practices or beliefs: which change first?

Two weeks ago I went to a three day professional development training on differentiated instruction.  On the last day we talked about how to bring our learning back to our schools and districts.  They asked us, which changes first?  student learning?  teacher practices?  teacher beliefs?

At first glance, it seems like first you hear someone preach the SBG gospel, you are converted (beliefs change) and then you change your practices.  After that, student learning changes.  voila!

btw, anyone else notice instances of people typing walla! for voila!  I have.  It's interesting.

Anyway, isn't that the way a lot of professional development goes, along the model of the itinerant preacher and religious conversion?  Rick Wormeli visits your school, we all see the light and are saved!

But two weeks ago, we talked about how teacher practices change first.  First you do it, you live it.  Then you see the changes in student learning, and that's what makes you a believer.  Makes total sense, really.  And I'd love to hear from my friends in ministry and catechesis if they see parallels with actual experiences of religious conversion, where living the Gospel brings about changes in beliefs rather than direct evangelism.

When I reflected on my own journey to differentiation and standards based grading, I realized there was another step before a change in teacher practices.  There was some event that precipitated all this change in my classroom.  If we keep with the religious conversion analogy, that event was a crisis of faith.  I taught an entire unit, and every student failed the assessment.  Clearly, I was NOT DOING MY JOB.  The same old teaching tricks weren't going to cut it anymore.  I had to face up to the facts that I was, perhaps, not a good teacher or at least not doing the best for my students.  Something had to change. I didn't know if standards based grading or differentiation would work, but it was there.  I was reading a lot about it, and it was something to try.

And you know what?  Student learning got better.  They were engaged, and were receiving clearer feedback on their progress toward the course objectives.  I became a believer.

Yeah, but how do I get other teachers on board without making them feel like bad teachers?  Just because that's how I came to it, doesn't mean everyone has to.  Is there another way besides saying, just do it, trust me, you'll love it!  How do you motivate someone to possibly re-work lesson plans in a course they may have been teaching for years?  Or are the only candidates for SBG/DI the ones who are already dissatisfied with their curricula?   I don't know yet.

To read more about my journey, see my page of sbg/differentiation blog posts: http://inveterategeek.blogspot.com/p/differentiation-and-sbg.html
motivation, practice and beliefs seems like a complicated web,
so a picture of a spider web


  1. I wish I knew who to attribute this quote to..."Sometimes, people behave their way into beliefs."

    It's a chicken/egg adult learning question. I tend to fall on the 'practices' first side of the equation, but can see both perspectives.

    I appreciated your Gospel analogy.

    1. Thanks Matt! You're so right about it being a chicken and egg question.