Hello and welcome to episode 7 of the Epic Classroom Podcast, my name is Trevor Muir and I’ve been a middle and high school teacher, as well as a teacher of future and current teachers, and I love a good story. And I love to explore ways to help students live out great stories and for educators to thrive in their own. That’s what we talk about in this podcast, whatever you teach or however you serve in schools, how can you lead a more impactful, dynamic, meaningful, and epic classroom.
Alright, today we’re going to talk about building student confidence and what I think is the best way to do that.
Well hi everybody. I don't know about you, but I feel like the world feels heavy right now. For obvious Reasons. With everything going on in Ukraine, to the ongoing ups and downs of the pandemic, to all of the extra challenges that seem to be on Educators plates right now, it just feels like a lot. And so in the midst of all that is being a human during this time that we are all in, I hope you are finding little moments of joy. that's been the discipline I've really tried to hone in on the last few months. When there is all of these uncontrollable circumstances swirling around me, covid, news of war, a lot of things I don’t ahve control over, how can I be present in every moment possible to find some joy in it all? And what I’ve really tried to do is doscoiver it in the quote un quote, mundane parts of life. Whether that's when I’m taking my dog for a walk and observing how none of the world's conflicts matter to him and he just enjoys walking with his people, or having good conversations with my family at dinner, or just taking little mini breaks throughout my work day to think of things that I'm grateful for, I'm finding that being present has such a great effect on how I'm feeling, and even what I'm creating. You might already know this about me, but I love to create new things, and the more present I've been, meaning the less I’m worrying about the future or dwelling on the past, the more I felt motivated to create and come up with ideas and try new things. It’s still a work in progress, but I thought I’d share what I’m learning. So maybe take a moment and consider how you can be more present throughout your days. Where can you find joy in your day to day life?
Alright, today we’re going to talk about building student confidence and what I think is the best way to do that.
I once gave my students a project where they were asked to interview someone they considered a hero. This was an English class, and so we were studying texts and novels with heroes in them, trying to identify what traits an actual hero has. Then they would go find someone who they believe has those traits. And using the interviews, students would create presentations showcasing and honoring these heroes' lives. I told my students at the beginning Of the project that their presentations would be displayed at a public event at the local library So that our community could learn about these Heroes who live among them. The idea is, the students would learn the content and read the books and be motivated to work during this project because they care about honoring these Heroes and completing this project. Engaging students this way is one of my favorite ways to approach teaching.
So one of the components of their presentation was creating a podcast telling the hero’s story. They would record the storytelling and add media, music and sound effects, and then put it online and create a QR code that anyone at the public library could scan and access the podcast. So I don’t always do this, but for this project, I required students to work on tasks that are new to them, because I wanted to stretch them and teach adaptability. I sometimes allow students to work within their comfort zones, but growth happens when we get out of them, so that was a rule for this project. If you really like graphic design, you’re not in charge of the poster. If you love to write and tell stories, you’re probably going to be in charge of graphic design. One student named Drew was given the podcast task, and he begged me to let him work on something else. He said he hated working with computers and had no idea how to record and edit a podcast.
I saw this as the perfect opportunity for him to learn and adapt. Therefore, I told Drew he was keeping the podcast role, and to let me know if he needed any help.
A couple times throughout the project, I sat with Drew and showed him a few basics to editing audio and directed him towards Youtube tutorials. I felt like he was equipped to complete his tasks for his group. He didn't really seem like he was enjoying his task very much, but I was okay with that because not everything has to be enjoyable in order to be productive and worthwhile.
So on the day of the presentation when I had students set up their work at the library for the showcase, Drew’s group was missing the podcast element, and Drew was suspiciously absent from school that day. Well, the show went on without him and that group’s podcast was missing from the presentation.
The next day when Drew was back in class and I found out his podcast wasn’t even finished (I’m guessing you’re not surprised by that right now). I confronted him about his absence from school on such an important day of class.
And I wasn’t very nice about it.
I asked Drew, in front of the entire class, how he could do that to his group? “Did you not think about how they would be affected by your failure to complete the work? How could you let your laziness get in the way of such an important project?” I was deliberate about how I brought this up to Drew. I thought I was emphasizing the importance of accountability with him, but as I was addressing him, I saw him sink further and further into his seat. I realized mid-sentence that I was shaming the kid. I could see it in his eyes that he was embarrassed and so was everyone else in the room.
After class I asked Drew to stay behind, and I apologized for how I addressed him publicly the way I did. I said that while I’m disappointed about the project, I didn’t handle it well at all. Explained how the project was honestly important to me as well, and I let my emotions get the best of me. I apologized for embarrassing him and promised that I would do better next time.
Drew was taken aback by this vulnerable moment. He then apologized for Not finishing his part of the project, but then he explained that he was just so scared of the podcast not turning out well that he just didn’t submit it. Drew explained that he has always been scared of trying new things, and gets anxiety at the mere thought of someone seeing him fail. Therefore, he decided he’d rather get a poor grade than a poor reaction to his work.
Upon reviewing Drew’s work, I saw that his planning was excellent and he had all the components to complete the project. He Had an excellent outline, he wrote his script and it was excellent, collected all of the media for the podcast. It was the final step of recording and editing that he failed to complete. This was the part of the project that was new territory for him. His lack of confidence in himself froze the rest of his work.
