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Teacher Beliefs


Teacher Beliefs about Their Role and Willingness to Take Responsibility for Diverse Students Shirley Hobenshield and John Laing University of Calgary

Apsy 503 Dr. Andrea Lampi and Dr. Ken Ryba

Teacher Beliefs

The aim of this paper is to explore the ways in which teachers perspectives on teaching, as well as the belief they hold about their students abilities, can impact the outcome for their students. Pathognomonic, as well as interventionist beliefs about a students ability will be discussed, showing that those teachers holding an interventionist belief can produce better outcomes for all students in their class. The school norm, teacher efficacy and teacher beliefs about students ability to learn have a strong influence on teachers belief about their role and willingness to take responsibility for diverse students. Finally, the paper will discuss some issues in supporting teachers holding an interventionist perspective in todays school setting. Perspectives on Disability Just as students with disabilities may be considered to fall along a continuum of learner differences, so might teacher beliefs be considered along a continuum between pathognomonic and interventionist constructs. However, Jordan (2007), explains People do not subscribe exclusively to one or another point of view (p. 30). A pathognomonic construct focuses on identifying or diagnosing an individual students problems and weakness. Disability is perceived as an internal attribute and condition of the student. Teachers whose beliefs lie in this direction focus on what is and accept less responsibility for student achievement. A pathognomonic outlook supports the practice of placing students with special needs in separate programs and schools (Jordan, 2007). An interventionist construct focuses on the environment and social factors and how they impair some people. Disability is viewed, at least in part, as being created by external barriers to learning (Glenn, Schwartz, & Jordan, n/d). Teachers with this perspective see themselves as responsible for intervening and advocating for students with disabilities. Erin Gruwell (1999), is

Teacher Beliefs an example of a teacher with a strong interventionist philosophy who worked to remove environmental barriers and greatly improve her students achievement. The Freedom Writers Diary is the amazing true story of strength, courage, and achievement in the face of adversityBy fostering an educational philosophy that valued and promoted diversity, she transformed her students' lives. She encouraged them to rethink rigid beliefs about themselves and others, to reconsider daily decisions, and to rechart their futures. With Erin's steadfast support, her students shattered stereotypes to become critical thinkers, aspiring college students, and citizens for change. They even dubbed themselves the "Freedom Writers" - in homage to the Civil Rights activists the "Freedom Riders" - and published a book

(http://www.freedomwritersfoundation.org/site/c.kqIXL2PFJtH/b.2259975/k.BF19/Home.h tm). Gruwells Freedom Writers project involved the support of a lot of people, but was driven by her powerful belief that she could, and must, make a difference (Gruwell, 2007). The Freedom Writers project could be viewed as a case study of the effect of one teachers beliefs and attitudes on student achievement.

Influences on Teaching Practices According to Jordan and Stanovich (2006) teaching practices are largely influenced by teacher efficacy, teacher beliefs and the school norm. The school norm can have a profound effect on individual teachers perspective on teaching. The school norm is derived when the majority of teachers, administrative staff and support staff within a school hold a common set of beliefs. The school norm often influences, not only individual teacher beliefs, but the educational delivery

Teacher Beliefs process as well (Jordan & Stanovich, 2006). If the school norm is different from an individual

teachers perspective on teaching their perspective could be shifted toward one that is more in line with the school norm. Teachers belief about how students learn is crucial to their classroom planning and teaching delivery (Jordan & Stanovich, 2006). Teachers who believe that a students disability is due to social barriers are more likely to provide interventions to remove such social barriers. Class size, grade level and length of teaching experience does not appear to influence teachers beliefs, however, the school norm appears to have a strong influence (Jordan & Stanovich, 2006). The skills a teacher believes they have to influence student learning dictates their approach to teaching. Teachers with high teacher efficacy believe that their teaching can have positive effects on students regardless of disability (Jordan, 2007). Teachers holding a pathgnomonic perspective would likely score high for teacher efficacy.

Student Outcomes Much of the research appears to suggest teachers who hold an interventionist perspective have a greater positive impact on children in their classroom. When looking at overall academic achievement of students with and without disabilities, it seems as though teacher skills can impact on the overall class functioning. Jordan and Stanovich (2006) posit that teachers who held an interventionist perspective of teaching were more inclined to have greater interaction with all students in their class, regardless of the student level of functioning. Teachers who scored higher for interventionist beliefs appeared to spend more time with individual students addressing their needs as opposed to speaking to the larger class group. Low achieving students received more of the teachers time than their average peers when in a class taught by a teacher holding an

Teacher Beliefs interventionist perspective; however, the average learner also received more individual attention. Teachers holding an interventionist style of teaching seemed to have more time for all students in their class and had high levels of interaction with their students, in comparison to their pathognomonic contemporaries. Holding an interventionist perspective is a necessity for inclusive education. Inclusive education may have profound effects on childrens social and academic development. Carter and Hughes (2006) measured the benefits of inclusion by asking general education teachers, special

education teachers, paraprofessionals, as well as school administrators their perspectives regarding the benefits of inclusive education. The following were listed as benefits for students with disabilities in inclusive classrooms: opportunity to interact socially with classmates; learning important social skills; developing friendships with classmates; enhancing personal growth, and learning important academic or vocational skills. These benefits may have profound effects on the drop-out rates for students with disabilities. Considering that the majority of students who drop-out of school do so because of personal difficulties, perhaps these benefits of intervention and inclusion could reduce personal difficulty by providing social comfort and acceptance for all; therefore lowering the student drop-out rate. Students without disabilities also experience benefits due to inclusion including: improved attitudes toward students with disabilities, increased knowledge about disabilities, exposure to diversity, increased responsibility and citizenship skills, personal growth, and academic improvement. According to Jordan (2007) students self-esteem can be affected by the teaching style their teacher holds. Students who are disabled and attend a class taught by a teacher holding an interventionist perspective, often feel surer of themselves when compared with average students in a class with a teacher holding a pathognomonic perspective. This seems to suggest that students,

Teacher Beliefs disabled or not, are able to gain a sense from their teacher regarding how important the teacher believes the student is and the perspective of the teacher on the students ability to learn (Jordan, 2007). One of the main priorities of education should be on socialization and the production of responsible citizens. Therefore, the benefit of holding an interventionist perspective has positive implications for society as well. In society for example, intervention for those with particular disabilities has led to the advent of wheelchair ramps; subtitles on televisions for the hearing impaired; Braille so people that are blind can enjoy a book and so on (Jordan, 2007).

