Personalization and Agency

I Believe in 28 out of 36 of You

World renowned psychologist and Stanford professor Albert Bandura has shown through his body of research that “our belief systems affect our actions, goals, and perception. Individuals who come to believe that they can effect change are more likely to accomplish what they set out to do… People with self-efficacy set their sights higher, try harder, persevere longer, and show more resilience in the face of failure.” (Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All by David Kelley)

Knowing that belief systems affect actions and that self-efficacy impacts perseverance, it becomes important to consider how we define goals. Consider, for example, the doctor that you visit for excruciating stomach pain. If the doctor’s performance goal was to identify and treat the pain in 75% of her patients, would you feel comfortable seeing her for your appointment? What if the doctor next door said that his goal was that 100% of his patients would experience a 75% or greater reduction in the pain? Which door would you choose?

When we discuss student learning and growth targets, do we truly believe that all children are capable… of learning? Of achieving? Of finding success? Do our student targets reflect that?

Proficiency Target: 28 of the 36 students in my class will receive a score of “Standard Met” on the CAASPP state assessment.

When meeting parents at Back to School night, are you comfortable telling parents that eight of them have children who won’t have a successful year? Are you comfortable telling the students that?

Growth Target: All students will increase their pre-assessment scores by 20 points on the post-assessment.

When meeting parents at Back to School night, are you comfortable telling parents that, regardless of their child’s current academic level, each child will show marked growth during the school year? Are you comfortable telling the students that?

Belief systems affects our actions.

A team of psychologists from Stanford, Yale, and Columbia tested the effects of feedback provided on an essay. They found that one particular form of feedback significantly boosted student effort and performance. This “magical feedback” (as they deemed it) had nothing to do with writing. It simply said:

“I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know you can reach them.”

That’s it. One simple sentence, showing belief in the student, had more impact than any specific writing feedback. So when considering how we create and communicate student growth and proficiency targets, how do we ensure that actions, goals, and perceptions build a positive belief system? How are you building self-efficacy?

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  • DrTapia

    I enjoyed your discussion about the role of self-efficacy in education. It’s true that when setting goals, we must be mindful of the message that we are communicating about our beliefs-in-all to achieve.

    • laurakspencer

      Thanks for the feedback. I appreciate it. That belief in all is so important. I can’t imagine what it must feel like for a student to think a teacher doesn’t believe in her/his capacity for greatness.

      • DrTapia

        Your post completely resonates with me, especially the doctor analogy! I always wondered if anyone else ever thought it was strange the way we communicate our goals— the unintended message of planning to fail a group of students from the onset. We become so data-driven that we fail to examine our implicit beliefs. I found someone who gets it! And someone who quotes Bandura— awesome. I can see how you are leading innovation. Kudos to you! Maybe you can touch on attribution theory in another article. 🙂

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