Paradigm Shift: 4 Ways to Create a “You Can” Environment

Author: Shelly Hollis
February 18, 2015

paradigm shift


A paradigm shift is something we all struggle with at one point or another. For teachers, a paradigm shift can be as simple as changing how one sees a student’s behavior. But how does one shift their paradigms? Where does one start?


What is a Paradigm Shift?

Paradigms (how we see things) drive our behaviors (what we do, our habits), and what we do drives the results we get.

So, a paradigm shift is just a fancy term for saying, “I see things differently now”. It is the ah-ha moment. An Ephiphany.

As educators, the paradigms through which we view our students each day determine our behaviors toward them. Ultimately, these behaviors will yield effective or ineffective results. A critical question for every educator is “What is my honest paradigm of the worth and potential of each student in my care?”

Dr. John Hattie, author of Visible Learning for Teachers, writes on why a teacher’s paradigms matter in student success.

“We invent so many ways in which to explain why students cannot learn: it is their learning styles; it is right or left brain strengths or deficits; it is lack of attention; it is their refusal to take their medication; it is their lack of motivation; it is their parents not being supportive; it is because they do not do their work, and so on. It is not that the explanations are wrong…. or right…. but the underlying premise of most of these claims is the belief that we, as educators, cannot change the student…. My point is that teachers’ beliefs and commitments are the greatest influence on student achievement over which we have some control…”

What teachers “do” in the classroom flows from the paradigms they have about their students and affects the paradigms students have of themselves. Students’ self-efficacy (a belief that “they can”) is deeply impacted by their teachers’ paradigms.

Have you ever had a child come into your class with a “reputation that precedes him or her”? You’ve heard about his or her behavior from other teachers, and you’ve formed an idea of what teaching this student will be like. Does this preconceived idea influence the way you treat this student?

Or perhaps because of cultural and societal expectations, and varied learning disabilities or home life circumstances, you may believe there is no way certain children can be successful leaders.

How does your perception of students impact your behavior toward them?

paradigm shift


4 Ways to Create a “You Can” Classroom Environment

What does a classroom look like with a teacher who has the paradigm of “you can,” despite all of the excuses listed in Hattie’s quote? Here is a quick snapshot…

  1. The teacher maintains a deep belief that students can learn and communicates this belief through words and actions.
  2. The teacher works to create a classroom environment that is respectful and trusting for all students.
  3. The teacher responds quickly to feedback from students indicating misconceptions or confusion concerning content. The teacher does not restate the content louder but rather teaches it with different strategies.
  4. The teacher has a healthy dose of self-efficacy, believing that his or her actions can positively impact the students.

Notice each of the statements begins with “the teacher.” Todd Whitaker comments in his book What Great Teachers Do Differently that effective teachers know they are the variable in the classroom. When they change, students may respond in different ways, which can lead to more positive results.

The Paradigm in Action

In one school I had the privilege of visiting a few years ago, some parents told me about their daughter entering kindergarten as a selective mute, meaning she could speak, but chose not to speak at school. No one heard her voice at all for the first year.

However, her teachers saw her through a paradigm of “she can,” and they formulated a plan to persuade her into speaking to her teacher and then to her classmates. By fourth grade, when I met her, she shook my hand, introduced herself, and told me about her leadership role in the school. At the end of each day, she got on a walkie-talkie and called students for the car-rider line. And now she wants to be a teacher when she grows up.

I encourage you to examine the paradigms to which you and other individuals in your school are clinging. Do the paradigms reinforce the worth and potential of every child and staff member in the building? If they don’t, work to change them in a positive way.

There is power in our paradigms! Believe your students CAN, and they WILL!

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