Teacher Wellness

How Teachers Can Build Confidence

Both new and experienced teachers can benefit from using these strategies to improve their sense of self-efficacy in the classroom.

September 12, 2023
Hero Images Inc. / Alamy

Teacher confidence, referred to as “self-efficacy” in research journals and “swagger” by fans of Matthew McConaughey, isn’t just useful for educators to possess—it’s essential. Several studies summarized by School Psychology International associate teachers’ high self-efficacy with better classroom management, closer relationships with students, and high-quality lessons. 

Despite how self-assured educators appear, confidence isn’t a static state. Rather, self-efficacy is the result of teachers continuously activating specific strategies such as those shared below.

Cue yourself to feel confident

As a rookie teacher, I couldn’t hide my nervousness on the first day of class. But a few years later, I spontaneously wrote on my class welcome notes, “I am Elvis!” The message prompted me to be like Mr. Hound Dog: relaxed, dynamic, and playful. After all these years, the reminder still makes me chuckle and cues me to enjoy the moment.

Wearing power clothing also cues confidence. Wear something that makes you feel self-assured—perhaps a blazer—and consider extra touches like quality shoes. Because classroom professionals average more than 12,000 steps per day, according to Healthline, choose professional and comfortable footwear. Also, consider wearing a work uniform instead of playing what-do-I-put-on-this-morning?

North Dakota’s Department of Health & Human Services advises teachers to replace negative self-talk with positive affirmations (e.g., “I possess the confidence, skills, and passion to help my students succeed”). Even educator preparation courses teach interns this powerful mental cueing technique, as researcher Scott Robinson notes. According to Robinson, writing affirmations is an “opportunity for candidates to center themselves and to persist through both minor setbacks and major defeats that might otherwise tear down their self-image and threaten their confidence and motivation to teach.”

Finally, sounding confident is halfway to feeling confident. On your commute to work, try performing voice exercises to develop a more dynamic and confident vocal range. Sir Winston Churchill removed his stammer and lisp by carefully pronouncing sentences like “The Spanish ships I cannot see for they are not in sight.” As a result, the former prime minister’s powerful orations were an influential component in preserving Western civilization during World War II.

Employ a 3-step ritual before class starts

Blasting Ibrahim Maalouf’s glorious “Unfaithful” before class injects 100 ccs of Asgardian-level confidence into my veins. To channel my energy, I state aloud the two or three main learning goals of the class. Finally, for challenging classes, I replace anxiety with appreciation by reminding myself to focus on the unique charms of my upcoming students (e.g., humming a Taylor Swift song, wearing oversized denim-on-denim).

Develop strong relationships with students

While ample research indicates that chaotic classroom environments negatively impact teachers’ self-efficacy and contribute to burnout, I’ve discovered two preventive relationship-building strategies that create a harmonious learning space.

  • For learning log assignments, I always prompt students to describe how they’re doing. Invariably, they disclose problems, giving me the opportunity to respond in writing and develop their trust.
  • When adults ask questions that are motivated by honest curiosity, not to tee up their own opinions, close relationships are forged. Authentic relationships between teachers and students can’t flourish if the dialogue is dominated by telling, rather than conversing.

Practice Different Training Methods

Mindfulness: The intentional and nonjudgmental focus on the present moment boosts self-esteem and self-efficacy. Navy SEALs exercise my favorite mindfulness technique, box breathing: inhale for four seconds, hold the breath for four seconds, exhale for four seconds, and then hold the breath again for four seconds. Beyond enhancing confidence, this practice helps to calm the nervous system, reduce stress, and increase focus.

Strength training: Beyond its aesthetic benefits, this type of exercise effectively reduces anxiety. When taxed, our muscles send signals to our brain that make us feel physically stronger and more resilient, thereby enhancing self-esteem and well-being.

Engage in Lifelong Learning and Seek Feedback

By focusing on continuous professional development, consuming educational research, and learning from peers and experts, teachers solidify their expertise and confidence. To avoid the shame trap, savvy educators don’t compare their knowledge and skills with others’.

Encourage students to provide you with constructive criticism, and invite peer observers into your classroom. Feedback helps identify specific areas where you might benefit from additional training. When feedback is viewed as a catalyst for growth—not self-blame—the acquisition of new skills or knowledge can, in turn, enhance instructional confidence.

Avoid perfectionism

According to research by Dr. Brady Jones, educators who perseverate on achieving idealized standards—that is, perfectionists—are “more likely to become overwhelmed and leave” a profession that entails pursuing vague goals, working with uncooperative students, making rapid decisions, and satisfying diverse stakeholders, among other challenges.

There’s no perfect lesson, just as there’s no perfect teacher. Moreover, adaptable thinking, when combined with collaborative support, can lead to creative solutions and bolster self-assurance. Try welcoming gentle—not gleeful—corrections by students. At the beginning of every class session, I budget time for troubleshooting. Learners are invited to notify me about dead links in Google Classroom, among other errors. When we willingly embrace criticism, our students view us as self-assured.

Years ago, as a teacher candidate in Washington state, I felt humiliated after botching an iambic pentameter lesson. To console me, my clinical teacher gently shared a nuanced way to view every teaching performance.

“You’re never as bad as you think you are,” he said. “But you’re never as awesome, either.”

His words implied that teachers should get comfortable occupying the gray area where they’re neither failures nor superstars—just professionals building their lives around children, striving to serve them better every day. Consistently improving and developing confidence ultimately shows students that with the right mindset, challenges are surmountable.

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