Among the list of things that blogger Scott McLeod will never understand is why school leaders choose to simply tweak the status quo and maintain the belief that their organizations are doing just fine. Why do educators and leaders fail to acknowledge the dramatic changes that the digital landscape has created in our society? Why do we cover our eyes and refuse to acknowledge what our students openly embrace every day? Why do teachers and school leaders resist the change necessary to make our learning institutions vital and really engage the students?
As I read the post (and the many comments), I remembered what I had learned with Dr. Anthony Muhammad’s presentation this summer at the QuILL institute; not all teachers and school leaders truly have the students’ best interests at heart and some of us are motivated by convenience and our own comfort more than by the students’ growth and learning. Dr. Muhammad’s seminal study revealed four groups of teachers and leaders: believers, tweeners, survivors and fundamentalists. This post will give a brief overview of what I learned about the ‘believers’ in both his presentation and his book. Subsequent posts will treat the other groups separately.
Believers are people who espouse the core values of the school; they buy into the mission statement/philosophy of the school and believe that all students are capable of learning. They especially recognize that they have a direct impact on student success. They function in a student-centered paradigm and their drive to realize student success is central to their values. Believers are eager to embrace change especially if it means improving student engagement and learning. Their motivation is intrinsic and not dependent on the influence of leadership. In other words, these teachers will “do it anyway” even if the consensus opinion is that “these efforts don’t matter because little Jonny won’t ever pass the course or learn anything.” The believers are highly flexible in their teaching strategies and ready to embrace new technologies and other change in their belief that all students can learn.
Believers have a high level of personal connection to the school and the surrounding community. Many will organize their lives to be in close proximity with their work environment. Their commitment to their work and school brings them a sense of stability and shared community.
The most striking characteristic, according to Dr. Muhammad’s research, is the high level of flexibility believers adopt in their attempts to achieve the goal of student success. When one approach is clearly not effective with a student, believers quickly switch and find one that does. Rules about classroom management are not more important than student success. Believers won’t “sweat the small stuff” because they remember the bottom line: student learning and success. They rely on student loyalty, which they gain through their obvious commitment to their students. Believers give the students a clear message: they expect them to succeed and will do everything to help them achieve this. That attitude is communicated by caring and consistency of effort. Students display a high level of respect for this type of teacher and are often motivated to achieve more because of the positive pressure exerted by the teacher.
I think that all teachers begin their careers as believers and motivated by the highest values of selfless work in the service of learning and education of the young. Something happens to turn that initial vision and dedication to others into a concern for maintaining the status quo. That’s the subject of my next post. Stay tuned. Please leave a comment and share your ideas.