Are You A Believer?

Before a classroom can be considered “Focused on Learning” the teacher must first believe that they have the means, motive and opportunity to guarantee student learning in their classroom.  True Edunators don’t “hope” students learn and they don’t leave themselves an escape route by saying “If the student does [x] then they can learn.” Bull. Great teachers, true Edunators, GURANTEE students will learn, because they know how to overcome every obstacle to learning.

Unfortunately, sometimes the first obstacle they have to overcome is themselves.

transformingschoolcultureDr. Anthony Muhammad's work should be required reading for anybody looking to develop a school culture focused on learning. In his book Transforming School Culture: How to Overcome Staff Division, Dr. Anthony Muhammad explains his belief that all teachers fall in to one of four categories. Chief among them are the “Believers” whom they define as believing “…all students are capable of learning and that they (the teacher) have a direct impact on student success.”  Muhammad goes on to define their “organizational goal” as “Academic success for each student.”

It is the official opinion of Edunators that in order for a teacher to be “focused on learning” they must be a Believer. So ask these questions of your colleagues and snicker if they get them wrong. Use them in your interviews when hiring the next superstar of your staff. Or ponder them independently and reflect on your own awesomeness.

     1.Do you believe that ALL students can learn at a high level?  

     2.Do you believe that your performance as a teacher has a direct impact on student learning?

The correct answer to the above questions is “Yes” and the correct tone is unequivocal and absolute. The best teachers believe that ALL students can learn at a high level, that is, they can learn the objectives laid out for them by their state or school. Furthermore, they know in their heart that if they do their job well, their students will learn more. If they phone it in for a few days and opt to not challenge their students or help the ones desperate for assistance, they know their students may be just fine going forward –but they won’t be as prepared as they could have been for the future.

If a teacher should answer “No” to either of these questions, or even hesitate in the slightest, then they are not an Edunator. Becoming a “Believer” according to Dr. Muhammad’s definition is the first step to ensuring a classroom is entirely focused on learning, the first step to “Edunating” if you will.

Perhaps when it comes time to design quality lessons and deliver initial instruction, the naysayers who can’t accept this do a great job. But when it comes time to guarantee the success of ALL students by differentiating instruction, utilizing formative assessment, developing interventions and allowing students multiple opportunities for success, well, this teacher may come up a bit short. They’ll find it pointless and they’ll argue with school leadership who “demands too much”.

While they may not be completely hopeless there is significant work to be done before this teacher could ever be considered “Focused on Learning” and school leadership should immediately target them as somebody who needs to assistance doing what’s right for kids. Student learning is why we exist. Period.

There may be one caveat to all this. If you have reservations regarding “all” students, there are a few possible exceptions. As Mike Mattos says, an Essential Learner Outcome (ELO) is essential for any student who will ever be asked to live on their own and provide for themselves. For some students with severe developmental disabilities, it may be reasonable for you and your fellow faculty to relax on those demands. Otherwise, if it’s essential for some, it’s essential for all. And great teachers KNOW that all students are capable of learning those objectives deemed essential.

Obviously in this case actions speak louder than words. Most teachers do a decent job of a baffling with B.S. and if you simply asked them the above questions they’d slip into interview mode and rattle of an answer that would make you ready to save the world. However, it’s still a relevant question to ask. If they can’t talk it, they certainly can’t walk it. When trying to determine if a teacher believes these things to be true however, it is far more imperative to notice their actions than listen to their words.

Knowing a teacher proclaims both of these ideas to be true begs a couple important follow up questions. For starters, “If you believe all students can learn at a high level, what do you believe is required to ensure that this happens? If you believe your performance as a teacher has a direct impact on student learning, what would you be willing to commit to in order to guarantee that all students are learning at their highest potential?”

Before a teacher can be truly “Focused on Learning” they simply must accept these premises in their heart. Accepting this ensures that regardless of their rhetoric, their actions going forward will support doing what’s right for the learning of all students.  Every teacher has days where they need to “vent” and let off steam. The question is, when the venting is over and the work room abandoned, will that teacher’s action’s in the classroom show a belief that all students can learn at a high level and that their actions as a teacher are responsible for that?

We certainly hope so. If you’re not sold on the idea yourself or if you need to convince a few colleagues who may not quite be “believers” check out Playing the Victim or The Parable of the Untrained Sub