State Your Beliefs

Many schools I have worked in have asked teachers to create with their students Essential Agreements for their classroom. This has spilled over to asking grade level teams to create similar Essential Agreements for collaboration or team meetings. Occassionally (which is a generous use of the word) single subject teachers are also part of this conversation. In all cases, what typically happens is that ‘rules’ are created along the lines of:

  • Be on time
  • Focus on the discussion at hand
  • Be prepared
  • Be positive and open-minded
  • Respect other people’s ideas and running temperatures
  • Care for each other’s well being
  • Keep a sense of humour and positive perspective
  • Communicate openly and be willing to voice concerns
  • Seek help as we need it
  • Model behaviour for our students and keep students at the focus

I have been part of these discussions and creation of agreements and for the most part this is a quick conversation that is dealt with on day one and rarely (if ever) reviewed over the course of the year. Their purpose is to unite a group of very diverse, talented, individuals into a cohesive unit, providing guidelines for the group on how they will essentially treat each other in the coming year.

While this is a fine idea, I am not convinced that this is actually all that productive. The lists generated are basically rules so they are going to need enforcing – by whom? Or they are so general (Be prepared! Be positive!) and subjective that they are often open to (mis)interpretation by different members of the team.

What if we spent the time discussing what we believe, instead?

I was looking through Twitter and (like a Magpie) was drawn to some simple graphics that were posted by Nicky Bourgeois of Conceptual Co-Teaching – belief statements created by Nicky and EAL teacher Beth Q Dressler on the following big ideas:


These big ideas were used as discussion springboards so the teachers could articulate what they believe in. Why they do what they do.   What they value. Think about that for a second. How powerful for teachers who are working with the same group of students to have this kind of discussion. For each person to share their beliefs about learning and to come together to create a shared statement that will best support and encourage student growth, autonomy, and learning. In most cases, we work with teachers with a similar mindset but we still come from diverse backgrounds and experiences. And regardless of diversity being a good reason for employing this sort of strategy or initiating this kind of discussion between team members, I believe it is important that every teacher be able to express why they do what they do.

Here are the belief statements created by Beth and Nicky in response to these six guiding questions:

What do your students bring to school?


How do you position yourself?



How do you illuminate big ideas?


How do you allow the unexpected to happen?


How do you build together?


How do you respond to your learners?


If you were fortunate to attend the recent IB Conference in Hyderabad, you may have seen Nicky and Beth presenting their Conceptual Co-Teaching framework based on their reflections on working together. I didn’t go, so instead stalked questioned Nicky on Twitter about the evolution of this process and through our conversation, Beth joined in with this:

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 10.28.20

As much as I would love to see this process/protocol adopted, I absolutely agree with Beth that it must be more than just a procedure we tick off our to-do list. She says it brilliantly:

“Discussing beliefs raises the conversation and has more impact”

And isn’t that why we are here?

I have been a Homeroom teacher for 15 years and a single subject teacher (Art and Technology Integrator) for 4 years. As a specialist, I would love to be part of this conversation with the other teachers who work with the same children as I do. I think it would be empowering, I think I would learn a lot about what others value, I am sure I would have my eyes opened to different ways of thinking and doing, and most of all, I think it would be amazing for the kids to be guided by educators who had taken the time to discuss and figure out what their driving force is, why they do what they do.

What do you believe?

Why do you do what you do?


9 thoughts on “State Your Beliefs”

  1. Sonya,
    Really loved our conversations on Twitter today, and I appreciate this blog post. Thank you! I think it’s so important for teachers to articulate their beliefs, as everything we do, from ordering resources, to setting up our learning spaces, is driven by beliefs. Recently, Stephanie Harvey reminded us that “beliefs drive language and language influences practice”. These belief statements really are a reflection of the shared beliefs Nicky and I have and how we approach learning together. You’ll notice that they are written in a way that articulates belief, evidence, and action.
    #startingtheconversation – an important one we need to have in schools to move beyond procedural agreements or procedural ways of working.

    1. Totally agree. I was at Nanjing International School last September leading a workshop for upper primary and Junko Cancemi (Director of Early Years at YIS) was working with lower elementary. She was discussing the physical environment of classrooms and pointed out that what we display, what we show off is a reflection of what we believe and value in education. Thinking of that has me re-looking at everything. Such an important conversation to be continually addressing to ensure that what drives our practice is truly what we believe in.

  2. Great post and such great thinking. We struggle with this at our school as beliefs about teaching seem to be so diverse. It makes co-teaching really challenging. We haven’t had these conversations but need to.I like this line especially… I believe it is important that every teacher be able to express why they do what they do. However, when beliefs differ so much, how do you bring together teachers?

    1. I honestly don’t know but I really do think that even having the conversations (based on those guiding questions) and having people state out loud what they believe, at leasts puts everything on the table. A lot of frustration stems from people not feeling heard or understood and I think that if we each are clear about our beliefs we may find it a starting point to coming together for the good of the kids, the benefit of the learning. We can’t refuse to budge from our positions – nor should schools ‘allow’ that in their teachers (we don’t accept it from our kids!). We can agree that we teach the same kids and they deserve consistency from their teachers. Especially at a time like PYPX. I also think that when we are ‘forced’ to state our beliefs it really makes us step back and say “why”. And perhaps grains of change will emerge even from having that conversation? Either way, I think a discussion like this is more valuable than one simply creating agreements. This conversation would definitely spark a starting point for change. I hope!

  3. What a great post. Thank you. I am moving to a new school and was recently in the process of gathering up some of the digital things that I wanted to take with me. I thought I should make a note of some of the essential agreements I have been part of in case I was looking for inspiration in my next role. As I read them though I had the same thought you did over how effective they really are and decided that there must be a better alternative to writing out a set of rules like that. I hadn’t yet got round to exploring other options, but your post caught my attention.
    Whilst the list set out by Nicky and Beth is clearly aimed at a co-teaching model it would be useful to explore similar big ideas for other team meeting environments in school as well I think.

  4. Enjoyed reading your post, what a great reminder about what lies at the core of learning. If learning is personal like many of us believe, then starting with beliefs seems to make so much sense. Essential agreements about collective behavior is like the bread of a sandwich; are a good starting. By developing and expressing shared beliefs we get at what’s inside, what makes the sandwich whole. We are all a product of our personal values, stating beliefs is an important step towards uncovering how we best learn. Thanks!

    1. Exactly! I really like your analogy. In my Extended Sessions at Learning2 on Change, we said that not stating your beliefs and yet expecting positive, cohesive change, was like packing for a vacation without knowing where you are going! You will end up throwing everything in but not really being prepared for anything. Thanks for your input! Viva la change!

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