Competence and Confidence: You Can’t Have One Without the Other

Many parents and educators equate a student’s high self-esteem with high achievement. However, according in the article “In schools, self-esteem boosting is losing favor to rigor, finer-tuned praise,” empty praise is out, and a new vocabulary that supports challenge is in. So, how can we work with students to hold them accountable to high expectations while helping them to believe in themselves to risk, to try, to grow, and to deliver quality work?

Research shows “unearned praise does not help students but instead interferes with significant learning opportunities.” Students learn to accept challenge and move beyond difficult obstacles when they are encouraged by educators with words like “persistence,” “risk-taking,” and “resilience.” Studies also show that praising effort over intelligence is another way students can learn to enjoy challenge. An academic coaching question you might ask a student is:  on a scale of 1-10 (1=lowest) how much effort did you exert on this assignment, preparing for this test or participating in this class?  If the answer is under 5, the student may be developing more slacker tendencies which will impede their progress over time.

Rocky Hill Middle School started the school year by teaching their 1,100 students about brain development. Teaching students about how the brain makes connections and continues to grow can give some students a sense of control over their learning. Students should be encouraged to look inward to cultivate their own judgment and motivation to learn, rather than rely on outside feedback, according to Alfie Kohn, author of “Punished by Rewards.”

How can you help students look inside when confronted with a challenge, instead of waiting for outside encouragement?

How can you adjust your vocabulary to support a student’s effort instead of intelligence?

How would your classroom dynamic change if students had to find their own answers? Are you, as a parent, teacher or counselor ready to release the reigns of control somewhat so that you can become the academic coach and champion of your child’s best effort?



“In schools, self-esteem boosting is losing favor to rigor, finer-tuned praise,” by Michael Alison Chandler. 15 January 2012. The Washington Post. Accessed on 17 January 2012.

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