Building Confidence

“Always leave on a good note”. This is the advice Lisa Hendry of Productivity @ Home gives in her article Building Confidence in Children.The idea is to always let children finish a project, activity, or whatever with a success, however small — a homework problem done correctly, a goal scored, etc. That way they’ll remember these past successes as they move forward in their lives, rather than a string of failures or disappointments. Seems reasonable to me.

Schools don’t seem to be set up this way, that’s for sure. The kids I get in my intro-level courses (mostly recent high school grads, though I teach at a community college so I get students ranging from high school juniors to retirees) come to me not only lacking confidence in many areas, but practically shell-shocked by the traumatic experience of high school. They’ve learned to shut up and follow directions and don’t make waves; they’ve learned the terrible consequences of being wrong publicly; they’ve learned that grades are the only measure of their performance that matters. What they haven’t learned is confidence: confidence in their own ability to reason through a tricky problem, confidence in themselves as speakers, confidence in their knowledge of themselves as thinkers, learners, essentially as adults.

Mostly they’ve learned to see their lives (or at least their student lives) as a struggle against failure and I’m not entirely sure that’s easily reversible by the time they’re 18, 19, and 20. Many of them will come around as they get older — I have few older students (say, 30+) who are quite so timid (but there are exceptions)– but right at the start of their adult lives, when they need it most, wouldn’t it be nice to see them embrace the uncertainty and opportunity in front of them with confidence?

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