By Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., author of Self-Regulation in the Classroom: Helping Students Learn How to Learn
Part of our Cash in on Learning series by Richard M. Cash, Ed.D. Click to read other Cash in on Learning posts.
It’s hard to believe that a new school year is about to begin! After two-plus years of chaos and disruption, we are all hoping this school year brings some semblance of normalcy into our world. So as we begin this new school year, I want to offer you some advice for starting the year off right: with nine ways to build up students’ confidence!
Confidence is the essential ingredient to success! A lack of confidence will hold you back from even trying. Without confidence, you are less likely to get started, stand up for yourself, overcome your fears, take intellectual risks, and negotiate the hurdles of failure. Some students, often those who need the most support, lack belief in themselves. Others may not have seen the talent or light that shines within them. Therefore, it is our duty as educators to build their confidence to try, work hard, and ultimately achieve success.
Before I get to strategies for building student confidence, I’d like to share a few of the reasons students may lack positive self-belief.
People develop their sense of self from those with whom they socialize or spend time around. If caregivers are overly critical or distant, this can cause a child to feel they cannot do anything right. Lack of exposure to outside interests may inhibit a child’s sense of wonder and confidence for exploration. If peers are not welcoming or socially isolate a child, this can affect the way the child perceives themselves. How a child sees themselves represented in classroom materials and the media can also have an effect on their self-esteem and confidence.
These are all reasons why a child may lack confidence. Now, I’ll share some ideas for how you can model confidence-building strategies and set up your classroom to help students feel more confident, self-assured, and welcomed.
1. Model how you feel and what you do when setbacks arise.
This modeling must be overt. Kids need to hear you think out loud about how you deal with stress, failure, and bumps in the road. They need to see you laugh at your mistakes and not take things too seriously. Talk through even the simplest setbacks, such as what you did when you encountered road construction on your way to work. What did you say/do when there was no coffee left in the staff lounge and you had seconds to get to your classroom? What did you do when you had a flat tire on your way to your best friend’s wedding? We can share with students how we handle ourselves in both simple and complex situations.
2. Set up your classroom to encourage collaboration.
Every child wants to feel a part of the group. Putting your desks in pods or small groups encourages kids to talk to each other, communicate, and build friendships. A classroom that encourages community bonding is one where each child is important and supported. Also, consider making space in your classroom for kids to work in partnership or spend time chatting together. When I taught in the classroom, I had a beanbag chair in my book nook where kids could sit with each other to read or just talk.
3. Construct classroom norms with the entire class.
Ask students what they feel is important for a just and supportive classroom environment. Keep norms simple, and phrase them in a positive and inclusive manner, such as: “We help each other. We respect differences. We have fun while learning.” A positive learning environment can help all kids feel like they belong and are supported when times get tough.
4. Make space for all emotions.
There are certainly times when you and your students will feel overwhelmed and under pressure. And it’s important to acknowledge and affirm these more difficult emotions. When things get tough, like when we need to practice during a safety drill, for example, we need to be serious, so kids know the importance of the situation. You can reflect on the tough situation after the fact and discuss how students felt. Then, do things like relaxation breathing, a few yoga poses, or a mindfulness activity to bring everyone back to “center.”
5. Line your doorway with positive affirmations.
Each day, post some positive sayings on your doorframe, using sticky notes. These might include: “I can do this!” “If I stay focused, I can succeed!” “There is NO ONE like me!” You can find numerous websites that offer lists of affirmations appropriate for kids. Encourage students to take an affirmation with them if they’re having a tough day or just need a smile or a pick-me-up. When a kid takes an affirmation, ask them to make one to replace it.
6. Have kids do “shout-outs” for other students.
Similar to the sticky note idea, students create a positive saying about another student, such as “Domingo was very helpful when I met a challenge in math.” Not only will Domingo feel good from hearing these affirmations, but they also send the message to kids that they are part of a classroom community that supports each other.
7. Teach kids how to “flip” their thoughts.
One of the most used methods of flipping thoughts is the “Power of Yet.” When students say, “I’m not good at this” or “I don’t like this,” encourage them to add the word yet: “I’m not good at this . . . yet.” “I don’t like this . . . yet.” Post “The Power of Yet” in large letters in your room and refer to it often. Let kids see and hear how you use it every day. Other ways to flip thoughts are through deep breathing, repeating positive self-talk, or taking a moment to calm down.
8. Expose students to enriching experiences.
Every child has the right to shine and achieve great things. Sometimes those great things may not be in math, science, or social studies. Some, like me, might excel in music, theater, and the arts. Wherever students find themselves, it’s sure to come with a sense of belonging and uniqueness. Having access to content beyond the “core” can have a profound impact on how students see themselves as individuals and may even uncover some amazing talents.
9. Ensure your curriculum materials and classroom reflects your students.
Just think what life might be like if you’d never seen a woman as a doctor, or a Supreme Court Justice. Just think if you never saw someone like you traveling the world or coming up with new ideas. We are more likely to succeed when we know others like us have done it as well. Make sure kids see, read about, know of, and meet scientists, musicians, artists, authors, economists, construction workers, firefighters, and restaurant owners like them. Our world is rich with diversity—let’s celebrate and honor it. Who knows, maybe you have the next Sonia Sotomayor or Simone Biles in your classroom!
Confidence breeds success, which breeds more confidence! But which comes first? I’m not sure—it’s kind of a chicken-and-egg dilemma. But by modeling confidence-building strategies and setting up your classroom to be an environment that encourages positive self-talk and self-belief, you can help kids experience success and grow confidence.
If you have more ideas for building student confidence, I’d love to hear them. Just post a response to this blog to share your ideas.
Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., writes the monthly Cash in on Learning blog posts for Free Spirit Publishing. He has given hundreds of workshops, presentations, and staff development sessions throughout the United States and internationally.
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