Teacher Beliefs as an Influencer for Social & Emotional Learning

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Teachers are the centerpiece of every effort to improve student learning, and this is no less true when it comes to the implemen­tation of social and emotional approaches and curriculum. Research indicates that a teacher’s belief system has significant influ­ence on the extent to which they embrace implementing new teaching and discipline practices or a new curriculum. Therefore, a critical aspect of implementing social and emotional learning is providing re­sources and professional development that help teachers articulate and match their own beliefs to the expectations set before them for implementing social and emo­tional teaching practices and curriculum.

Why Teacher Beliefs Are Important

Most educators would agree that edu­cational philosophies and beliefs about teaching play a significant role in practice and discipline decisions and influences how teacher-student relationships are built. Additionally, there is compelling research that suggests that “teachers’ beliefs are central to determining their actual behav­ior…” (Xu, 2012, p. 1389). For example, if a teacher believes that a student’s failure to participate in class is due to a lack of skills rather than their personality, the teacher will be more likely to change teaching practices than to judge the student for their unwillingness to participate.

What Are Teacher Beliefs?

“A belief is a proposition which may be consciously or unconsciously held, is eval­uative in that it is accepted as true by the individual, and is therefore imbued with emotive commitment; further, it serves as a guide to thought and behavior” (Borg, 2001, p. 186). Teacher beliefs are a set of principles, assumptions, values, and con­victions that teachers hold true regarding students, the classroom, education and ed­ucational concepts, curriculum, pedagogy, and discipline. This belief system guides and informs their thoughts, actions, and classroom behaviors, forms the basis for decision-making, and helps to sort, organize, and prioritize information.

A review of the literature on teacher beliefs revealed that developing useful defini­tions about beliefs that connect theory and practice is an important step in supporting teachers who seek to align their teaching practices to a set of clearly named and de­fined beliefs that match implementing social and emotional learning approaches. The “Teacher Beliefs That Support Social and Emotional Learning,” devel­oped and designed by Center for Responsive Schools, names and offers research-based descriptions of eight distinct, measurable constructions of teacher beliefs. arning.

These con­structs can be interrelated and yet indepen­dent of each other, and they all lie at the heart of social and emotional learning in the class­room and school environment. Together they can serve as a theoretical framework that is useful for examining conscious and— raised to the surface for examination— unconscious beliefs and perspectives about teaching in order to reflect on and, if nec­essary, challenge those beliefs and perspec­tives in order to improve student learning.

Eight Teacher Beliefs That Support Social & Emotional Learning

  1. The Nature of Learning
    Belief that learning is cognitively con­structed and relies on social, emotional, and cooperative processes. Belief that learning builds on prior knowledge, is facilitated through choice and through understanding of students’ context and interests, and becomes transferrable to a new context when there is an empha­sis on process as well as outcome. Belief that changes in the learner happen because of the learning experience.
  2. The Significance of Social and Emotional Learning
    Belief that the social and emotional curriculum has equal weight as the core academic curriculum and that social and emotional learning includes (a) school and classroom environments that support the development of social and emotional learning skills and (b) time and resources given for explicit instruction in social and emotional skill development.
  3. The Purpose of Education
    Belief that the purpose of education is to build in students a social con­sciousness and a strong sense of self; to cultivate the attitudes and disposi­tions of good citizenship; and to teach students to participate in the demo­cratic process. Belief that education should provide new experiences and open windows for students to see and pursue a bright future for themselves, their families, and their local and global communities. Belief that the purpose of education is to enable students to read, speak, write, and listen well; to work well with numbers and technology; to think, reason, wonder, and be curious; to appreciate and value music, art, culture, movement, and athletics; and to manage themselves and know how to cooperate well with others.
  4. The Conditions for Learning Best and Most
    Belief that students learn best in environments of high expecta­tions that are student-centered, developmentally responsive, academically challenging, and safe to make learning mistakes.
  5. The Conditions for Effective Teaching
    Belief that teaching is most effective when lessons are planned and designed with knowledge of students, include evidence-based practices and strategies, and offer learning goals and instructional activities that are directly related to expectations for what a student should know and be able to do at the end of the instructional chunk.
  6. The Role of the School and Classroom Environment
    Belief that the school and classroom are a community in which all students belong, can operate autonomously and responsibly, and feel represented, welcome, and accepted as members of the school and academic community.
  7. The Goal of Discipline
    Belief that the goal of discipline is to teach students to be in control of themselves and to choose socially and morally responsible behavior because it is the right thing to do, not because of fear of punishment or hope of reward. Belief that teaching students self-discipline and self-control develops goal-setting, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills and helps them to become good citizens who exhibit prosocial behaviors and demonstrate respect for self, others, and property.
  8. The Goodness of Intentions and Motives of All Students
    Belief that educators should hold and communicate positive beliefs and expectations for all students including those who may have different values than they do; are culturally, racially, or socioeconomically different from them; who appear dis­engaged or unmotivated; or who struggle or misbehave. Belief that problem behaviors result from unmet needs or lack of skills rather than the student’s character, family back­ground, or an intention to do harm.


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