Education resources › Blog › How to build stronger self-confidence in the classroom

How to build stronger self-confidence in the classroom

How to build stronger self-confidence in the classroom

6 min read
  • Stress management & well-being

Self-confidence can sometimes be the final nudge needed to make the leap between wanting to do something and actually doing it. However, there are many situations where students may feel uncomfortable and feel silly when they don’t know the answer to something. Teachers can help change this for their students by introducing them to the positives of ‘intellectual humility’ and build their confidence through creating a safe classroom environment. This blog looks at how…

What is intellectual humility?

Intellectual humility is a method of thinking. It means accepting that there is a possibility you may be wrong and being open-minded to the experiences of others. For example, being able to say, “I can learn from others” instead of “I know everything there is to know”. Research suggests that those with greater intellectual humility have superior general knowledge. Unfortunately, we all have a tendency to overestimate how much we know. We can become stubborn in our beliefs and hold onto the idea that our opinion is the right opinion. In fact, studies show that most people generally believe they’re better or more correct than everyone else. 

This kind of thinking is not to be confused with confidence. In order to combat it, we must adopt intellectual humility. Introducing your students to this way of thinking early on will do wonders for their confidence as they will believe that not knowing something is not a failure, but instead an opportunity to learn. To develop this in your students, focus on enhancing psychological safety in the classroom. 

Why psychological safety is important

Psychological safety can be defined as feeling comfortable offering ideas, asking questions, and admitting to your mistakes. When this is adopted in the classroom, students will accept that making mistakes is crucial to their learning and won’t have to worry about looking silly in front of their peers. 

Research demonstrates that it is extremely important to create a psychologically safe classroom environment. If a student feels humiliated after making a mistake or asking a question, the brain will interpret this as a threat. This activates a region in the brain called the amygdala; it is responsible for the fight-or-flight response and can lead to students making impulsive decisions. Further evidence suggests a strong relationship between psychological safety at school and student well-being. When the psychological safety of teachers was high, so too was students’ well-being – they demonstrated increased levels of self-confidence, which in turn led to enhanced student development.

Teachers can create a psychologically safe classroom environment by maximising students’ sense of belonging. Creating a sense of belonging involves identifying common aspects or goals that the class share, hence initiating the development of a team environment where all students are equal. Research has shown that even the most trivial suggestion of shared identity can lead to beneficial outcomes: when students were told they shared the same birthday, they showed enhanced levels of motivation and persistence.

Helping students build self-confidence  

Psychological safety in the classroom and intellectual humility both require a sense of self-confidence. Without this, students do not feel comfortable enough to admit to their lack of knowledge and are typically less willing to ask for help. Self-confidence plays a key role in a student’s life. It includes trusting your own abilities and judgement, and can help students achieve their goals. Students who are self-confident often become more resilient and are able to embrace their full potential. Research shows that a student’s self-confidence influences their learning in different ways, from better student participation to decreased anxiety. 

Evidence shows that there is a difference in the academic progress of students with high and low self-confidence. Students with low self-confidence had an average test score of 62.49, whereas students with high self-confidence had an average test score of 87.99. That being said, it is probably fair to assume the relationship works both ways – lower confidence begets lower exam results, just as lower exam results induce lower self-confidence.

Students spend a majority of their day in the classroom. It becomes an important place for their development, both personal and academic. Creating an environment where students feel as though they can say “I don’t know” and ask for help, and receive support from their peers and teachers, is crucial in building their confidence. 

So, how can we help promote an environment where making mistakes and asking for help is encouraged and seen as a stepping stone to success?

We will teach your students to thrive under pressure with key stress management skills. Ideal in the lead up to exams.

4 ways to build confidence

Helping students feel confident in their abilities is crucial to their academic and personal growth. There are many strategies you can implement in your classroom to build confidence in your students; we believe these 4 strategies are the most effective: 

View setbacks as an opportunity

Setbacks, though painful at the time, can actually help in the long run. In a study of Olympic gold medallists, many of them identified how using setbacks as an opportunity to grow and develop was instrumental to developing their resilience. After experiencing a failure, take some time to accept and process the situation. Then you can reflect on how you can use this to your advantage; taking the time to reflect on how you have overcome setbacks and what you can learn from them will help you achieve your goals in the future.

Use praise in the right ways

When students receive praise from their peers or teachers, they feel as though their hard work is appreciated. Knowing that other people believe they’ve done well will help build their confidence in their abilities. Try and use specific praise when giving feedback to a student as this shows to them that you’re paying close attention to their work and that they are valued. Avoid using general praises such as “Good job!”; instead, try and find something specific in their work that you thought they did well.

Challenge your students

Sometimes, students can become stuck and their work becomes monotonous. When they are doing something well, they may not feel any desire to change or try different strategies. This can lead to them developing a fixed mindset, and facing a decrease in their self-confidence. Give your students work that challenges them academically. It will force them to work in different ways or use new methods of thinking. Students will believe in themselves because you believe in them and their abilities to succeed on this unfamiliar task. Not only does this boost their confidence, it also develops their skill set. 

Boost creativity

Giving students the opportunity to be creative is like giving them the secret to confidence. When students express themselves creatively, they become more open-minded and often benefit from learning something new. Feeling passionate about what they’re doing will help students stay motivated in their work and even the smallest accomplishment will build their confidence. The greatest reward for most students is feeling proud of their work, and it is the creative thinking that can make them step outside of the box and excel. Boosting student creativity is probably the simplest way to build confidence.

Final thought

Encouraging your students to adopt intellectual humility can be an important step in their success. Feeling comfortable not knowing the answer to everything and taking every opportunity to learn and build on their knowledge will not only improve their academic progress, but also develop their self-confidence. Try to enhance this by boosting creativity and praising their hard work. Creating confident students is the key to creating successful students!

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

Follow on XConnect on LinkedIn