Building self-belief in our young people is an essential element of their education. I recently received a thank you card from a Year 11 student who said “In such a short time period you have been amazing, thank you so much for helping me and being so kind. Apart from [being a] brilliant teacher, you have made us all laugh and become better people.” It is always reaffirming as a teacher to receive such a positive and sincere message. As teachers our key focus must always be to raise the self-belief of our students.
Why I was back in the classroom…
As a consultancy, we truly take pride in our continued work with students. In my most recent commission, the only real way forward to improve results in the school was for me to return to the classroom on a longer-term basis and teach two crucial year 11 classes. I firmly believe that to do my role as consultant any justice, I still need to have the pedagogical knowledge and skill to deliver and inspire at the ‘chalk face’. It also gave me an invaluable insight into to what extent approaches to teaching need to change when preparing students for 100% examinations.
Below are a few case studies that will give you an insight into three things:
1) The extreme pressure these students are under in the current system.
2) The extreme pressure teachers are under in the current system.
3) Ways to support young people if you encounter similar issues.
Panic Attacks and Absenteeism
Earlier in their school life, one of the year 11 girls had suffered quite severe panic attacks and as a consequence missed a great deal of school. Her attendance greatly improved in Year 11, and as her attendance improved, so did her self-belief. At parents’ evening her mother expressed her gratitude of my support of her daughter, and what a difference I had made to her attitude to school. But, it was not until examination week that I fully appreciated the extent of my impact. I bumped in to her in the corridor and she told me, “it is because of you I feel so much more confident, I can wear my contact lenses for school. The fact you ask me how I am, and if I need anything every day, has made such a difference to how I feel, and I would like to thank you for helping me.” Interestingly, she had never been to me for any specific help, nor had I had any particularly in-depth conversations with her. BUT, I did take the time to talk to her every lesson. She also knew that if she needed to, she could come and see me, and I would take the time to speak to her.
What they need is the security of the blanket, not necessarily the blanket itself.
Consistency is the Key
If you have a particularly quiet child in the class, it only takes a few seconds to have a quick chat and offer a tiny bit of reassurance. Over time, this builds into the only reassurance they need. Eventually, they appreciate that they are in fact more than capable of coping on their own.
Her review – ‘I feel much more confident in my writing and I haven’t felt anxious about doing the papers. I felt really well prepared for the exams. I feel a great deal happier and more confident than I did last year.’
Asperger’s – The Girl
I taught two Year 11 students with Asperger’s. The girl was hyper aware of her condition and could always recognise when she wasn’t quite getting something. At the end of my time with the class she expressed how much I had helped her because I was so ‘straightforward’. She needed exact instructions, and a particular style of reassurance. The wrong instructions could send her on a spiral of never-ending and unnecessary work. She said my approach to her and her condition had made her put everything into perspective and gave her both reassurance and confidence. ‘I feel more confident in answering questions and understand so much more! ’‘Ultimately, I have engaged her in a way that means she can use what she already knows more productively and with a greater sense of purpose and understanding.
Making them feel confident about the extent of their knowledge, is as important as having the knowledge itself.
Asperger’s – The Boy
The boy with Asperger’s said many times – ‘I am not sure if you are joking’, ‘I still can’t tell if you are joking’. I was always joking! What he did say was that he appreciated the time I took to even try and have a conversation with him – joking aside. Too many people avoided conversations to avoid upsetting him, but without the interaction he was feeling abandoned… He needed reassurance, repetition and routine. His review demonstrates how he began to appreciate what he needed to do to fulfil his potential.
‘I believe that my writing has improved, and I now know how to structure my writing. I am confident because of the way we went over techniques again and again – and how the teacher would recommend how I could improve. I feel like I’ve improved dramatically in Year 11.’
Reassurance, repetition and routine.
The Dramatic Turnaround
In the first lesson, I had a major clash with this Year 11 student. BUT, what a turnaround!!! In his November mock he achieved a Grade 7 in his English Language – and this was the trigger he needed. For the first time he appreciated that with a tiny bit more effort he could achieve great success. He decided he wanted to be a doctor – and he has made a determined effort across all of his subjects to ensure he gets the grades he needs to achieve his goal.
The Importance of Humour
Humour is needed here – ‘telling off ‘ a clever, but disaffected student rarely works. You need a find a way into their psyche. Subtly persuade them that it is less effort to put their energies into work than it is to spend your life making excuses for avoiding work. You need to play the game with them! For example, in our whole year Super Leaning Days he sat with his ‘naughty friends’ and he would quietly ask me to move him. I would make a big deal about him having to sit with the quiet girls. He wanted to go but needed to save face. I am convinced he will do exceptionally well – how well will be confirmed in August.
‘My year in English has been better altogether. I have learnt how to:
And most significantly for me he said – ‘We had a good laugh and also learnt a lot!’
Have some fun in the classroom!
One girl routinely froze in exam conditions. She knew the content, she understood the techniques and when she could take her time she could do brilliantly. BUT, she genuinely struggled in timed conditions. She suffered from ‘crossoutitis’. She could not finish a sentence without going back and crossing it our and starting again. I would have to stand in front of her in class and say – do not cross that out – move on. After weeks of coaching and encouragement, she finally started to gain self-belief. She managed to complete most of her literature papers. But it was not until the English Language Paper 1 that she came to find me to tell me that for the first time ever she has completed a full examination paper – and this was the actual examination itself. Just in time!
‘Thank you so much – I have improved so much and I really appreciate how much you have done to guide and encourage me’
Individualised targets are the key to success!
Pleasant and Hardworking
We need a huge shout out for the students who turn up every day with smiles on their faces and gratitude in their hearts. They can be the ‘forgotten middle’, but in many respects they appreciate the extra bit of thought all of the more – because they have spent many of their school days overlooked because they don’t cause a fuss, and don’t have any specific needs.
Some of their feedback:
‘I have learnt a lot in both Literature and language, and most significantly, I am much more confident in what I am writing about. In English I felt so prepared, I was worried because I wasn’t worried!’ (MY favourite quote!)
‘Lessons have been packed full and at times it has been stressful, but it has been worth it. I am confident Mrs Thomas has helped me secure a good grade, she has improved my confidence with my exams – excellent teacher! I love the half hour sessions before the exams, they help keep me calm and the tricks and the approaches are fresh in my mind while I sit the examination!’
‘Miss has taught me not to worry too much and that keeping everything in perspective is the most important part of doing well. I feel very well prepared because I had lots of support – I have improved a great deal since the start of Year 11.’
Make time for ALL students!
A Summary of HOW to build self-belief
In a data driven culture, I am fully aware that it is the results that count. Nevertheless, if students can recognise that ‘becoming better people’ through their education, is as important, if not more so, that their grade, surely schools can too? As teachers, our ultimate target must be to ensure our teenagers leave school as well rounded young people, with high self-belief.