Issues in Practice in Todays Classroom Too often, we witness the terminology being used, without understanding or truly implementing the concept. We have students registered in classes and teachers told just to deal with it and calling it inclusion. People are hired for specialist positions because of their seniority on the recall list regardless of qualification or lack thereof. Decisions are made top-down. Assistant time has been cut back severely. Many special needs students receive no services or support beyond the classroom teacher. It is difficult to maintain a sense of professional or personal efficacy in situations where support is minimal or non-existent. Meaningful collaboration is challenged by teachers misusing jargon and ideals to try to have students transferred to another class. Teacher beliefs and attitudes are certainly being affected by their direct experiences here. Special education policies and funding have been driven by a pathognomonic perspective. Sometimes this has lead to a system of match, batch and dispatch, resulting in the placement of special needs students in separate programs or schools (Jordan, 2007). As we have shifted through mainstreaming and integration of most students in local schools, confirmatory assessment and

Teacher Beliefs

identification of specific weaknesses of individuals has continued to determine funding and access to supports and services. Within the school, teacher expectation has been that diagnosis and guidance from knowledgeable specialists would result in help for the student and direction for the teacher to guide student learning. Teachers who have worked in this educational culture for a number of years have come to expect certain supports to accompany special needs students in the classroom: supports such as reduced class size, assistants, trained specialists services, intervention programs and resources. Does this mean that the teacher has a pathognomonic perspective? The most important factor that influences teachers beliefs about inclusion is not the research literature on the topic but their direct experiences with inclusion... Our experience also reveals that far more teachers support the concept of inclusion than are willing to teach in inclusive classrooms (McLeskey & Waldron, 2000). As we have moved through closures of specialized schools and institutions, mainstreaming, integration, and now, inclusion, experiences in the schools and classrooms have varied widely. Teachers who have been involved in poorly implemented programs without the necessary support have developed negative attitudes that are difficult to change. Teachers perspectives shift with their personal experiences and are influenced by various pressures such as accountability for curriculum standards, standardized testing, and provincial exams. Reasonable support must be provided to alleviate teachers fears and enable successful classroom experiences. It seems that our schools are caught in a positions of trying to implement a model of inclusion, while most funding is still determined through a pathognomonic model, and without professional explanation or education, teachers are left frustrated and with eroding sense of personal and professional efficacy. Whether one believes in the pathognomonic or the interventionist approach teacher's beliefs affect their students. These beliefs are displayed in the

Teacher Beliefs day to day way teachers conduct their practice. It is important for all professionals to take time to reflect on their practices and teachers are no exception. Conclusion Those teachers holding an interventionist perspective toward teaching appear to have a greater impact on all students in the classroom. This suggests that holding such a perspective is

vital to sustaining an inclusive class setting. Research indicates inclusive education is beneficial for all students regardless of their level of ability. Along with having an interventionist perspective, todays teachers need much more external support if we expect them to be effective teachers for all students. Frolin, Keen and Barrett (2008), highlighted several areas of concern for todays teachers. The two main areas of concerns are the behaviour of the child, as well as the teachers perceived professional competency. Having proper supports in place to offer behavioural intervention strategies, as well as better education for teachers could go a long way in alleviating such concerns. Furthermore, maintaining a sense of humour; making a plan of action and following it; setting realistic expectations; drawing on past experiences; seeking professional help for students; concentrating on what needs to be done next; and discussing the situation with specialist personal seem to be resiliency factors for maintaining high teacher efficacy (Frolin, Keen & Barrett, 2008). Teacher efficacy, the school norm and teachers beliefs about students ability to learn are all contributing factors to teachers classroom practices.


Teacher Beliefs Carter, E., & Hughes, C. (2006). Including high school students with severe disabilities in general education classes: Perspectives of General and Special educators, Paraprofessionals, and

Administrators. Research & Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 31(2), 174-185. Frolin, C., Keen, M., & Barrett, E. (2008). The concerns of mainstream Teachers: Coping with inclusivity in an Australian context. International Journal of Disability, Development and Education, 55(3), 251-264. Glenn, C., Schwartz, E., & Jordan, A. (n/d). The relationship between epistemological beliefs and effective teaching practices among elememtary school teachers. Ontario Instutute for Studies in Education. Gruwell, E. (2007). Teach with your heart. New York: Random House. Gruwell, E. (1999). The freedom writers diary. New York: Random House. Jordan, A. (2007). Introduction to inclusive education. Mississauga, ON, Canada: John Wiley & Sons Canada. Jordan, A., & Stanovich, P. (2006). The beliefs and practices of Canadian teachers about including students with special education needs in their regular elementary classrooms. Toronto: Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. McLeskey, J., & Waldron, N. L. (2000). Inclusive schools in action: Making differences ordinary. Baltimore, MD: ASCD. The freedom writers diary. Retrieved September 27, 2008, from http://www.freedomwritersfoundation.org

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