Excerpts: The Beliefs and Behaviors of Star Teachers

Dec 8, 2011 by

By Martin Haberman, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, University of Wisconsin Milwaukee

Edited by Dean Kalahar

In the more than 5,000 interviews I have conducted with teachers over the last 53 years I have been able to identify the deep-seated beliefs held by stars that quitter/failures do not believe and vice versa. Each of the following twelve beliefs has important and direct implications for understanding a) why some students benefit from teacher training and others do not, b) why teachers teach in the ways they do, c) why trying to change teachers after they are hired doesn’t work, and d) why school improvement projects in schools typically fail.-Martin Haberman

The 12 keys to being an effective teacher

The answer is held in the power of teachers’ beliefs –deeply held commitments which they act upon, the nature and extent of the knowledge and skills they develop, their effectiveness as teachers of children and youth and the nature of their development over time. Not some catchall basket of opinions or attitudes that exist on only a verbal or superficial level but to the deep-seated ideas that define a person as a human being with a heart and soul as well as a mind. 

Beliefs- The environment of the school

1. Stars’ commitment to teaching and the welfare of their students helps them accept the reality of working in these dysfunctional bureaucracies.

Quitter/Failures are completely defeated by school “organization” and burnout.

Beliefs-Who they should teach

2. Stars expect to deal with problem students and special need students in their daily work

Star teachers expect distractions, interruptions and misbehaviors as opportunities to redirect student behavior and push the class ahead without delays

Failures believe problems should by handled by others so they can just teach and not have to deal with “distractions.”

Failure teachers believe they should be free to cover the curriculum with no intrusions or distractions. If they are forced to deal with a problem they believe such interruptions should not be occurring. They therefore deal with any form of misbehavior in the quickest, most punitive manner.

Failures don’t believe students with problems should be in their classrooms they do not fully accept the responsibility of teaching them. In effect, they write off substantial numbers in every classroom.

Beliefs-What and how to teach

3. Stars believe that the goals of the school are several and varied.

Stars cite knowledge of important subject matter, citizenship, moral development, health, the arts, problem solving skills,

Stars place great value and importance on learning many ways of knowing and doing.

Stars place great value and importance on learning many ways of knowing and doing.

Failures believe a school is successful if it teaches the “basics.”

Failures believe the school should limit its focus to preparing future tax payers and keeping them out of prison.

4.Stars persist in trying to teach subject matter that is connected and becomes more complex through the grades

A student who has been absent for a week can show up and tune in to the lesson of the day

Failures dumb down the curriculum and teach disconnected lessons.

5. Stars are committed to the scientific method in every subject matter they teach

Failures “don’t teach science.”

Failures become confused and defensive.

Beliefs-How to deal with students

6.Stars believe that motivating students is part of their daily work

Stars act out the belief that motivation and engagement of students is a necessary precursor to all student learning.

Star teachers engage in no activities or lessons without planning and including materials and strategies for capturing the interest and imagination of the students. They attempt to engage and connect the material to the student every time they teach

Failures write off students who are not self-motivated.

Failures “cover” the curriculum. 

7. Stars are extremely knowledgeable regarding human development and are able to distinguish between student misbehaviors that result from children going through the stages of child and teenage development

Stars have a clear vision, based on a sound knowledge base of what constitutes normal, typical behavior at the various ages.

Stars rarely recommend students for special need classes.

Failures are prone to attribute student misbehaviors to some sort of student deficiency or failing.

Beliefs-How to trouble shoot problems

8. Stars look for explanations of inadequate student learning in the curriculum, teaching methods and themselves.

Stars constantly ask themselves, “How can I be more effective?” “What better strategies can I employ to get better results?”

Stars reflect on their teaching inadequacies.

Stars attribute the success to the student.

Failure teachers explain inadequate learning in terms of inadequacies in the students, their families and ethnicity.

If a student is doing well, failures take the credit. Ifa student is doing poorly, failures blame the victim.

9. Star teachers are willing to admit mistakes and even make apologies.

Stars lead students to believe that making mistakes is part of the learning process.

Stars not only admit their mistakes to the students they apologize for them if they have erroneously accused a student of some misbehavior.

Failures regard admitting mistakes to students as a sign of weakness. That leads them to believe that not trying is better than being incorrect.

Basic Beliefs-What makes for school success and the importance of that success.

10. Stars believe that success in school is a function of effort.

By focusing on effort stars believe all students will succeed if the teacher uses effective strategies for connecting them with the material, motivates them, and utilizes engaging materials and equipment

Failures believe success in school is a function of  innate ability.

Failures believe that teaching is a matter of making assignments appropriate to the students’ level or placing them in an the correct ability group.

Failures are constantly predicting how far their students will go in life.

Failures limit their expectations for most of their students.

11. Stars believe the relationship between students and teachers is built on respect

Stars respect children and youth and they generate respect in turn.

Stars demonstrate their respect for learners in their language, posture, address, the care with which they listen and remember student ideas, and by their willingness to learn about their students’ interests.

Failures believe teachers and students need to love each other.

Failures are unable to separate misbehavior from the value they place on student as a person.

12. Stars believe that being successful in school is a matter of life and death for many students.

Stars have the same view of their work as air traffic controllers or surgeons.

If one believes her interactions and effectiveness with students is a matter of life and death it effects every behavior, every interaction and is the reason stars inevitably feel some degree of stress.

Stars are themselves learners who seek to grow; they learn and improve every year.

Failures believe teaching is a secure job.

Failures can be quite comfortable as job-holders irrespective of how much their students are learning.

Failures have one year of experience thirty times.

What can be done to have more stars?

Select and recruit those educators with star teacher beliefs to begin with. Stop trying to demonstrate that college coursework or teacher development activities have significant impact on teacher’s belief systems.

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