By: Jorge Valenzuela
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For years I struggled to 'find' confidence in material possessions, impressive friendships, or my physical appearance. Ten years ago, I lost a family member that I love dearly. During the grieving process, I came across the work of Eckhart Tollee and learned that true confidence doesn’t come through material assets or high-profile associations. Confidence (or certainty in oneself) is actually 'earned' over time when we learn to accept ourselves, develop emotional intelligence (otherwise known as emotional quotient or EQ), and make the right strides to improve in the areas of our lives that we feel need our attention most. Those areas will be different for everyone, but for me currently that area is teaching.
Lacking confidence as a teacher really took a personal toll on me as I struggled immensely to assertively present information during monthly faculty meetings at the schools I taught, in district meetings as a curriculum specialist, and later in workshops to adult learners. Don't get me wrong, I always did a good job, but internally I would suffer from anxiety and self-doubt. However, through years of paying close attention to my work's details and what I'm experiencing internally (emotionally), I have learned how to make all the butterflies fly in the same direction.
I’ve also learned that confidence is not a permanent attribute. It is an amalgamation of our ever-changing thoughts and the actions we take and therefore needs to be consistently nurtured. Moreover, confidence is not based on our ability to be successful, but more so in the belief that we can be successful. Studies by Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck have suggested the power of belief and growth mindset in relation to increasing confidence and thereby boosting the academic performance of students. However, developing a growth mindset should also be a priority for adults as well.
Dweck writes, “True self-confidence is “the courage to be open—to welcome change and new ideas regardless of their source.” Real self-confidence is not reflected in a title, an expensive suit, a fancy car, or a series of acquisitions. It is reflected in your mindset: your readiness to grow.” This knowledge is essential for educators, and with attention to a few critical practices, we can become more confident in our work and better models for the students we serve. Here are five things educators can begin doing to become more confident in their teaching.
1. Know their educational philosophy
Both teachers and schools should have a philosophy of education, which is a set of beliefs about how students learn and how they should be taught. Moreover, a philosophy of education helps schools articulate the mission, goals, and core values of their institutions as well as the role of educators, the curriculum, and pedagogical approaches.
In the classroom, a teacher’s philosophy combines methods studied in a preservice teaching program and strategies learned from practice and professional development (PD) throughout their career. Additionally, an educational philosophy may also draw from a teacher’s own experiences as a child, as a student, or as a parent.
It is important to note that philosophies of education are either teacher-centered or student-centered. Essentialism and perennialism are the major teacher-centered philosophies of education and existentialism, progressivism, and social reconstructionism are the main student-centered philosophies. A confident teacher knows the difference between teacher-centered or student-centered and where their educational philosophy resides.
With years of experience, lots of reflection, and close attention to both how I plan and facilitate lessons, my educational philosophy has evolved over time and is firmly rooted in constructivist and constructionist practices. I mainly attribute this to my many experiences learning to train educators in PBL and STEM throughout the past six years. Moreover, my personal beliefs about education have also been significantly impacted by organizations I admire and learn from (which include PBLWorks, ISTE, CSTA, and Edutopia).
If you too are a reflective educator who is serious about examining your core beliefs about teaching and learning to develop your own educational philosophy, here are a few resources for getting started:
2. Critique work, not people
Like so many people I know, I did not grow up in a home where caring adults modeled unconditional love and communicated effectively. Unfortunately, I grew up in an environment where I heard harsh criticisms about myself on a daily basis, which contributed to my lack of confidence as an adolescent and adult. Therefore, to critique work and not people is a motto that I had to learn as a teacher and apply in my classroom. Luckily, I had the opportunity to learn how to do this effectively from Dr. Gina Olabuenaga, who coined it as a norm for our PBL workshops.
Research shows that frequent harsh criticism from parents and guardians negatively affects how children's brains respond to emotional information. Teachers spend a lot of time with young people and research also suggests that training teachers to better understand their learners' emotional needs can improve teacher/student relationships and develop better-adjusted and more confident learners.
