How can I help my students believe in themselves? Here are 4 tips

How can I help my students believe in themselves? Here are 4 tips

Most of you can probably picture this scenario from a regular Tuesday morning in a grade 3 classroom:

“I can’t do this,” mutters Willow as she nervously gets up to give her presentation on red pandas to the class. “I’m not a good presenter. I’m not brave like Luke.”

Later, Luke frustratedly says the same first words: “I can’t do this!” He can not solve the math problem on the board. “I’m not good at math. I’m so stupid. I’ll never be good at math like Jenna.” He erases his answers for what feels like the hundredth time.

That same morning, Jenna sighs with disappointment. “I can’t do this,” she whispers as she tries to think of a creative idea for the short story she’s supposed to write. Her mind feels blank and she thinks “I’m not creative enough for this. I bet Willow is writing a great story.”

“I can’t do this, I can't do this.” Almost every student has those words visit their mind at least once that day.

As an educator, how often have you heard students say this definitive statement about themselves over something that you know they are fully capable of?

This is a reality in Miss Bailey’s grade 3 classroom. This is a reality in most classrooms. Maybe this was a reality for you growing up. Perhaps it’s still a reality for you now.
These simple and common words “I can’t do this” indicate a student’s lack of belief in both what they can do and in who they are.

It’s heartbreaking to see students struggle to believe in themselves. Already from a young age, students struggle internally with frequent comparison and a lack of confidence. This lack of self confidence affects so many areas of a child’s life, including how students learn in the classroom, how they make friends, and how they grow as individuals.

What if we could help students change the narrative they believe about themselves? What if we could help them adjust their impactful self-talk from “I can’t do this” to “I know I can do this. I just can’t do this yet.

If you’re reading this you’re probably here because you care about your students. You might believe in them more than they believe in themselves. And that’s amazing. As a teacher, you have a beautiful opportunity to help students value themselves and guide them towards both being able to recognize as well as reach their full potential.

Here are 4 teaching points you can incorporate into your lessons that will help your students believe in themselves.

  1. Do I matter?
  2. What are my special talents?
  3. How can I spread kindness?
  4. Aim at progress, not perfection

Do I matter?

In order for students to believe in themselves they need to believe some truths about their core identity. First and foremost, students need to know that they matter. In other words, teach students that they are important. Explain that their value is unconditional. It cannot be taken away from them and it’s not dependent on what they can do or what they can accomplish. It’s also not dependent on how they feel or how others treat them. These messages emphasize that their identity and self-worth doesn’t need to be placed in their abilities or the opinions of others. Simply being a human being makes them valuable. Ask students how they would treat something that’s valuable to them. Do they treat themselves like they are valuable? What does it look like to treat others and ourselves with respect? Believing in ourselves starts with believing in our worth. And the more we hear that we matter, the more we will start to believe it.

What are my special talents?

All of us have special talents to offer the world. We’re all good at something. When helping students discover their talents it’s important to emphasize that they can recognize their own strengths and talents, while also celebrating the importance of the talents others bring to the table. No talent is more important than another. Our differences are like each other’s missing pieces in a giant puzzle. Admiration and appreciation of other people’s talents is great, but that should not lead to comparison that leaves you feeling untalented. And if you notice your students talents or strengths in something, tell them. They might not be aware of what they're exceptionally good at.

How can I spread kindness?

Young students need to know that they have the power to make a difference. No matter their skills, talents, or personality, they each have the ability to be kind. Teach students that their actions can and do have an impact on those around them. Have students recall how certain acts of kindness from others have made them feel. And ask what it feels like to do something kind for someone else. Understanding the importance of kindness can help students see meaning behind their actions which can help them live with a better sense of purpose.

Aim at progress, not perfection.

Conquering a fear of failure is never easy and most of us still struggle with it as adults. It’s often our fear of failure and expectation for perfection that causes us to believe we can’t do something. It’s important to remind students that failure is normal. As an educator, you can make room for that failure to take place. You can do this by being cautious when encouraging perfection and by encouraging progress instead. Help students see their mistakes as learning opportunities that they don’t need to feel embarrassed about. Highlight the ways that you see your students improve and celebrate their progress no matter how small. Also encourage them to practice. Teach them that practice makes progress, rather than practice makes perfect. Show students that they can try new things without the pressure to be perfect and vocalize that imperfect things can still be valuable.

Winnie the Pooh says it best

In the sweet words of A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, students need to be reminded of the following truths: “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”

The students you are teaching today are the leaders of tomorrow. And we believe that they are worth believing in.

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