don’t know about you, but to me, these teachers seem to be overall more successful teachers, and the students seem to benefit immensely from having a teacher high in self efficacy.

Great! But how do we lift the self efficacy of teachers?
I’ve looked around for research on this topic, but the most I have found is on boosting student self efficacy. Although some of this information is helpful, there seems to be to be other solutions which are relevant to boosting the self efficacy of teachers in your workplace:

help each other out: teaching is renowned for being a collegiate profession, though many people think this is declining with the emphasis on standardized testing. The more you can assist each other in sharing resources and ideas, the more likely teachers are to feel in control and on top of their workload, leading to a feeling of mastery.

give someone in your workplace a compliment: we all know that teaching can be difficult because it is sometimes thankless. Just commenting on how effectively a teacher in your workplace handled a situation, or the rapport they have with a difficult student, or the way they are always so organized, could be a boost for a teacher who feels as though they are struggling.

reduce emphasis on standardized testing as a means for assessing teachers: I know I’m probably dreaming with this suggestion, but consider the impact of low standardized test results for a teacher who is already feeling as though they lack the ability to help their class reach appropriate achievement levels.

But we already have enough to worry about as teachers…

The consequences of low self efficacy include the unwillingness to try new materials or teaching strategies, low self esteem, and can be as dire as dropping out of the profession, or mental health issues. Instead of blaming these teachers for reverting to a ‘safety blanket’ of traditional teaching practices, we should be looking to give these teachers experiences of success, and slowly build their perception of themselves as great educators in order to maximize learning experiences for students in their classes.

In an environment like teaching, where there is constant talk of a need to “change” our mindset as teachers and move to more student centered modes of instruction and encourage C21st skills in our students, teachers can be made to feel as if they are to blame-they aren’t doing enough (to quote @EduSum “Don’t tell me my classroom is broken!”). It can be overwhelming, even for someone who considers themselves competent. If we want to wield change in our profession, this blame culture must go. We must boost self efficacy by empowering teachers, making them and their contributions feel valuable, and recognizing the diverse range of skills which exist within the profession. If teachers have this high self efficacy, they will be more willing to try new things in the classroom, including relinquishing the control which student centered learning requires and integrating more technological tools and applications in their teaching. What seems to be a forced change will come naturally.

Let’s look after one another-tell another teacher they are great today!

Badura et al. 1977
Kagan, 1992
Smylie, 1988
Woolfolk & Hoy, 1990