Maybe it’s not about how teachers are feeling or why they’re leaving the profession, maybe it has to do with teacher efficacy and feeling like “Does what I do really matter?
Teacher efficacy, simply put, is what a teacher thinks of his or her abilities to bring about positive outcomes of student engagement and learning. That point when you feel like they are never going to get it, is the entry point to the rabbit hole of “Why bother”.
According to a 2015 teacher efficacy study, teacher efficacy is a key factor behind successful teaching and we need to consciously and deliberately build teacher efficacy, because it is constantly changing.
One of the big things that can influence teacher efficacy is understanding how the brain learns, in particular the role emotions play and the concept of plasticity.
Emotions and Learning
Mariale Hardiman, former teacher and principal, now interim dean at the Johns Hopkins School of Education and author of The Brain-Targeted Teaching Model for 21st Century Schools, says, “Reducing stress and establishing a positive emotional classroom climate is an essential part of teaching.”
A key part of creating an emotionally safe learning environment is taking the time to connect with students.
Casey, a junior, featured in the documentary Grey Matters: Teaching The Way The Brain Learns says, “When I know a teacher knows me and cares about me, I care more about that class. If a student is stressed, they are not focused on learning.
Teachers often ask, especially in large classrooms, how to connect with each and every student. Maybe it’s inquiring about a sport, or acknowledging a loss by asking how they’re doing today/right now, or just a genuine hello. Do it in a way that feels authentic to you, even if students don’t always respond.
Jeremy Mettler, a teacher at Batavia High School (featured in www.greymattersdocumentary.com) tends to always have snacks, water, pens, pencils, paper, etc., “I want to remove any barriers the kids have to learning. If a kid’s worried about paper or pencils or whatever, they’re not paying attention to what I’m saying. So I just keep that stuff on hand, no questions asked.”
And when it’s you that stressed? If a teacher is stressed, they are not focused on connecting with students.
Understand the source of your stress. Is it student progress? Content time? Intervention challenges? Behavior issues? All of the above?
First off, you’re not alone. Every teacher feels some degree of stress on a daily basis. There are so many factors that impact on your students’ learning, that are beyond your control. And there are so many factors that impact on your teaching, also beyond your control.
Vicky Davis, over at Cool Cat Teacher, did a great 10 minute podcast on managing teacher stress.
For the teachers featured in the film, knowing how the brain learns, helped them to fine tune their teaching practice, which in turn lowered their stress.
Vicky Krug, an adjunct professor at Westmoreland County Community College, constantly reminds her students that they can change their brains, “I even give them foam brains at the beginning of every year to help them remember. The rainbow coloured brains are always a hit”
Krug would know. She survived an accident that left her with a traumatic brain injury and compromised brain function. When Krug says, “You can train your brain,” she’s speaking from experience.
Neuroscientist turned teacher, Judy Willis, explains plasticity as the selective organizing of connections between neurons in our brains. Simply put, what fires together, wires together, or practice makes perfect.
What does this look like in the classroom? Repeated exposure, in different ways, helps with retention and recall of concepts. Connecting it to what students already know and highlighting the relevancy, aids with mastery and moves students along the path of critical and creative thinking. Referencing concepts across the subject silos aids with relevancy and big picture thinking.
Understanding how the brain learns helps teachers fine tune their teaching practice, engage your students, and positively influence academic outcomes, ultimately fostering both collective and self teacher efficacy. It’s a win for teachers and students.
Next up: How the physical characteristics and features of your learning space influences learning