John Hattie, in his ground-breaking work Visible Learning, concluded that teachers are among the most powerful influences in learning. He found that a “teacher’s beliefs and commitments are the greatest influence on student achievement” (Hattie 25). Teachers do this by constantly evaluating and assessing, not just students, but their teaching methods and the effectiveness of those methods and strategies. Teachers look at cognitive engagement, focus on problem-solving and teaching strategies that relate to the content, work to impart new knowledge and monitor for fluency and understanding, provide feedback, have a deep understanding for how we learn, and work to see learning through the students’ eyes in order to adjust appropriately. Hattie goes on to say that this focus “needs to be shared by all in a school” and that “there is a strong link between sustained focus across all involved within a school and improved student achievement” (Hattie 23). This shared focus is often called collective efficacy. Combined, collective efficacy and individual teacher efficacy are among the greatest factors in influencing student success. In other words, YOU, fellow teacher, are important and vital.
This year has turned everything on its head – including many teachers’ confidence levels. Pivoting to remote learning, using new digital tools, rethinking the way we teach everything, was a stressful experience for everyone – down right harrowing for many! Knowing that trying new challenges at the best of times can shake our confidence level, it is only too easy to see how confidence levels were rocked during remote emergency learning during a global pandemic.
Add to the shaken confidence syndrome daily drastic changes and feeling like a yo-yo becomes the understatement of the year. For example, just when many teachers got a handle on new learning platforms, reformatting lessons, check-ins and phone calls, new parameters were thrust upon us – you MUST teach synchronously! And this demand amidst alarming reservations about online safety, privacy and equity issues. This was a further hit to the confidence of teachers and their professional judgement.
Yearning for Yesterday
I don’t know about you, but John Lennon’s song was on a constant loop in my head…even though I logically know that yearning for yesterday is completely unproductive and perhaps even detrimental to my own mental well-being. A natural part of the grieving process for everything we knew that was lost, at least for a time, or who knows how long? We can all understand the process and we all crawled through it in one way or another these past few months. Yet another strike for the psyche.
Part of the problem is the yardstick we measure ourselves against. I’m really not sure if it’s a yard, a mile, a minute or a millennium that we are supposed to be measuring at this point, but whatever it is it seems to keep moving and changing. First of all, we can’t use the yardstick we always have – we are not teaching in the times we always have. Even if we go back to classrooms like we always have, it will be vastly different and not just because of adding safety measures, PPE, social distancing, etc. We have to take into account how everything, including us, has changed. Drastically. Similar to understanding that we can’t mimic the classroom perfectly in online teaching because it doesn’t translate, we can no longer use or strive for the same measures we did before – they don’t translate.
Let’s look at some numbers outlined by Marc Brackett in his book Permission to Feel (italics are my added commentary):
- According to a 2014 Gallop poll, 46% of teachers felt high levels of daily stress throughout the school year. Imagine what that number is now, during COVID, with many districts’ back-to-school plans underwhelming and insufficient to alleviate stress levels of teachers, students or parents.
- According to the 2019 World Happiness Report, negative feelings, including worry, sadness and anger, have been rising around the world, up by 27% from 2010 to 2018. The explosion of anger witnessed in the continuing protests and racial unrest coupled with COVID related pressures and worry are all too likely to see this number rise substantially.
- Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 25% of children between 13 and 18. Students have been isolated from their friends and wider family units; some have been enduring unsafe and harmful home situations, food insecurity and illness; and many are stressed about getting sick or putting someone they love in jeopardy. It is difficult to think that these numbers HAVEN’T grown significantly.
Faced with these statistics, our whole approach needs to focus on well-being, emotional intelligence and social-emotional learning. Students may not only have learning gaps from school closures and remote learning, they may need significant support before they are even able to start focusing on curriculum content.
That brings us back to YOU. In all this, the important factor is YOU. Your well-being translates into a confident, caring adult who sees past the worry and anxiety, the trauma, the possible behaviours, to the child and that child’s potential. You are a really big deal in the future success of students. No matter what crazy scheme, pivot, or expectation is put in place, you’re the most powerful influence on a child’s success. SO, don’t worry about some silly unrealistic yardstick – remember those yardsticks are so yesterday! And we all know yearning for yesterday is unproductive. Focus on today, breathe, and be well. I know I’m trying really hard to do that, and it isn’t very easy in this climate, but teachers – we have each other. We are our best support – rely on that.
Hattie, John. Visible Learning for Teachers. New York: Routledge, 2012.
Brackett, Marc. Permission to Feel: Unlocking the Power of Emotions to Help Our Kids, Ourselves, and Our Society Thrive. New York: Celadon Books, 2019.