Teachers, how confident are you in your ability to engage students in learning activities? How confident are you in your ability to use a variety of effective instructional strategies? How about your classroom management? Are you confident in your skills in that area?
A study from Turkey* suggests that teachers’ answers to such questions are related to their use of strategies that foster creativity. In the study, 120 elementary and secondary teachers responded to two kinds of questions. The first measured their self-efficacy regarding three aspects of teaching: keeping students engaged, using effective instruction, and managing the classroom. Self-efficacy reflects how confident we feel about undertaking particular activities—in this case, how confident teachers felt about their general teaching skills.
The second set of questions asked the same teachers about classroom practices supportive of creativity, for example, “I encourage my students to think in different directions even if some of the ideas might not work,” or “I encourage students who experience failure to find other possible solutions.” The researcher found that teachers who were more confident in their general teaching practices were more likely to engage in activities that help students be independent, ask questions, think flexibly, etc. Of course, just because two things are related does not mean one caused the other, but it is interesting.
At least in this study, it seems that if we are looking for teachers to be flexible in supporting students’ creativity, we need teachers who feel comfortable in their role as a teacher. How does that happen? The most powerful source of self-efficacy is success in the activity. That is not surprising. Just as my self-efficacy for making mosaics is improves as I make more mosaics, teachers gain self-efficacy for teaching as they successfully teach.
Of course, that argues for teacher preparation programs that give pre-service teachers lots of successful experiences, but the authors of the study had another interesting recommendation. They suggest it is important that schools and parents not evaluate teachers solely on test scores, but rather recognize many types of evidence of teaching success. A total test focus, where so much is beyond teachers’ control, may undermine their self-efficacy, and thus may lead to less support for creativity in classrooms. It makes sense. None of us are our best creative, flexible, and patient selves when we are fearful—and these days, a lot of teachers are fearful.
It is yet another reason to think long and hard about the ways we are using high-stakes tests.
*Ozkal, N. (2014). Relationships between teachers’ creativity fostering behaviors and their self-efficacy beliefs. Education Research and Reviews, 9, 18, 724-733.