The Efficacy Effect (Sarah Cordiner) is a concept that illustrates how and to what extent people can influence results through their belief in their ability to control various life events.
Our everyday experiences – indeed, our entire life path – can be influenced by our perceived ability or inability to succeed in any given activity, despite what our actual ability may be.
Consequently, many of us make major life decisions based on false interpretation, misguided mindsets about our ability, and delusional concepts of our (non)competence to achieve.
“Everybody is a genius,” said Albert Einstein. “But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
Once upon a time……
It was an unusually warm day for England that day. The sun poured through the classroom window, spewing over my exercise book as I scribbled down the date with my HB staedtler pencil.
I was swinging backwards on my chair at the back of Mr. Burkett’s history class. We were learning about King Henry the Eighth and his wives.
The mousy-haired girl next to me was proudly reciting some poem that she said helped her remember who all of Henry’s wives were and how they had died.
I looked around the room with increasing confusion as to why learning any of this was important. How would memorizing the marital affairs of some ancient stranger make my life better? I just didn’t understand and I had to find out.
I swung my chair decisively back onto all fours – this was serious.
With genuine interest, I inquisitively raised my hand and asked in only the best way a teengaer can “Sir, what exactly is the point in learning all this?”.
Henry was dead, after all, and I didn’t understand how it was going to help me get a job.
The room fell silent as nineteen girls flicked their heads around and stared at me in what looked like disbelief. The mousy haired girl next to me buried her head in the over-sized issue textbook as if she was embarrassed to even know I existed. It rapidly became apparent that Mr. Burkett didn’t like my question. Not one bit.
I was quickly called a ‘rude and preposterous little child’, he asked me how I could be so stupid, and I was ordered to leave his classroom until I ‘got a brain’. I was humiliated, devastated, angry and frustrated. I had genuinely wanted to understand the value of his lesson.
Until this point I had been doing well at school, against all odds. But this sudden declaration from a ‘respectable’ person of authority – that I was ‘stupid’ and ‘had no brain’ – hit me like a train in the face. This stimulus turned into a fixed, concrete belief that I was incapable of learning. My reaction was to withdraw, to hide from my inevitable failure,
to give up.
Like many young students who have a similar experience, this stimulus turned into a fixed, concrete belief that I was incapable of learning. My reaction was to withdraw, to hide from my inevitable failure, to give up.
And I did.
I soon noticed that teachers began teaching me differently. Even when I COPIED my friends’ homework word for word, they got ‘A’ grades and I got ‘C’s. How could this be???? (It’s the phenomenon of the ‘reaction’ theory in the Educational Efficacy Effect at play).
I was ignored when I asked questions, and teachers asked me to go clean out lost property boxes instead of join the class.
These insults were the last straw for my efficacy.
All my hope of being anything or anyone vanished. I resigned myself to being a failure.
All that was left was to wait for the day I would finally be free from the misery and oppression of education.
I often asked myself ‘Why did he respond like that? He’s my teacher. It’s my job to learn and his job to teach. If I was a teacher, how would I have answered that?.’
It was at this point that I began to take refuge in the art classroom.
Since it was clear that my academic teachers didn’t care if I wasn’t in their classes, I was soon skipping most of them to immerse myself in a form of expression that had no right or wrong, no boundary of correctness or benchmark for assessment.
I found a place where I could be alive and safe from failure. It was there, in that art room, that a mentor crossed my path and changed my life forever.
He gave me a gift, one precious, powerful and immeasurably potent with positive force. It is the reason why today I am alive, well, happy and successful.
Two years had passed since my educational efficacy had been turned on its head.
My art teacher had now become my only cheering supporter. He showed me, as a now young woman who had entirely given up on believing I was capable of ‘learning’, that I had in fact achieved monumentally. The whole time he had been aware, when I hadn’t, that I had been completing enough pieces of art to pass my A-Level exam.
He secretly invited an art gallery to see my work. The gallery commissioned me to create a solo exhibition and informed me that the art invigilator had paid a generous amount of money for two of my paintings.
Was this what success felt like?
I was elated, and totally taken aback that I was a person capable of achieving it.
My art teacher showed me that I was indeed brimming with competence, ability and talent. More importantly, he showed me that learning, succeeding and achieving involved more than just memorising the names of promiscuous royal gentleman or the chemical equation for photosynthesis. He showed me that learning and success took many different forms.
This simple revelation, his encouragement and reminder that I had already proven that I could achieve, gave me the confidence to re-take all the GCSE and AS-Level exams I had previously failed. With his constant reminder of my ability to create desired results, I faced my limiting beliefs, my fears, the ridicule – and, in just 12 months, passed all 11 of my failed exams with exceptional results. My realisation of the power of efficacy was born.
My new found efficacy also inspired me to show that horrible history teacher how he should have answered my question all those years ago. From this moment, I was motivated by a burning desire to pass on the miraculous gift of self-efficacy that my art teacher had so generously given me.
I had experienced the best and the worst of teaching and it had taught me a LOT.
I became obsessed with what a ‘good’ teacher actually looked like, what they did and how they taught.
I became equally obsessed by understanding how we learn, what engages and disengages us and what makes the greatest transformational learning interventions.
I soon began a career in the adult education space, with my first post being a Trainer in a male prison in the UK. By the age of 21, I had worked my way up to a Training Manager in the welfare-to-work sector, was well into my degree in education, and was already running my own training organisation on the side that was teaching facilitators of adult learning how to deliver effective and engaging training.
My theoretical and practical experiences combined, and my roles fuelled and informed one another.
There began my journey of a life of dedication to contribute to the field of education for the benefit of learner and educator alike.
In my 10+ years of now working in the education sector, I have come to learn that it’s not what is being delivered, it’s the how.
You CAN make math enchanting, you CAN make compliance training captivating, you CAN engage the disengaged, you CAN make English Literature magical, you CAN make any learning rewarding and transformational.
achieve – all thanks to the singular intervention of one humble man who cared enough about ALL of his student’s lives to make a difference.
The moral of the story?
Purpose – remember what you want the result or
overall experience to be;
Connect – find something in common with others,
connect with them and reconnect them with the purpose;
Intercept – remember that there is usually a
difference between what people think they are capable of and what they are
actually capable of. Change their mind-set, offer another perspective,
encourage and challenge them to instigate change;
Reinforce – highlight previous successes,
existing skills, qualities and strengths. Remind them again of the importance
of the positive result and sought-after emotional, physical and experiential
Transfer – show them how progress has been made
and how it can apply to other areas of their life. Allow progressive
development by building upon the success with a slightly bigger goal – one big
enough to challenge them, but not so hard that failure is inevitable. There is
nothing like growing efficacy by succeeding at something that was initially perceived
as a challenging task.