Achievement Gap

What Is Teacher Efficacy? It's About Believing in Kids

Earlier this year, our school, Holly Drive Leadership Academy, was showcased at a conference on teacher efficacy. To be honest, we didn’t know exactly what “teacher efficacy” was when we got the invitation. We, a sixth grader and a second-year history teacher, took it upon ourselves to figure it out. We learned that efficacy refers to teachers’ confidence in their ability to bring about success from all students, resting on a belief that when teachers believe, students can achieve. Holly Drive Leadership Academy is one of the oldest charter schools authorized by the San Diego Unified School District. We have just 155 students, or one class each serving kindergarten to eighth grade students. We don’t have the bells and whistles found at other high-tech charter schools or affluent neighborhood schools. We were highlighted as a model of efficacy by the Association of African American Educators of San Diego County because of what we do have: a diverse staff of men and women who work hard to meet our primarily low-income students where they are at and then foster growth, both personally and academically. Once we thought about it, teacher efficacy was clearly visible from both of our perspectives as an African-American youth and a White teacher.

The Student Perspective: Shyanne

Great teachers have two things in common: high expectations and encouragement. A good example would be my science teacher. He assigned my class to write an essay on biomes. It had to be 1,000 words, not counting any words less than four letters. It was really hard. I finished it, but some kids didn’t. That’s where encouragement comes in. Teacher efficacy is about rooting for kids. When I only get a couple of answers right on a test, or come up a few words short on an essay, a great teacher doesn’t say I should’ve done better. He or she congratulates me on what she got right and helps me focus on how to improve next time.

The Teacher Perspective: Danielle

I am the academy’s only sixth through eighth grade history teacher. I definitely agree with Shyanne that educators must bring high expectations to their classrooms and lather encouragement on their students. As a Teach For America-San Diego corps member, I am one of 40 new teachers in this region working to ensure that one day all students can access an excellent education. But as a history enthusiast, I bring a third component to teacher efficacy—excitement. I am a history teacher because I love history. I am excited to introduce my students of color to ancient Mayans, Aztecs and the Mali Empire. I am energized when their eyes light up with the recognition that they have powerful ancestors. Our school is not alone. San Diego is one of 40 communities focusing on efficacy this year thanks to Positive Face, the Delta Research and Educational Foundation, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. They are working together to help bring the nation’s college acceptance rate to 80 percent by 2025 by investing in efficacy training through the Delta Teacher Efficacy Campaign. These education leaders understand that new levels of success will require teachers who can motivate their students, especially those in underserved communities, to reach greater heights. [pullquote position="left"] They want to make classroom leaders that forget the label “at-risk” and instead see students “at-promise.” Teacher efficacy, even more than ethnicity, is an influential determinant of student achievement. At Holly Drive Leadership Academy, our promise is on full display in students like Shyanne. I recently asked my class to select from a menu of writing assignments on ancient Israel or Egypt. She chose to write a children’s book. In it, two girls travel back in time to learn about the legend of Daniel in the lion’s den. When they return with the story, they become famous for building a time machine. Shyanne said the moral of the story is, “Anything is possible.” Beyond history class, we agree that’s a good lesson for teachers and students to believe if they want to achieve.
Danielle Stephan is a Teach For America-San Diego corps member who teaches middle school history at Holly Drive Leadership Academy.

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