Why Confidence Matters in the Classroom
"Whatever, I know I didn't get it right because I'm stupid."
As soon as I heard one of my students say this in our small group math stations, something in me went forth. I felt like this was a defining moment in my student's life, and I had to be there to rescue her. It would have been easy to just say, "Sweetie, we don't say things like that in this classroom." Sure, she would have never said it again, but that doesn't mean she would not have believed she was really stupid.
Do we really have time to do all of this with the many demands for state testing, district procedures, and everything else under the sun?
But for you as an educator, you want to be morally conscious. You are raising up the future generation. The words and energy you put into your students will be impressed upon their souls forever.
Biggie Smalls raps in the beginning of his song "Juicy", "Yea, this album is dedicated to all the teachers that told me I'd never amount to nothing."
I know you're thinking, "I would never tell my students that." But just because you don't say it doesn't mean they don't feel that way with your actions. They are picking up on every little thing you do in the classroom. When you take the time to reach one, you reach them all.
So what did I do to help this student?
I asked her to come to my desk. She started crying hysterically and hugged me. This student felt defeated in math. Because I had invested so much time and energy into getting to know all of my students, I found out that she had been struggling in math for years. It wasn't that she didn't get the math, she just had really low confidence in herself. She also struggled with extreme anxiety, which added more pressure when she had to do math problems.
Yes, I told her to never talk to herself again like that. Then I asked, "Would you ever say something like that to someone else?" She quickly said "no". I let her know that she is her own best friend, and there is no reason for anyone, including herself, to treat her like that.
Was this enough to help her build the confidence she needed so much?
Probably so, but I felt the need for her to do more thinking on this. I asked her to go to our comfortable library and write down five things she loves about herself. When she came back, I could tell her soul felt lifted. She finally saw the good in her, instead of focusing just on the bad.
The good thing is that this student went from failing every test to almost making straight A's. Yes, I winded up tutoring her, and she worked really hard. The truth is she really needed confidence in her ability that the way she performed in math was not fixed.
We as people believe that once really is for all. It is almost inevitable for us to actually change. That's just how we are. Well, I challenge you as an educator, or even as a parent to unlearn this habit. Believe that there are endless possibilities ahead for your students if you choose to help them find the greatness and confidence within themselves.
The first thing you can do is make character development more important than grades. Just because your student does not perform as well academically right away does not mean they are not smart. They may need time to develop and grow into it. Be mindful of what you say as they are processing the information. Affirm them that they already have it, even when the facts say otherwise. This will help them become faith-filled, which goes further than just performing well in the classroom. Having faith will help them to develop all the other character traits like showing courage to do something difficult, displaying perseverance in the midsts of trying times, or even being optimistic when all things go wrong.
Build your classroom to function with with positive behavior support on a daily basis. Invest in your students some way to show them that "being good" is no longer enough to be successful. Clearly define what behaviors you want them to display. Would you like to see them help someone when they are in need? Call that behavior out and demonstrate to them how to do it effectively. Inspire them to show positive behavior because it is the right thing to do. Yes, we want to reward them for doing well, but it's more about providing them the learning space to become better individuals in society.
As you ignite fire within your students to be a better version of themselves, allow your students to create ways to boost their confidence and others'. This means to give them the freedom to speak on the traits they are displaying and the things they are doing to make the classroom a space for them to be great. Let them call out the good things they see in others by writing notes or giving compliments. These magical moments will connect your students together.
Remember, your students are always watching you. What you put into their character growth is what will last much longer than figuring out the multiplication problem. As Maya Angelou said, "They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel."