How Teachers Can Prioritize Building Confidence and Risk-Taking

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Growing up, I was painfully shy. If I ever dared to raise my hand (or got called on without doing so) all of the other students would immediately ask me, “Why is your face so red?” This created a vicious cycle of not wanting to raise my hand because I didn’t want my face to turn red, to loosing confidence because I didn’t have practice speaking up, to turning even more red when I was called on, and so on and so forth.

All of my conferences from elementary through high school were pretty much the same. “Stephanie is always listening, always does her work carefully and on time, but she needs to participate.” Or “I know Stephanie has great ideas in her head, why won’t she share them?”

And (no surprise) although I was slightly better in university, I still rarely shared my thoughts when I wasn’t forced to. As an adult, I am much less withdrawn, but still wonder at my seven-year-old students’ confidence in trying out new ideas, failing, and putting themselves right back out there.

How is it that my school builds confidence so well?

I was chatting with a parent earlier this week who was like me as a student. She is both shocked and incredibly pleased to see her son initiating projects and answering questions in assemblies in front of the entire school. The confidence that our students have is not only going to help them in the future, but makes it so that their self-esteem is through the roof.

Here are the things our school does really well that I think all schools should do (when possible).

1. Have small class sizes

Our school caps classes at 20 students. This not only allows teachers to get more time with each student, but it gives students more opportunities to speak, share, and lead their class members. Allowing students to have so many opportunities to put themselves out there makes it so that what would have petrified me as a child becomes completely normal.

In my class, a math leader leads the rest of the students in correcting the problem of the day every morning. With my tiny class of 12 students, each one gets to be the teacher and call on their peers twice a month. At the beginning of the year, I had a few who were still quite shy, but now they all absolutely love taking the lead!

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2. Give students leadership opportunities

In addition to opportunities for students to be the teacher, our school puts an emphasis on allowing students to take ownership of their learning through

  • group projects and presentations
  • sharing learning by inviting other classes/parents to come see a project they’ve done
  • having classes lead every assembly

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3. Praise students for confidence and risk-taking

One of my favorite parts of the PYP curriculum is the PYP Attitudes and the IB Learner Profile, which are presented to the students as important parts of what makes a good student. One of the PYP Attitudes is “confidence” and one of the IB Learner Profile traits is being a “risk-taker.”

Everyone in the school, then, uses these two words as positive goals to work toward. In fact, when a student shows hesitation to try something new, you’ll hear their friends say, “Just try it! Be a risk-taker.” Or “Be confident, you can do it!”

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Although obviously I have no way of knowing what kind of a student I would have been had I attended a school that prioritized confidence as much as the one I teach at today, I can see the amazing benefits of it in all of my students and hope to see more schools do exactly this.

How do you build confidence in your students? Please share below!

By @SGroshell