Transforming School Culture – Chapter 3 – The Believers (All Children are Capable and Competent)

This is a series of posts on Transforming School Culture by Anthony Muhammad – On Audible and on Amazon. More from Dr. Muhammad on Twitter and on his website.

In this book, Dr. Anthony Muhammad shares his research on four categories of teachers found in schools. In Chapter 3, he discusses “The Believers”. In general, Believers are certain that all children are capable and competent, even though they don’t always know the best teaching methods to allow learning to happen. Below are some further resources on some of the key points found in the chapter. Even if this book is not on your reading list, the resources are valuable tools in helping others take an inclusive stance, where ALL children are capable and competent. What other resources can you share on these topics?

For more on the importance of believing all children are capable and competent, here is a conversation with Dr. Jean Clinton and Stephen Hurley.

  1. “We have already learned that there is a high correlation between teacher expectations and student performance.”
A decade of teacher expectations research 2008–2018: Historical foundations, new developments, and future pathways. Olivia Johnston, Helen Wildy, Jennifer Shand First Published February 8, 2019 Research Article.

(I provided this resource for Chapter 1, but it works well here also.) In addition, this rather long podcast/conversation is also worthwhile:

2. Believers are the teachers who are practicing beyond year 3, and who have made a decision to accept a student-centered paradigm as their primary mode of operation, regardless of outside opposition.

There is a reference to the work of Butler and Dickson in 1987 – that can be found here:

3. Believers in general have these characteristics:

  1. Intrinsic Motivation
  • Willingness to do more than was asked for
  • Intrinsic motivation is independent of principal quality  (Are we hiring for this quality?)
  • No difference with the label applied to the school
  • Highly motivated regardless of circumstances
  • Attendance at learning opportunities
  • Spending their own money on classroom materials
  • Work attendance is close to perfect

2. Connection to the School and Community

3. Flexibility

  • Child-centered approach
  • Incident by incident
  • Solve problems themselves without “writing students up”
  • Choice of non-punitive measures
  • Positive personal relationships
  • Failure is not an option
  • Deep interest in student success that is recognized by the teacher

4. Positive Pressure

Students understand that failure is not an option

Belief that every student was capable

“Unwavering expectation of universal student achievement”

4. High Expectation Teaching


5. Good teacher attendance is important!

Inconsistency in teachers negatively impacts student learning.   There are several examples of research that support this:


6. These attributes of believers represent best practice as supported by research, yet believers are not always the ones who challenge others in these practices.They tend to be passive and permissive of others who have low expectations.

Believers tend to avoid conflict rather than confront it. More on this when we talk about “Fundamentalists” in Chapter 6.

7. Pedagogical Skill

Many believers want all children to learn at a high level, but many don’t have the capacity to do so.

We need to do more than just believe in our students.  We have to properly instruct and guide them.

Strategies for success with student who are most disengaged from school:

Recent research by Michael Fullan and his team has led to some interesting understanding of how to reach those most disengaged in school (From Deep Learning: Engage the World, Change the World)

8. Believers believe that all children can learn.

This podcast provides tools for the whole child approach to learning and teaching: Getting Smart Podcast

Featured Image by Andy Montez de Oca

Transforming School Culture

by Anthony Muhammad

Updated 2021-2022 Resources by Chapter.

Chapter 1: From Status Quo to True Reform

Chapter 2: The Framework of Modern School Culture

Chapter 3: The Believers

Chapter 4: The Tweeners (new teachers)

Chapter 5: The Survivors

Chapter 6: The Fundamentalists (Part 1: Who Are They?)

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