It’s no secret that self-confidence is the key to success across most areas of life. As teachers, we all have stories of students whose lack of self-confidence was a barrier to their learning. The good news, however, is that with some consistent TLC, confidence can be nurtured in a way that has an enduring, positive effect on our students. The five strategies below, when utilized with consistency, can help students to develop greater self-confidence resulting in a more positive self-concept so that they can go forth and do amazing things for themselves and others!
I’ll be using “students” throughout this post, but these tips work at home, too!
1) Say “I believe in you”...
…and then show it, too. As teachers, we believe in our students. If we didn’t, we probably wouldn’t be doing this job. Let me ask you, though – do your students know that you believe in them? Beyond that, do they not only know it but do they truly believe it?
I remember the first time someone told me they believed in me. It stopped me in my tracks as I realized that no one had ever actually said that to me before. No teacher, coach, or even my own parents ever said it to me. I had always just assumed they believed in me. Otherwise, why would they pour so much effort into teaching, coaching, and parenting me?
But actually hearing those words made all the difference. For me, it was the spark I needed to start truly believing in myself and living that belief out loud in everything I did.
It can be easy to assume that our students know and believe that we believe in them, but, like most assumptions, that’s not always true.
I challenge you to tell your students this week that you believe in them. Verbally tell them. Not in a note or in a comment on a returned assignment. Although those are nice gestures, they don’t quite land with the same impact as actually saying the words out loud.
2) Model self-confidence
It is usually not enough to just tell someone to be confident. I won’t speak for everyone, but I know that when someone tells me to “just be confident,” when that is the very last thing I am feeling, it isn’t exactly the game-changing advice that I had hoped for.
I hear exchanges like this all the time – at school, the gym, overheard conversations between friends. Generally, judging by the body language of the person on the receiving end of this conversation, the admonishment to “just be confident” didn’t land in the way the advice-giver likely wanted it to.
So, what does work then?
Modeling, modeling, modeling.
When we work with students, we frequently use the strategy of modeling the work or outcome we want them to produce. If we are going to tell students to be confident, we must walk-the-walk and model self-confidence as well.
I asked a current Fusion Montclair student what her teachers and other staff members have done to help her confidence grow. Modeling confidence was a reoccurring theme in her response.
“You all conduct yourselves confidently. You never miss out on opportunities and you are not afraid of, or intimidated by, failure."
So, there you have it. Don’t be afraid of failure. Be confident and honest as you go about your work and life. When our students see that it is possible to forge ahead with confidence even if we might be afraid, our positive self-concept becomes a powerful model for their own.
3) Help them to reflect on their work to see the forward progress they have made.
This is one of my favorite strategies for building confidence when it comes to academic work. Oftentimes, it is hard for students to look at the work they are doing and see it as “good." Help them to focus on the process, rather than the product by utilizing reflection questions for self-evaluation.
Show them an assignment they completed a few weeks or months prior and place it side-by-side with that they’re working on.
If you’re a current Fusion Academy parent, pulling up assignments from Buzz or searching for daily summary emails from a few months ago until now is a great way to do this.
Then, have them think about and answering these questions:
Where are the major areas of improvement?
What did you do in order to improve so much?
What do you need to keep doing in order to do your best work?
What are you proud of yourself for when you compare where you started to where you ended up?
Once they’ve finished reflecting, engage them in a discussion about their “then” versus their “now.” Make sure to center the discussion around the progress they made and how that progress happened!
If your child doesn’t want to engage in academics at home, you can pick an extra-curricular activity or other areas of improvement you’ve seen. There’s growth to celebrate in many different facets of their life.
4) Be relentlessly persistent in affirming students for who they are, as they are.
Don’t look down on them. See and affirm them for who they are. Help them to see that their life has purpose.
Those three actions go without saying, but the gamechanger here is to ensure that we are doing these things for our students with relentless persistence.
As a teacher, part of my daily mission is that my students know that, in my classroom, they don’t get to not believe in themselves. They don’t get to doubt themselves. They don’t get to talk negatively about themselves. I see them for who they are, and I see incredible purpose and value in their lives. No matter what they’ve done. No matter how they are behaving. They do not have to change or be something they’re not. Their voice matters. Their story is important.
I don’t just remind them of these things once. I am relentlessly persistent and consistent about ensuring them that I honestly believe these things that I say about them. Then, I show it by allowing them choice over their learning, which provides them an avenue to utilize their strengths in order to produce learning outcomes that they feel confident in and are potentially meaningful to the world.
There is so much power lost when we don’t remind students that who they are, as they are, is always enough.
That same student I mentioned before also said:
“You always taught me to not hide away parts of myself that seem unworthy. I learned that vulnerability and sensitivity, two qualities I thought made me weak, are actually some of my strongest traits. You all never ever look down on me. When an opportunity comes by, I usually want to run away and hide, but you all seem to think the opposite. You always make me feel like I’m enough and there is nothing I have to change about myself to achieve great things. And probably the most important. I feel like for a lot of students you find purpose in their story/life/journey. The setbacks, failures, and obstacles are all things we have grown to recognize as factors that made us strong, more kind, more compassionate. With this, it helps us to grow more confident in opening up; not just at school, but also the world.”
So, once again, here is a relentless, persistent affirmation of students for who they are, as they are. It works.
5) Respect should be reciprocal.
Be sure that you are giving students the same respect you expect from them. Try to let go of any belief you have that the teacher-student relationship should be a, “I am the teacher, you are the student” type of relationship. Sure, we may have knowledge to impart, but that’s not what teaching is really all about, is it?
We are learning and growing alongside our students every day. We can learn just as much from them as they can from us. We can do this by listening, by choosing learning activities where we are learning, researching, questioning, and exploring right along with our students.
The reality is that learning is a continual process. When we model that process in our work and lives, it is a powerful example for our students to emulate. Moreso, when we act in ways that show our students that we believe that we can learn from them, they begin to understand that their voice matters, their experience is valid, and they always have something of meaning to contribute.
This is one of the most powerful and effective ways we can foster mutual respect in the learning environment in order to produce positive outcomes in confidence-building and, consequently, better outcomes across social, emotional, and academic domains!
I’d love to hear your thoughts on these strategies or to hear from you if you’d like to talk more about this topic. You can find my email in my bio below!