You’ve heard of “fake it till you make it” and “acting as if” until you actually feel it.
That’s NOT what we’re talking about in this episode, though I think there’s some value to that, for sure.
When you tell yourself affirming thoughts, it impacts your mood and can give you a confidence boost. That’s not just woo-woo stuff, because think of the opposite: If you spend three minutes ruminating about all your greatest failures as a teacher and replaying all of the negative interactions with students and parents, you’re going to feel a shift in your mood, right? It’s going to leave you feeling down on yourself. So the opposite holds true: If you think positive thoughts about yourself, it gives you the energy and enthusiasm to do a great job.
But that’s the mental game of confidence. I want to talk today about how you develop REAL and lasting confidence — the type of confidence where you don’t have to hype yourself up, but rather, have a deep abiding belief in your own ability to teach well.
Here is the secret to that:
Confidence comes through building capability, and capability comes through repetition and experience.
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Let me give you an example. I started doing yoga just over a year ago. I was not very good at it. I didn’t know the names of the asanas, my form wasn’t good, and my muscles weren’t strong enough to hold the correct positions.
Now a year later, I feel much more confident about my abilities. I can participate in any yoga class and feel like I will understand what to do, and I can do the poses correctly without hurting myself and ensuring I get the benefit of the exercise. I can’t do everything, obviously, but I have confidence that I’ll be able to complete the class successfully.
The confidence comes from having done it. And there’s no way to fake that.
There’s no way to be truly confident about your ability to do something that you’ve never done or you’ve only done a couple of times and aren’t very good at it. The confidence won’t come until after you’ve had more experience.
Obviously, the same thing is true in teaching. The longer you’ve been at it, the more your confidence will grow. But I think there also has to be more repetition.
When I first started doing yoga, I would watch the same YouTube videos over and over to master those exact flows. If I tried to do something different, it was much harder.
I think that one of the problems in teaching is that we try something one time and if it doesn’t go well, we give up on it and try something else. Or, sometimes there’s so much pressure to be engaging and make lessons fun for kids that we feel like we can’t repeat the same idea twice.
But I believe the only way to get good at teaching is to do the same things over and over again. The more you do something, the more confident you will become at it. You’ll remember when you did something before and it didn’t work and you’ll be able to tweak it, and you’ll learn from each experience to make it better and better.
So the first take-away I have for you is to repeat the same routines and instructional practices multiple times.
If you want to build your confidence as an educator, you have to grow through experience, and if every lesson is completely different from the one before, you’re not going feel nearly as confident with it.
When you find yourself floundering, go back to something that is tried-and-true. Return to something that you know works for your students, and that you feel good about doing. Repeat that multiple times and build your confidence. Each time you do it, you will be more confident and you’ll be able to try new things, extend things a little bit, experiment with different questions and different techniques.
But reinventing the wheel will not build your confidence. Chasing shiny objects and trying to find the next great teaching idea will not necessarily build your teaching confidence. You’re never going to be confident the first time you try something, so if you’re always trying something new, you’re never going to feel really secure in your abilities. Give yourself the benefit of repetition.
Think about how much repetition there is for mastery in basketball, or ballet, or learning to play piano. You do the same thing over and over again to build your confidence.
If you’re trying to learn to play the piano by practicing a different song every day, your skills are not going to improve and your confidence is not going to improve. There’s a reason why people typically learn just one or two songs as beginners. They practice that same song over and over to get really good at it, and then start a new song. Once you start that third song, you’re going to be more confident because you’ve seen the success you’ve had with the first two.
By the time you learn your sixth or seventh song, you’re feeling even more confident, even though the songs are harder because you now have this track record of success. In your instruction, you must build a track record of success for yourself.
What do you do in the meantime, when you don’t have the experience?
Maybe you are a brand new teacher, or maybe you’re new to your school or grade level or curriculum or standards. That’s the thing with education now — that even veteran teachers feel like newbies at times because things are changing so fast. There are so many new techniques and practices and technologies to learn that everyone’s put back into the beginner role many times.
