Man often becomes what he believes himself to be. If I keep on saying to myself that I cannot do a certain thing, it is possible that I may end by really becoming incapable of doing it. On the contrary, if I shall have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it, even if I may not have it at the beginning.
To change someone’s practice means also to address their beliefs. So, in essence, to change teacher practice, we must address the beliefs they hold including beliefs about teaching, learning, students, knowledge, their campus, and many more. But how do you begin to change teacher beliefs? While this process is more complicated than a single answer, one important aspect to consider is the difference between beliefs based on evidence and beliefs that are only perceptions of reality (Richardson, 1996). Consider a teacher that resists integrating technology in the classroom only because they perceive it as a waste of classroom time, not because they’ve experienced failure with technology, or that they’ve read empirical evidence against technology in the classroom, or that they’ve witnessed fellow teachers struggle with technology.
Such beliefs not based on evidence are actually more difficult to change than beliefs based on evidence as evidence can be deliberated, reframed, and contrary evidence can be provided. Perceptions, however, cannot be disputed as they are based on more implicit individual characteristics rather than logical reasons. The most reasonable conclusion, therefore, may be to actually provide reflection time for teachers to unearth or to formulate logical evidence to support those perceptions, therefore transforming beliefs based on perceptions to beliefs based on evidence. At this point, the new reform message can be presented with coherent and logical evidence that now has the opportunity to create dissonance within the teachers that initiates action and belief change. This reflective moment to convert implicit beliefs to more explicit beliefs is a vital step toward belief change and therefore change in teacher practice.
How, then, do you create this reflective moment? Consider some of these activities to elicit reflection from your teacher before a training:
- Free Association Brainstorming: Give teachers 10-20 post-it notes and ask them to answer these three questions: (1) “What was your first feeling when you heard about this new training/instructional approach/theory/etc.?”, (2) “What are you feeling now as you sit in this training about this new training/instructional approach/theory/etc.?”, and (3) “Where are these feelings coming from?” Once they’ve completed writing on the post-it notes they stick them to a designated area that is discussed in whole group. This gives the PD trainer an opportunity to know the audience and how to address the concerns of the teachers. This also gives teachers the opportunity to truly understand why they are resisting or even not resisting the change.
- Create a Metaphor/Simile: Often beliefs and emotions are much more complex than our language has the capability to express. Ask your teachers, then, to create a metaphor or simile that illustrates their feelings and/or beliefs about the training. For example, a simile might be, “I feel like a pair of dirty underwear. This training is just the next thing to wear for a while before we quickly change to the next once things start to stink.” Such an activity can be enlightening and fun for everyone involved.
- Choose a song: Ask teachers to choose a song that reflects their beliefs or feelings about the training. As an added bonus, you could ask a few teachers or groups to even perform their song!
- Directed Writing: Provide a text for teachers to read that serves as an anchor for thinking. For example, if providing a training for guided reading at an elementary school, ask 1/2 of your teachers to read a brief article about the benefits of guided reading and the other 1/2 about the benefits of an alternative instructional approach. Then, ask them to write a short reflective piece about their thoughts. Groups could then be jigsawed to allow for discussion and further reflection.
- Artifacts: Provide artifacts that represent the focus of the training. For example, give teachers a bag of math manipulatives for a training on using concrete math representations in the classroom, or demonstrate the use of an apple tv in an instructional way for technology integration. Ask teachers to then write their first thoughts and feelings when experiencing the artifact. Follow the writing activity with small group or whole group discussion.
- Art: Ask teachers to create some kind of visual representation of how they feel about a particular campus initiative. This could include drawing, painting, sculpture making with Play-Doh (for those early childhood educators), etc. Follow up with small group or large group discussion to make their feelings and reasonings more explicit.
- Double entry journal: In a journal ask teachers to write their feelings about a training on the left side and their reasons for feeling this way on the right (alternatively you could just draw a line down the center of a piece of paper if you do not have journals). This requires teachers to attach evidence to their perceptions about a training.
- Critical Incident Journal: Ask teachers to write a story about a time that they have experienced this particular classroom strategy or technique that may have particularly influenced their beliefs about the strategy or technique. After writing the story ask them to answer questions like, “Why was this significant to you?”, “How might this experience have influenced your perception of this technique?”, “Could you interpret this experience any other way? If so, how?”, and “Could the results of this experience be attributed to any other factors other than this classroom strategy?”
- Rate it: Post statements or photos around the room that support the classroom strategy being taught within the training. Give teachers three different colored stickers (red, yellow, and green). Ask teachers to take a gallery walk and place red stickers on statements/photos that create anxiety, fear, restlessness, anger, etc., yellow stickers on statements/photos that elicit minimal feelings or thoughts, and green stickers on statements/photos that excite, invigorate, and/or align with their current beliefs. Follow this activity with a review of the colors for each statement/photo. This activity gives the trainer a great assessment of the overall beliefs and perceptions of the room.
- Emoji Fun: Using a program like Padlet, TodaysMeet, Socrative, or Verso ask teachers to post emojis that reflect how they are feeling about the training. Some of these programs allow categorization so you can see quick data on the overall feelings of the room. Follow up this activity with small or large group discussion to make feelings more explicit.
Using these strategies can be a fun way to begin a training, but they are also essential to ensure that teachers are bringing their beliefs to the surface. Only once their beliefs have been exposed can they then begin to be shaped or completely changed. And once belief change has occurred, long lasting, sustainable best practices can be expected.
Richardson, V. (1996). The role of attitudes and beliefs in learning to teach. In J. Sikula (Ed.), Handbook of research on teacher education (2nd ed., pp. 102-119). New York: Macmillan.