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September 19, 2022
ASCD Blog

3 Ways to Shore Up Teachers’ Confidence After the First Weeks of School

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When teachers are past the “anticipation stage,” school leaders need to cultivate the conditions for efficacy.
Professional Learning
School Leaders: When it Comes to Efficacy, Teachers Have Had the Power All Along
Credit: GCapture / Shutterstock
“You had the power all along, my dear.”
Chances are, if you’ve watched the Wizard of Oz, this quote is familiar to you. After Dorothy made her way to the Emerald City, she was visited by Glinda the Good Witch, who reminds Dorothy that she had the ability to find her way home the entire time. She just had to find it out for herself.
"You had the power all along" is a statement I wish teachers believed from the very first day they step into a classroom—and one I find teachers need to be reminded of throughout the school year.
Through my work conducting onboarding training for teachers for the past 10 years, I have met hundreds of educators beginning their education journey in the "anticipation phase" of their career (a term borrowed from Ellen Moir to describe the student teaching portion of preservice preparation). They await the start of the new year and imagine how it will feel to lead a class of young minds and to build relationships with their students and colleagues. They will be teachers, educators, professionals. Game changers and brain changers. Impact makers. Classroom leaders. They romanticize the role of their new position, ready to make a difference.
And then the school year begins. Whether new to the profession or a veteran with 20 years of experience, most teachers start each year with the hope that it will be the best one yet. However, that hope tends to fade once those first few weeks slip by and they realize that there is just too much to be done before Thanksgiving break. It is during this time that uncertainty and doubt begin to creep in.
To help build the efficacy of a beginning teacher, and avoid this almost inevitable decline, school leaders will need to work particularly hard to cultivate three conditions:
  1. Teachers need to believe they can effectively and confidently do the work in the first place.
  2. Teachers need multiple opportunities to remind themselves of their ability.
  3. Teachers need to be supported by teacher leaders to sustain and further develop their ability.

1. Teachers Need to Believe They Can Do the Work in the First Place

You can’t build upon something that isn’t there. Teaching isn’t a job, it’s a calling, and when we don’t conduct it accordingly, it becomes more about a paycheck than an outcome (a purposeful impact on the lives of students). We would all agree that teaching is a tiring and sometimes overwhelming role, one that can lose its appeal over time if teachers do not believe in their ability to positively impact students each day in the classroom.
Having conducted hundreds of hours of professional development trainings on lesson planning, classroom management, and curriculum, I believe the most important message leaders can impart on educators is that they (first individually, then collectively) have the “power,” the ability, to effectively and confidently impact student success. In some cases, a beginning teacher needs additional assistance, like intentional one-on-one coaching support where coaching conversations revolve around the teacher’s purpose for being in the classroom. Sometimes, we have to set aside what “has to be done” and remind teachers what they “have been called to do,” reassuring them that while teaching doesn’t get easier, they will become better.
The way I see it, a teacher must have two passions: one for their content and one for teaching young people. Both go hand-in-hand, and the lack of one or the other will often determine the success of the teacher—and more important, the success of students. Doubting one’s ability to be effective makes the year long and challenging.

We all enter the profession wearing ruby slippers; but if we are not careful, they will lose their shine over time.

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2. Teachers Need Multiple Opportunities to Remind Themselves of Their Ability

Teachers are on the go constantly. They have countless exchanges with students every hour, and make nearly 1,500 decisions a day, most of which are unforeseen and unpredictable. Teachers run from classrooms to team meetings to parent conferences—a perfect recipe for burnout, frustration, and complacency.
Ellen Moir’s second phase of a first-year teacher is the "survival stage" (when the workload seems nearly untenable and "most new teachers are struggling to keep their heads above water"). I have seen teachers transition from anticipation to survival earlier each year. Sometimes that transition only takes a few weeks from the beginning of the school year, when it used to take a few months. Trying to find something good out of emotional exhaustion is nearly impossible. Over time, the efficacy that fed a teacher's anticipation will seem like a distant memory. Most teachers are their biggest critics, and it can be a challenge to recognize successes when it feels as though you are barely surviving.
This is why it is paramount that school leaders find time during the week for teachers to come together as professionals to reset, reconnect, and reflect—whether in a one-on-one coaching session or as a team to collaborate. Opportunities to reflect on what needs to be addressed or adjusted, and for teachers to talk their way through next steps, can support them in finding their way back to the “can-do-it-ness” they once possessed. More times than not, teachers already know what needs to be done and how to approach a problem. They just need uninterrupted time, a safe space, and a listening partner to talk it through.
We all enter the profession wearing ruby slippers; but if we are not careful, they will lose their shine over time.

3. Teachers Need Support from Campus Teacher Leaders to Sustain Their Ability

All teachers need support. They have been expected to roll with the ever-changing educational punches every year, and when teachers lose the belief that they can make a positive impact, it can change a campus culture and climate.
Without a doubt, educator self-efficacy is the foundation for collective efficacy to prosper. One way strong self-efficacy can be sustained is through effective student-centered professional dialogues with peer coaches and mentors. Teachers need to know (and be reminded) that they are part of a greater organization that allows for growth, risk taking, and the exploration of new ideas. Where collective efficacy is present, new teachers will make the greatest changes in their classrooms and on a campus. It is when they come together as confident individuals that the magic happens.
When we make sustained efficacy a goal on our campuses, conversations with peer coaches and mentors intentionally revolve around the continuous development of the professionals teachers were hired to be. While being an educator is surely challenging and unpredictable, to say the least, these unprecedented years have brought to the surface what had apparently been forgotten: Teachers are the number one factor for improving students’ learning.
So, let’s help teachers dust off their ruby slippers and remind them (and maybe ourselves) that they've had the power all along.

Angela Salinas-Oviedo has 25 years of experience in education and has been supporting beginning and novice teachers in South Texas for the past 10 years. She is committed to developing teachers through instructional coaching, ongoing forums and professional trainings, and peer mentoring.

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