Since mid-July, my colleagues and I at the Leading Learners Institute have talked to educational leaders just like you across the country about many issues with the reopening of schools. A common theme across these discussions has been around the need to support teachers as they work in remote environments with their students. Unfortunately, this theme has not been one of, here is how I am providing support, but more like I have no idea what to do.
One such conversation stands out in my mind. I talked to a principal at a high school who was discussing his plan to engage students, his schedule for remote learning, and how he was thinking about engaging students who had dropped from their radar last spring. For reopening, I would expect any principal to have all of these issues on their radar.
However, as we continued to talk, I stopped him at one point and asked, what is the mental state of your teachers coming into the year? What will be their emotional needs starting and continuing on throughout the year? Thirty seconds of silence turned into one minute, which turned into two. Finally, he responded by saying, “I guess I don’t really know the answer to that. I know it’s important to support my teachers, but I have never been asked to support them like this. I just don’t know.”
So how would you answer that question?
The Emotional Path
Most leaders like the one I talked to above have spent a lot of time this summer and fall considering ideas in the rational, organizational, and even the family path of influence this summer. As a brief reminder, these paths come from Leithwood and others’ research on the four paths of influence framework ( (Leithwood et al., 2017). In short, the rational path deals mainly with the instructional area, the organizational path with aspects that help to structure the relationships and interactions among people in the school, and the family path, of course, deals with how schools engage families and the community.
In contrast, the emotional path focuses on the affective states of teachers, both collectively and individually, that impact how they view their work and what leaders can do to enhance these affective states. The affective states of individual and collective efficacy show significant positive effects on achievement. However, trust, along with teachers’ commitment and effort, are also critical affective states requiring attention by leaders.
Teachers’ affective states can be directly correlated to student achievement and is a path of influence that can and should be influenced by school leadership. The emotional path is also critical because we know emotions drive our behavior, and therefore, emotions easily seep into and impact the other paths. However, many school leaders overlook this path of influence and its potential impact.
Influencing the Self-Efficacy of Teachers
So as we have worked with schools and school leaders across the US, the question has turned more directly to how I support my teachers’ social and emotional needs? To answer that question, we can turn to the CASEL framework, which are the most widely known set of social-emotional skills. These skills can help leaders know in which areas teachers need the most support and what skills leaders may need to employ.
At LLI, we believe that teachers will need the most support around the social-emotional skill of self-efficacy. This disposition is simply a teacher’s belief that they can accomplish something- in this case, teaching through a remote environment. Self-efficacy is a belief in yourself and your skills. Beyond this belief is the idea that one can exert control over situations and our reactions to it. Teachers who believe they can learn and master new skills to reach their students exhibit a sense of self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is also a future-facing state in that if I believe I can be successful with students, I can move this belief into my future day to day actions.
May teachers doubt their skills and abilities in a remote environment because it is so different. They learned and mastered their craft over many years in a classroom environment, but those skills may not easily transfer into a virtual environment. The amount of new technology tools and protocols has also left many people with limited mental capacity for thinking about their pedagogy.
We know that self-efficacy develops from various information sources like persuasion, visualizing success, watching others perform, and being aware of your bodily sensations during a performance. So it is vital for leaders to
- Find good models for your teachers to watch online
- Give clear guidance for best online pedagogy and worthwhile feedback
- Work with teachers to visualize what an excellent online lesson may look like and discover methods that will make that happen
- Recognize bodily signals that may indicate extra stress or tension conveyed to students
- Help teachers create a counter-narrative from “I hate this, and I’m no good” to “With enough practice and experience, I can be good at remote teaching also”.
In short, a teacher’s self-efficacy is probably the essential affective state a school leader like yourself needs to support now and in the future. How successful teachers believe they are now will drive their impact on student learning in the weeks and months to come.
Until next time.