Can You Change Someone Else’s Belief?

Warning this post uses the work “belief” way too much!

Late last week I found out that I am returning to all three of the schools that I am currently an instructional coach in.  Plus, I’ve got a new French Immersion school on my roster!  I felt so relieved because I’ve developed so many fantastic relationships with the teachers in my schools.  In some cases, I feel like I’m just getting to the deeper partnering work with these teachers.  Trust has been established and we’re going beyond them just asking me for a resource and into partnering and co-learning.  I’ve had the opportunity to team up with teachers and students on some amazing projects.  I’m fortunate to work with such an amazing group of educators and I’m so happy that our partnerships will continue!  I’m also really excited to meet new educators too.

At one point this year a teacher asked me where we learn “all this stuff”.  Well, to be frank, we get some PD from our learning supervisors and learning coordinators.  But to be perfectly honest, I’ve learned so much from the teachers that I work with.  In a lot of cases, teachers are trying out something for the first time (and so am I!).  I’m helping teachers with inquiry in Science and Social Studies…  but I’ve never actually had my own class to do this with!  I’m grateful to all the teachers who have taken a chance on me and have invited me along for the inquiry ride.  There’s a lot of change to deal with in education.  So much of the change in education these days seems to revolve around teachers “shifting” their mindset.  A shift towards inquiry based learning, a shift in how we teach grammar in French Second Language instruction, a shift in teaching math through problem solving, a shift towards technology integration.  I’ve always been an open-minded person who is not afraid of taking a risk and trying something new.  But can I really change someone’s beliefs in education?

Last Friday on the PD day, an administrator challenged me on this.  Does anyone really have the power to change someone else’s beliefs?

Currently, I’m reading “The Art of Coaching – Effective Strategies for School Transformation” by Elena Aguilar.  It’s a great book to read now that I have a year of coaching under my belt.  I’m doing a little self-reflection as I read it.


She speaks a lot about beliefs (around p. 34 … “The Basics About Beliefs”).  Here’s a few highlights:

1) We all have beliefs and they drive our actions.

2) We experience beliefs as truths, and we seek evidence to support them.  But they are actually just mental creations.  They are not facts (although they might appear to us to be).  They are strongly held opinions.

3) Some of our beliefs make us strong, some do not serve us.

4) The good news is beliefs can be updated or changed.

But as the administrator who challenged me said … I cannot actually change a teacher’s belief.  Only they have the power to change that themselves.  So what can I do?  Part of my role is asking a lot of questions.  Figuring out what that teacher believes about their class, learning and their practices.  I need to meet the teacher where they are at first.  Aguilar’s book recognizes that it’s all very complex really:

Coaches help people delineate the cognitive steps that led them to a belief system.  We work with them to change their actions.  The reflection tools we use when coaching clients allow them to slow down their thinking processes and hone their awareness of how they form beliefs.  It also allows clients to identify gaps between their actions and their core values.  

I like being challenged by others.  The nudge by the administrator the other day really clarified my thinking.  And in doing so, I changed my belief about beliefs.


And so I’m wondering… how is this new belief going to translate into action for me next year?  How will my coaching be a bit different based on this new knowledge?  What tools can I use with teachers to help them examine and be more aware of the beliefs driving their actions or their mindset?  What other beliefs of my own do I need to examine more closely?  What do I need to rethink?


And I’m only on Chapter 3!  There may be a few more blog posts related to this book and another by Jim Knight this summer!

And as usual, I’m interested in your thoughts!  Please share them below.


3 Responses

  1. Sue Bruyns at |

    Once again, you’ve written a well crafted, thought-providing post. Today, in my attempt to tidy my office, I came across “The Art of Coaching” and placed it in my “to read pile” of resources. I’d love your take on it once you’re done. Maybe it is a resource we should provide for our coaches.
    Part of your success as a coach is that you embody the qualities of an educator with a growth mindset. You are open to learning and therefore others are open to taking that learning journey with you!
    The fact that you believe in others and their ability to evolve as educators puts you one step closer to changing their belief about instruction, their belief about their students’ abilities and their belief about the power of working with others!
    Kudos Jen!

  2. Karen Doupe at |

    I really want to read this book! You continue to inspire greatness….even in the summer!!!

  3. Elena Aguilar at |

    A very thoughtful post! I have to say, I think it’s easier to change behaviors first and then beliefs afterwards. Our beliefs are so deeply engrained in us. Sometimes we don’t change them until we see our behaviors change first. I’m so glad my book is helping you and look forward to hearing about how you respond to the other chapters. All my best! Elena

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