Most students who struggle academically have had that problem for a long time. Oftentimes, their confidence is in the pits. You can support them and help them gain confidence! Student-teacher relationships can boost students' self-esteem. By getting students to see themselves as capable and valued, you can turn things around for your youngsters. Read on for a case example of how I built a relationship that helped a student gain confidence.
Relationships in Action
My student was a 10th grader. I'll call him James. As a sixth grader, James suffered a traumatic brain injury. At that time, he was convinced that he would no longer be able to learn any new science, social studies, or literacy skills/content. Even so, he was a gifted math student. This was likely due to his previous comfort and confidence with the content of math.
His academic growth froze at the sixth grade level, with the exception of math, in which he continued to flourish. Yes, the injury made processing and memory suffer, but he compounded the impact with negative self-talk and a refusal to try.
I taught James science when we first met. As I mentioned, at that point he was convinced he could not learn new science content. Due to this conviction, he often shut down in my class, overwhelmed by frustration. When I asked him to attempt anything even slightly challenging, he turned nonverbal and donned an impressive scowl. He was not used to pushing himself when things got hard. He was used to using his injury as an excuse.
Fortunately, James was a really friendly kid. He wanted to make people happy, especially adults. He also wanted relationships. Because his desire to develop relationships with adults often went in opposition to his shutting down, I was able to utilize it as a motivator.
Over time, we developed a strong relationship. I did so mostly outside of class, but also connected during class with some healthy banter and a good dose of support. Outside of the classroom, we played soccer, I sat with him at lunch (it was a unique situation in which we ate family style at a residential treatment center), and we engaged in an ongoing dialogue over time. Following our hard work to build a strong relationship, we came up with a phrase that I could use to get him unstuck in class.
How We Succeeded with the Relationship as our Guide
When James was close to giving up, I was able to read his nonverbal communication and knew ahead of time. The phrase we came up with to interrupt his downward spiral was "butterfly." Whenever he would begin to struggle, I would whisper the word butterfly to him or write it somewhere he was looking. As the relationship developed over time and he trusted me to push him, knowing I would provide support, I consistently found ways to prove him wrong about his inability to learn. When he worked hard, overcoming his defeatist attitude, I pointed it out to him. I found examples of this all the time and linked them explicitly to his view that he could not learn. Alongside explicit instruction in the growth mindset and neuroscience, I worked with these exceptions to show him he was a capable learner.
A Powerful Success Story
At the point when James graduated from the residential treatment program, he had started to support other students, teaching them elements of the the growth mindset and neuroscience. He coached his peers on the power of effort and perseverance to actually rewire their brains. With James, I leveraged our relationship, got to know him on a genuine level, taught him about his false sense of limitation, and showed him all of the exceptions to his negative views. Eventually, he was able to catch himself in the act and became a much more independently motivated student. With my educational and therapeutic colleagues and with the help of James, we changed his trajectory completely.
With this in mind, how will you leverage relationships to support student confidence? Are there things you do already that you want to share? If so, leave a comment!
Check out the video that inspired this post!
My name is Erin E. Silcox. I'm working on my Ph.D. in Literacy Education, focusing on the intersection of trauma and literacy. I want to deepen our base of knowledge about trauma-informed practices in schools and help teachers apply findings right now.