According to a survey conducted by entrepreneur.com, lacking confidence is one of the key reasons young people get fired from their jobs. Not having the courage to make firm decisions and take concrete action leads to a lack of productivity. This project with Drew showed me what this looks like right before my eyes oh, and it made me think about the many young people who leave school and enter the workforce without this vital characteristic about themselves. In every job I've ever had, from being a lifeguard in college, to working in business while getting my teaching degree, to being a teacher, or a as a keynote speaker, my work has required confidence. And it's the times that I have lacked confidence that I have struggled the most. It is essential. And that's why I think it's so important as educators to constantly explore ways to instill and grow confidence in students.
Lynn Taylor, who is a workplace expert and author of the book Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant, says “The most common reason that employees lose confidence is very simply because of a bad relationship with their boss. That insecurity will last as long as the relationship is strained.” Anyone who has had this type of relationship with a principal or superintendent, or any boss, knows exactly what Taylor is talking about. When teachers don’t feel trusted to make decisions or learn from failures, the response is often to shut down, halting any progress.
When I had a principal who didn’t trust me and seemingly questioned every move I made in the classroom, I stopped making those moves. I once introduced a project to my students where they learned they were going to interview actual WWII veterans and showcase what they create with those interviews live in a real movie theater. Well one of my students in that class, her name is Haley, and I remember her name so well because she is awesome, got so excited by this project that she emailed the news and invited them to come and do a story on our class. I swear, she did this all on her own. Well the next day I got called to my principal's office, and she said she just got a call from the new station and that they want to do a story on us. I responded, no way! That's awesome. And she proceeded to tell me that I did not go through the proper protocols for contacting media. I said, I didn't even call the news. Haley did. But I probably would have if I thought of it. and I literally got a letter put into my file because my principal didn't believe me. she was convinced that I broke protocol and contacted the news myself. And just a quick reminder, the news wasn't contacted to cover a scandal. They were being invited to cover a class project to honor WWII veterans. I can tell you, getting in trouble for this did not do anything good for my confidence. As a result of incidents like this, I scaled down the scope of the projects I did with students because I feared something would go wrong and I would face punishment. I quit dressing up in costumes when teaching history lessons for fear of being labeled as ‘unprofessional’ by my boss. I no longer brought in guest speakers to my class because I couldn’t control every word they said, and my boss made it clear that teachers should control every word said to students.
I lost confidence in myself as a teacher, and as a result became a worse one. This ended in me leaving that school and going somewhere I could be confident again. As a quick sidebar, I think we're seeing way too much of this and education right now. In several States there's legislation attempting to pass that’s trying to monitor every word teacher say. Asking teachers to submit every lesson plan for the entire school year in the summer before the start of the year. There's a bill that a group of legislators are trying to pass here in Michigan that if successful, would deduct 5% of a school’s annual budget if every teacher in the school fails to submit their entire curriculum before the start of the year. That's not even help teaching works. And we can talk about this in more detail some other time, but let me ask you, What does this do to teacher confidence? when they are not trusted to be the highly qualified, creative professionals that they are, and instead are forced to follow a script, how can they have the confidence to make good decisions with the benefit of their students in mind? And the result of a lot of this are teachers leaving schools to go to ones they believe they can feel trusted in, or they are leaving the profession altogether. Again, we can dive more into this in a later episode.
But I think it's important to point out that the same is true for students. If there is a strained relationship between them and their teachers, this will affect their confidence and quality of work in class. Except students usually don’t have the option to find a better school and teacher. This is why positive student-relationships are so crucial. If a student knows they will not be scorned for mistakes, and that a teacher’s primary motivation is helping them succeed, they won’t feel the same trepidation in trying new things and taking creative risks.
One of my favorite quotes ever from the brilliant Brene Brown is, “There is no creativity without vulnerability.” Creating things opens up the possibility of them not being well received. There's no sugarcoating that. for instance, there is a chance I create this whole podcast episode and you don't like it. Heck, you may not like it so much that you leave a negative review. and I'm a lot better than I used to be about negativity sliding right off my back and not bothering me too much, that doesn't mean I like it. That doesn't mean my feelings can't be hurt. But I create this podcast anyway because I believe in it, I'm having a lot of fun making it, and I like to create new things, despite the fact that there is a vulnerability to it. If we want our students new create end make things that they are proud of, they have to be able to be vulnerable with you to do so.
From asking personal questions, having class time every day dedicated to non-academic discussion, to having an open-door policy to listen when students need to be listened to, building these strong relationships have so much value.
I think this is part of the reason Drew didn’t complete the podcast assignment. It wasn’t that he was being lazy; his work showed otherwise. Drew didn’t have the personal confidence in himself, and was afraid of how his peers and his boss (me, his teacher) would react to his work. Interestingly, following the incident where I apologized for addressing him the way I did in front of the class, Drew and I formed a new relationship. My vulnerability opened the doors to Drew trusting me, He learned that day that I am on his side. I've got his back. And for the rest of the year I saw a dramatic increase in the quality and quantity of work Drew turned in.
So some Big Ideas thrown out to you just now. Let's sum it up with this. We want our students to be creative. But creativity requires vulnerability. And to be vulnerable, you have to be confident. And confidence is best grown through relationships. So keep building those relationships with your students, allow them to fail, and learn from those failures.
And for you, my hope is that you can grow more confident in yourself so you can keep creating for the sake of your students in the world they live in.
Thanks for listening to the show today. I hope you enjoying The Epic Classroom Podcast. If you are, please let your friends know about it. And if you share the link online, please tag me so I know you’re loving the show. My twitter handle is @TrevorMuir and on Instagram or Facebook you can find me at TheEpicClassroom. I’m Trevor Muir and this has been The Epic Classroom Podcast. Thanks for what you are doing to make learning into an unforgettable story for students, for making learning epic. See you next time.