Four steps to build student confidence

The fastest way to build student confidence is to show them that they are the captain of their lives. This is the best way build student confidence. It is also the quickest way to encourage radical ideas and reward risks. This is easier said than done, particularly culturally unaware teachers.

A friend of mine has recently been assigned to teach in a Minneapolis middle school. He took an exploratory tour, intending to study the school environment before accepting the offer. He encountered a couple of facts during that tour. The first is the school demographic, where 70 percent of students are Black, 18 percent Latino and 7 percent Asian. Native Americans and Whites combined make up about 5 percent. Second, the graduation rate is a record low, way lower than that of other schools in the entire State of Minnesota.

“Students come to the school every day, and someone is going to be in that classroom anyway.” What matters, he insisted, is “how can we build the confidence of these inspiring kids even when resources are not in our favor?” To him, the budget cuts in the school system should not deter exceptional performance. Therefore, teachers, with all the layoffs and low pay, should strive for the best.

That grabbed my attention, and we sat for a two-hour retreat to brainstorm some breakthroughs and came up with the following four steps to building student confidence:

Allow unlimited chances to fail. For perfectionists, practically speaking, this goes against the grain. Actually, it is true that the reason teachers teach is to get the maximum output for their effort. They want to assess whether students are picking up the content of the material and the concept of study. So, for some, scoring the 40th percentile on an in-class test is just not satisfactory, and a failure alarm goes on in those teachers’ mind. Best teachers allow multiple failures and one ultimate success. Success is born of incremental failure. The key is to let students fail once, twice, three times, or even more.

Reward risks. Rewarding risks is the best skill a teacher can teach. When teachers reward risks, students learn faster and with hands-on experience. Students tend to look for ways to find solutions to society’s ailing relationships. They approach school leaders with healthier mentality and I-have-the-solution attitude. They will ultimately win for success is on the other side of risks.

Encourage radical ideas. We live in a world where different groups expect us to behave in certain ways. Regardless of one’s social class, the chances are that there are expectations, and the same is true for schools and teachers. The worst thing teachers can do to their students is to expect them to wear the same social lens. By way of example, some teachers may run into discomfort if expressing ideas and opinions in classroom discussions entails hurting the feelings of others. Teachers should encourage radical expressions, not matter who gets hurt. After all, societies are in continuous discourses to negotiate for a better social standing, and schools are the best place to start.

Let students disagree with you. Letting students disagree with you is a sour feeling. For some, it is completely unthinkable. How am I going to teach anything if I lose power? Well, there is a difference between losing power and setting up the stage for school-based discourses.


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