Adopting feedback protocols can create a classroom culture that highly respects students while improving and revising their work. In many school contexts, this will take effective modeling by teachers and consistent implementation before it becomes the norm. Some good protocols, strategies, and resources to consider include:
3. Admit when they are wrong
When educators admit that they’re wrong it helps create trust and rapport in their classrooms and shows that they are willing to confidently model integrity for students. Most kids will notice when an educator makes a mistake and will wait to see if they take ownership. When educators fail to assume responsibility or acknowledge when they’re wrong, students resent it deeply and understand that the adults are more concerned with being right than being just.
Research shows that some people dislike admitting when they are wrong due to fear of the potential ramifications of doing so. If we see ourselves in the previous statement, for a moment, let's recall a time when we dealt with a person who clearly was wrong in an interaction but refused to acknowledge it or our feelings. How did it make us feel? If feelings of frustration, anger, defensiveness, and distrust come to mind, know this is how students may also think and feel when we don't provide them with honesty. At times a simple apology suffices, and other times we will need to make things right by restoring justice.
For educators who need a little guidance in this endeavor, here are some excellent resources to consider for learning to admit shortcomings confidently:
4. Constantly improve how they design/plan and facilitate lessons
When it comes to delivering instruction with confidence, it’s always important to pay close attention to best practices for planning and teaching our lessons purposefully. This means intentionally leveraging education research and our personal experiences with actionable steps through the use of evidence-based instructional strategies and vetted educational protocols. In education, this is often referred to as our pedagogical strategies and/or ‘instructional design’ (ID) practices for teaching and learning.
Though it will take time to earn the aforementioned skillsets—through consistency in lifelong learning, lots of practice, experiencing failure, and designing/revamping our educational philosophy (see section one)—we can begin to become more confident about what we do with students. The key here is never to stop learning and become comfortable acknowledging our learning gaps. This is critical for taking action to turn our deficiencies into assets.
Here are some resources to consider for helping us improve our planning and facilitation skills as needed:
5. Use edtech effectively
In this post-COVID world, using educational technology (edtech) to augment remote or in-person lessons needs to be a priority for nurturing our inner confidence as educators.
At the start of the pandemic, I was forced to begin teaching all of my classes remotely. Although I was not entirely new to the concept, I wasn’t sure how to design experiences that would replicate both the fun and active learning that are the hallmark of my in-person teaching methodology. Being familiar with the learning theories and strategies that inform my pedagogical approaches (see sections 1 and 4), I understood that for my remote teaching to be optimal, I would require edtech with video, breakout room capabilities, and interactive activities. The edtech would also need to be social and collaborative enough for my most connected students.
After exploring several options, receiving coaching, and continually asking myself, “What practices and edtech tools are best vehicles for augmenting and transferring learning equitably for all my students?” I began selecting edtech that helps sustain inquiry, collaboration, and engagement in my online lessons. I also found that categorizing edtech tools in the following three buckets helped me make informed decisions.
Note: Teachers can also use these general guidelines to select the appropriate edtech for Hybrid learning and or blended learning.
Here are some articles I developed during the pandemic to assist educators with using edtech with more confidence:
Like many educators, improving my teaching practice was and still is an important area of focus in my life. And although building my confidence has taken time (and experiencing plenty of failures along the way), I’ve come to realize that for me, confidence has become the byproduct of competence. And competence is only achieved through practice. I hope the importance of continuously working to be our best for high-quality teaching resonates for readers in this piece.
If we are ever unsure of what to do, the following question can serve as a good place to start: “How does implementing this new initiative, adopting this practice, or using this new tech tool benefit my learners?"
Jorge Valenzuela is an education coach, author, and advocate. He has years of experience as a classroom and online teacher, a curriculum specialist, and a consultant. His work focuses on improving teacher preparation in project-based learning, computational thinking and computer science integration, STEM education, and equity-based restorative practices. Jorge is an adjunct professor at Old Dominion University and the lead coach at Lifelong Learning Defined. His book Rev Up Robotics: Real-World Computational Thinking in the K–8 Classroom is available from ISTE.