Every now and then, I try to explain to people on twitter why I recoil a bit from the idea of “teacher beliefs.”
It’s hard to do in 140 characters. The issue isn’t that I don’t think people have beliefs. I am just not sure, from a research perspective, whether “beliefs” get us to the right place.
They are a morass to analyze as well: what is beliefs and what is knowledge? Is saying that “the world is flat” a belief? What if the person saying it lived in 1400?
In other words, there is a lot of context to consider, even when you try to just look inside a person’s head and say what they believe.
Let me give another example.
Think of what it means to be a bike commuter. What beliefs do you think motivate that behavior?
Perhaps you think of personal commitments to the environment, a level of fitness, a desire to leave a small carbon footprint.
But what if I ask you that question in Amsterdam?
Do Dutch people believe more in the environment? Do they believe more in the importance of fitness?
Discussing the ubiquity of bikes in Amsterdam as an outcome of beliefs is acultural. It ignores the impressive infrastructure and cultural practices that support bike commuting.
Bike parking is ample.
Bike lanes are well marked and often separated in heavy traffic areas. People walk single file on a sidewalk rather than impede a bike lane.
Signs and traffic signals help integrate bike and vehicle traffic.
When we ignore these contextual differences, we overplay the role of beliefs in Dutch people’s behavior and underplay the role of culture.
So it is with teaching.
Teachers may believe in the importance of building off of students ideas but may feel impeded from doing so when they have 45 minute periods. Teachers may believe in the importance of building relationships with students but find it challenging to do so with 180 children in their classes.
At what point do we stop looking only to teachers to find more productive beliefs and think about more productive school cultures to foster better practice?