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What is more important in a student’s education than English, maths or science?
Student confidence is the most underrated area of education. Often it is neglected, leaving some of the nations most intelligent students believing they can’t. Or worse, thinking they are stupid.
In my many years as a qualified teacher and then as the director of Evergreen Tutoring Services, I have encountered thousands of students held back by a serious lack of confidence.
This lack of confidence has a disastrous impact on school results, the students’ ability to study, and self-belief. In far too many cases, this can spiral into full-blown depression and anxiety.
So, what can we do about it?
The important thing to remember is that a student’s mental health and wellbeing are a million times more important than their grades will ever be. However, there is nothing worse than a kick to the guts when you are already on the ground. Many students get this ‘kick’ when they receive yet another low mark, which further convinces them that they cannot reach their goals.
Improving student subject confidence is always going to help. These students need an individual who can give one-on-one support in a judgment-free environment. A place where the student can feel safe to ask their questions and to learn is essential.
It might be surprising to hear that to learn, you must put yourself into a position of vulnerability. To learn, you must be willing to admit you do not know something, and you must be willing to work hard until you master the topic. This includes getting it wrong sometimes, which leads me to step number one.
Change the way the student views failure.
Too many people view failure as a personal reflection rather than a learning process. Failure is not a representation of our abilities; all it represents is that we have more to learn. Ideally, we want students to view failure as a learning opportunity and that it is not something we should shy away from.
For instance, when I am in a lesson with one of my students, I am not afraid to admit I don’t know something, and I immediately follow that admittance with correction of my learning gap. This comes in many shapes and forms. Sometimes it is a word I don’t know, a concept I have never heard of before, or a piece of technology I don’t know how to use.
Sometimes I ask my student to explain it to me. Other times I will say, “hang on, I will look it up,” then I will read the definition out loud, so both myself and the student hear it.
What does all this do?
- For one, it shows my student that I am not an all-knowing being. Yes, sometimes, English teachers have never heard of a term, and sometimes they even misspell a word!
- Two, it shows my student I am willing to accept that I don’t know something without allowing this lack of knowledge to impact the way I feel about myself.
- Three, I do something about it. This is important, and the first two steps lead us to this moment. The recognition that even if we don’t know something right now, with a little work, we have the power to change that reality.
- Four, support them through this process.
It is all very well to say, ‘change the way you view failure,’ and move on, but this will achieve little. Students need role models, someone who understands what they are going through and has moved past it. Individuals with low confidence take longer to learn because they are battling through a whole range of other things that make learning harder. Students with low confidence must first get past a whole series of hurdles in their mind that stops them from reaching the moment where they can even begin to try and learn.
The person who helps a student through this needs to be able to:
- Set up a safe learning environment. This individual needs to be approachable, caring, and relatable.
- This environment should be one-on-one. Students who lack confidence, quite often are reluctant to open up in a class environment. One-on-one gently encourages the student to share with the other person. For instance, in our tutoring classes, we organise all our lessons to be individual for this very reason. We want students to be able to move at their own pace as they begin to step past the walls their low confidence has built for them.
- Consistency. It is not enough to run through a couple of meetings with this individual; in almost all cases, it takes consistent and regular interactions.
Confidence is for everyone
In my experience as a teacher, tutor, and director, I have implemented and expressed the importance of these practices to my workmates and teams. While these steps take time and are not a magic wand over the issue of low student confidence, they are a long-term solution. Giving students the skills, strategies and abilities to approach a problem is a life skill, and it will benefit them long after their formal schooling ends.
Everyone, adults, teenagers and students deserve the right to be confident with who they are and what they can do. The most important thing to remember is that confidence is not something we are born with. Like English, maths, and science, it is something that we learn.
As always, if you would like to book some time with one of our tutors feel free to contact us.
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