Tuesday, August 30, 2016

How to Have Unshakable Confidence in the Classroom

Sometimes it's really tough to be confident in the classroom. 

Especially if you're a brand new teacher? You've never done this before. You don't have a history of successes to prove to yourself that you can be good at this.

Or what if you're not a new teacher, but you have that class. You know the one. Every second feels like a struggle to maintain control. I remember having nightmares, literally, about one of my classes. It was 7th period during my second year teaching. Those students learned very little. Neither did I. I was just trying to survive. My confidence was shaken.

How can you be confident when a student, colleague, or even your principal makes a comment filled with doubt about your ability to teach? You feel completely inadequate and begin to question if you're even meant to do this.

And when it comes to confidence, it might seem like the rich get richer and poor get poorer. Success builds upon success, right? A lack of confidence results in all sorts of classroom practices that aren't helpful. You try to be the cool teacher. You fail to set boundaries. You lash out in anger. It even extends beyond the classroom. You're short tempered with your loved ones. You feel overwhelmed. You don't want to get out of bed in the morning. Lack of confidence tends to manifest itself in all sorts of harmful ways.

And then, when things go wrong as a result of your decisions, your confidence is shaken even further. You make even more poor decisions. And the cycle continues.

You need to be confident to be successful in the classroom. But you need success to help you feel confident in the classroom. It's a terrible Catch 22.

But let's look at this more carefully. Maybe it doesn't really work this way. Maybe our confidence doesn't have to be based on our success or lack of success.

The Truth About Confidence

1. Just because you have success in your classroom doesn't guarantee you will be confident. You probably know a teacher who all the kids love, who has amazing lessons, and who is respected by all her colleagues, and yet she still seems to lack confidence. And conversely, you've probably known teachers that weren't very successful and still seemed to be confident, even though they really didn't have much to be confident about. What the heck!?!

Could it be that confidence isn't determined by the external success you have as a teacher? Is it possible that confidence is actually more about our perception of ourselves regardless of any external results?

2. And since our confidence doesn't have to be dependent on any external reality, perhaps improving our external results won't guarantee an increase in confidence. Just because you have a better class, or get a compliment from your principal, or feel liked by your students, doesn't guarantee you'll be more confident.

You've probably experienced this before as an educator. You've received compliments, gotten recognition, or taught a killer lesson but still didn't feel more confident. If we don't have that internal confidence, we just write off our success to chance or give someone else the credit.

3. Confidence is a way of feeling. It seems we're all born with it. Ever see a toddler who wasn't confident? Somewhere along the way we start to lose it. It's based on our sense of selfhow we see ourselves. For a teacher, confidence is the belief that you have everything you need to be successful with your students. It's the feeling that you are fully equipped to be successful now and in the future. A teacher without confidence feels that they lack the knowledge, skill, or personality, etc. to be successful in the classroom. It can drive all sorts of behaviors that are not helpful.

One solution is to just convince yourself that you have everything you need to be successful. You just tell yourself you lack nothing. If you say it enough times, maybe you'll start to believe it. 

While some positive self-talk can be useful, it's not helpful to just pretend we don't have weaknesses. In other words, acting confident can lead to increased confidence. Fake it till you make it. But it doesn't work to ignore areas where you need to improve. You have to honestly self-reflect to grow and reach your potential.

So what is the answer to find peace and confidence in the classroom? It's not to pretend you don't have any weaknesses. Or act like you have everything you need. The answer is to recognize what you lack, but to accept and be comfortable with the ways in which you don't measure up.

You may not have good classroom management...yet.

Your students may not be motivated or engaged...yet.

Your relationships with some of your students may not be great...yet.

You may not have great technology skills...yet.

You might not be very organized...yet.

But if you can be comfortable with who you are right now, in spite of what you lack, then you can continue to grow and press forward. That's what it means to embrace failure. It's not that we are happy to fail. We just see our failures as part of a process of growing. When we embrace our failures it allows us the freedom to take risks, to fully engage without fear, and to care about our students unconditionally. You don't have to worry about the judgment of others.

So lean in to your shortcomings. When you start to feel sad, alone, or insufficient because of a failure in the classroom, remind yourself of the opportunity to grow and learn. No one has it all figured out. To be confident, we have to believe the best about ourselves in the moment and use our failures to our advantage.

Question: How will you grow your confidence as an educator? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.

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