“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” – Henry Ford
I believe Henry Ford’s quote to be particularly true in the realm of education. When teachers and students believe they can learn, they will. But the same is true for the opposite. John Hattie, a professor and researcher in education from the University of Melbourne in Australia, has synthesized research studies to look at how different factors impact student achievement. The list of factors, which can be found at visible-learning.org, shows that Collective Teacher Efficacy has the greatest impact on student achievement. This outperforms other factors such as direct instruction, parental involvement, and homework. Collective teacher efficacy is the belief that we, as educators, can positively affect students and their learning. The third highest ranking factor on Hattie’s list, out of 252, is Teacher Estimates of Achievement. Both of these factors show the importance of teachers’ mindsets for all students to reach high levels of learning. Henry Ford’s quote seems to be true not only for one’s self, but for one’s teacher. Whether your teacher believes you will achieve or believes you won’t achieve, they’re probably right.
My personal experience as a math teacher has been primarily at a school that has 85% of students in poverty and 45% of students are English Language Learners. I have heard many opinions from people in and outside the community about what they think teaching at a school like this would be like. It is often portrayed as very challenging and as a school of lower-level learners. While I agree that there are many challenges and obstacles to overcome, I strongly disagree that our learners cannot achieve the same high-level learning that is expected of students at other schools. Students come to us at differing levels; however, all students can show growth and I believe this to be the most important indicator of learning.
As educators, we must believe all of our students can achieve high levels of learning. Our expectations for learning cannot depend on outside factors such as socioeconomic status, race/ethnicity, parental involvement, or any other label we typically apply to students. As teachers, our belief in what a student can learn will set the tone for the level of achievement that will come.
As life and school rolls on, it is difficult or even impossible to maintain this high level of belief alone. This is why I believe the number one factor on Hattie’s list is not teacher efficacy; rather, it is collective teacher efficacy. We must lean on one another and work as a team. No one can do it alone. Professional Learning Communities are vital to a school’s success because it takes a collective effort to improve student learning. These should be happening within every school on a consistent basis, but the power of networks outside of a school building with like-minded educators should not be diminished either. Networks that can be built, such as the ones through the National Board Certification process, should be capitalized on to strengthen pedagogy and mindset.
I believe teachers and administrators set the bar for what students will learn. I have found that where that bar is set, establishes the level that most students will rise to in their learning. Regardless of the amount of money a student’s parents make or a student’s ethnic background, they can succeed at high levels of learning. Whatever the circumstances, it’s likely that there will be challenges along the way, but as a collective unit of teachers and administrators working together to raise the bar of expectations in learning for all students, in all schools, we can succeed together.