What you need to do in the situations where you lack experience is to have confidence in your ability to succeed.
When I started yoga, I was not good at it and I knew that. But I was highly motivated to succeed. I wanted to be strong and flexible and have good balance and mental clarity. There were a lot of reasons I wanted to start that practice, and I knew I was capable of doing it. I never dreamed I’d be as capable as I am now, but I knew that yoga was something that I could do reasonably well eventually…not because I had proven that to myself by developing the skills yet, but because I believed in my own ability to keep showing up over and over.
You have to believe in your abilities as a teacher to learn and grow. Think about the things that you’ve learned just since beginning your college courses! No matter where you’re at in your career, you certainly know way more about effective teaching than you knew as a freshman in college. You have the ability to develop skills and improve in teaching over time. Period. That’s a fact because you’ve done it.
Use that past success to give you confidence that there will be future success.
Here’s where it’s important to slow down and notice the good things that you’re doing. There’s not a lot of time for reflection in a teacher’s day, and you’re probably like most people, in that you’re constantly focusing on all the things that you haven’t done or haven’t mastered or aren’t good at.
You have to make a conscious effort to recognize your own successes and growth.
And this does not have to be a complicated process. At the end of the day when you’re commuting home, in the shower, going for a walk, doing dishes — whenever it is that you’re reflecting back on your day and driving yourself nuts thinking about all the things that you didn’t get done and replaying all those negative experiences in your head — ask yourself:
“How have I shown growth today? What did I learn, as a teacher and as a human being?”
Give yourself credit for that. This is about building your confidence as an educator. If you end every day by thinking about what you didn’t do and what went wrong and all the ways that you didn’t measure up to your own expectations or other people’s expectations of you, it’s going to kill your confidence.
So you have to make the decision to remind yourself to focus on things you’ve done well. It could be really small things, but by repeating them to yourself — or even better, writing them down — you are building your confidence by training your brain to think about the things that you’re doing right.
It might be something really small, like you figured out a different way to explain a certain concept to your students so they understood it better. Or you figured out a phrase to say to a student who’s really struggling behaviorally that helps the student get back on track. It could be that you found a way to save a couple of minutes of the time it takes to enter grades in your grade book.
All of these things are accomplishments because it means you’re getting better at your job. That should give you confidence. Every single day you go into the classroom, you’re learning new things that are making you better. Every single day of experience you have with your students is helping you improve.
And it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t feel that way. Let’s go back to learning to play a sport or play an instrument. You wouldn’t walk away from every guitar lesson feeling like you’re on your way to becoming a rockstar. There will be some days that are frustrating and you don’t see any improvement whatsoever. The idea of being great at the guitar will seem like an impossible dream. But maybe you mastered one new chord. In a week or two from now, you’ll be able to look back and then you’ll really feel that growth.
So it’s okay if you don’t feel like you had an accomplished day or you don’t feel like you’re learning or growing. The act of reflection will help you see that you are growing even when it doesn’t feel like it.
My encouragement to you in the week ahead is to build your confidence as a teacher through repetition. Do the same things over and over until you get good at them, or at least better at them, and then move on and try something else. You can make small tweaks each time to stretch yourself and increase your effectiveness, but don’t try to do too many new things at once.
Work toward mastery and depth. These are lost arts in a culture that is so focused on quick fixes and instant gratification.
I know that your school is probably not set up to support you in achieving mastery and depth in your instruction. That’s why it’s so important that you not internalize that quick-fix mindset, and to instead, recognize that for your own confidence as an educator, and for your own belief in your ability to create change in students’ learning, that you must have the opportunity to master your craft. And mastery always requires repetition.
Just being more aware of that in your daily practice is going to help. So repeat the same things, and reflect each day on what you have grown in, and what you have learned that day. That will help you recognize your accomplishments and build your confidence as a teacher because you’re building capability through repetition.