What role does confidence play in academic performance? What can teachers do to boost their students’ confidence?
Healthy self-esteem and confidence are important prerequisites for academic success. Therefore, teachers must ensure that their classroom is an environment that supports these qualities.
Here are five tips for building student confidence in the classroom.
Building Self-Esteem in the Classroom
Building student confidence in the classroom may improve your students’ grades. Studies suggest that students with higher self-esteem are more academically engaged, which can improve academic performance.
In his book The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, psychotherapist and self-esteem expert Nathaniel Branden gives five tips on how teachers can improve their students’ confidence in the classroom:
1: Treat every student with respect. Branden contends that many adults treat children with disrespect they would never direct towards adults. So by treating your students with respect, you reinforce their sense of self-worth and support their self-esteem. (Shortform note: One simple way to let your students know that they matter is to use their names whenever you speak to them.)
2: Treat every student the same. A child who thinks that their teacher will treat every student fairly feels safe and confident in their capability to handle the classroom; a child who thinks their teacher plays favorites doesn’t have this sense of safety or confidence. (Shortform note: As Jennifer Eberhardt notes in Biased, you may treat your students differently due to your unconscious racial biases. To mitigate this bias, attend empathy-focused training sessions, during which you listen to students’ stories about experiencing discrimination in schools and learn strategies for prioritizing a healthy, balanced relationship with your students.)
3: Focus on what your students are good at to help students gain confidence in their own value. Branden notes that this may involve helping your students realize what their strengths are if they don’t know them yet.
(Shortform note: To determine what your students are good at, some educators recommend looking for the subjects in which they demonstrate “brilliant behaviors.” For example, they may ask particularly thoughtful questions about a given topic or be unusually focused on it.)
4: Notice every student. Branden explains that every child needs to feel like she’s significant. You can send that message by paying attention to every student in your class—especially the smart, shy ones. These kids often don’t receive much attention from adults, so they start to believe they’re insignificant, which damages their self-esteem.
(Shortform note: You can make your students feel significant by tailoring your classroom activities to their interests. To do so, educators recommend asking your students to fill out questionnaires about themselves—like their favorite foods or songs—so you can get to know them better.)
5: Be careful how you administer authority. In any classroom, kids will misbehave. As a teacher, you must strike a balance when dealing with these infractions: You can’t insult them as it would damage their self-worth and thus their self-esteem. But you can’t overlook these infractions either—teaching kids that they can get away with anything discourages self-responsibility and likewise damages their self-esteem.
(Shortform note: Branden’s recommendation may have been influenced by the educational climate of the 1990s, when many schools adopted “zero tolerance” policies and severely punished even the smallest infractions. Research suggests that this imbalanced approach, when it increases expulsion and suspension, doesn’t improve student behavior.)
Branden recommends two ways to strike that balance. First, he urges, teach your students why specific rules exist. A child who understands why a rule exists is more likely to follow the rule because she’s contributing to an environment she wants. For example, if she knows that you must raise your hand to speak so that everybody gets a fair chance to speak, she follows the rule because she wants to be in a classroom where everybody can speak. In other words, in following the rule, she’s exercising her own power for a desired outcome—and so she’s practicing self-esteem-supporting behavior. In contrast, if she follows a rule because she’s afraid of being punished, her actions are motivated by fear or avoidance of punishment, which does not contribute to her self-esteem.
(Shortform note: In Indistractable, productivity expert Nir Eyal recommends a similar approach to parents who want to reduce their kids’ screen time. Teach kids that it’s up to them to make smart decisions about their time because the apps are designed by people who don’t have their best interests in mind. Eyal even recommends that kids determine their own screen time limits—this way, the child learns to self-regulate and will stick to these limits even if the parents aren’t able to enforce them. This likely further supports the child’s self-esteem because she’s exercising her own power for an outcome she decided on.)
Second, Branden recommends, instead of punishing kids, let them live out the consequences of their infractions so that they’re more motivated to follow the rules. For example, if a disruptive student breaks something, make them fix it.
(Shortform note: The same disciplinary action can be viewed as a punishment or a logical consequence, depending on how it’s used. For example, most people assume that a time-out is a punishment. But one resource for teachers contends that time-outs are logical consequences—not punishments—because in a time-out, you ask the child to calm down and think about their actions.)
The Teacher’s Self-Esteem
Teachers who want to increase their students’ self-esteem must first improve their own self-esteem. Kids imitate the adults in their lives—so if their teacher has healthy self-esteem, they’re more likely to imitate and learn the behaviors that support it.
Additionally, teachers provide the greatest value to their students by believing in their potential—so much so that the student comes to believe in her own potential, too, even if she didn’t at first. When a student believes in her own potential, she believes that she is worthy and capable of doing more—in other words, she has greater self-esteem. In order for a teacher to believe in someone else that strongly, Branden argues, he must believe in himself first—in other words, he must have self-esteem.
|How Improving Teachers’ Mental Health Affects Students|
Although few modern studies have specifically examined whether a teacher’s level of self-esteem affects his students’ self-esteem levels, one study suggests that improving teachers’ mental health has multifaceted benefits for students: When teachers and administrators at one school were given access to free therapy sessions, all of them reported an increase in their own mental health as well as improvements in their students’ mental health and academic success.
Researchers suggest that the schools’ prioritization of their employees’ mental health also may have promoted teacher retention: The year after this program began, 10% of the teachers quit—12% less than the previous year. This suggests that instead of relying on teachers to improve their self-esteem on their own, schools can benefit from providing programs that support teachers’ self-esteem, too. After all, if a teacher quits, their self-esteem boost no longer benefits students.