In the world of teaching, confidence refers to the way in which teachers ‘carry themselves’ – whether they ooze an aura of authority. While confidence in self-help books is all about how a person feels inside, confidence in teaching is about the image teachers project to their students and the effect that has on behaviour. For this reason, a teacher’s outward calm, controlled, confident demeanour may not always match his or her inner voice which may be full of doubt and insecurity (particularly as a beginning teacher). A side-effect of a high level of confidence is an equally high expectation of behaviour and achievement. Teachers believe that they can indeed ‘teach’ and that students will therefore ‘learn’ despite any challenging behavioural issues.
Research has shown that a combination of high academic expectations and relationship building is an effective two-pronged approach (Brophy, 2006; Pool & Everston, 2013). Research has also shown that students believe poorly performing teachers are either too worried about being liked, or simply lack the ability or confidence to manage a class (Weinstein 2003). Other researchers found that students prefer a dominant and authoritarian teacher who is the undisputed class leader but only if they are cooperative and not rigid or unfair (Brekelmans et al., 2002; Davidson, 1999).
Confidence in teaching is about the image teachers project to their students and the effect that has on behaviour.
Students tend to respond to confidence in various ways. For shy students, a confident teacher can protect them from the slings and arrows of extroverted class clowns and bullies. For hard-working, goal-oriented and conscientious achieving students, a confident teacher is the content expert who they can rely on for advice, guidance and wisdom. For the attention-seekers, social extroverts and task-avoiders, a confident teacher helps to keep them in line, preventing the over-reaction of less-able teachers and dreaded repercussions such as parent-teacher meetings. These students are particularly attracted to confident teachers, often to those teachers’ dismay.
Hint: Confidence is strongly related to ‘self-efficacy’, which is a person’s belief that they have the ability to complete a task to a high standard (Bandura, 1986; O’Neill, 2016). There is a difference however – self-efficacy is a personal belief while confidence is the additional outward expression of that belief.
Socially confident students do well under confident teachers – it settles them – they have met their verbal equal and see few reasons to ‘try it on’ knowing they will undoubtedly lose the battle. The confident teacher commands respect without having to yell, scream or intimidate. In fact, teachers with the most amount of confidence (and who command the most respect from their students) are often soft-spoken, thoughtful and reserved – at least until they decide not to be, on very rare occasions. Confidence is a teacher’s sense of indestructibility – a projected attitude that tells the world that, ‘I am the master of my work and can easily deal with any situation in a professional, strategic manner. I am not worried or anxious and am in complete control of my emotions. Your antics are no challenge to me – I’ve been here a million times.’.
Hint: If you think you have a confidence problem or find it near impossible to project confidence (something which happens to ‘prac’ students and early career teachers), try imagining what a confident professional looks like. Think of surgeons confidently going about their business like it’s just another day at the office. Imagine veteran pilots bringing in an aircraft for yet another perfect landing. Imagine those same pilots landing in a storm – how do they behave? What are they thinking? Are they calm? What does their body language look like? Extrapolate that sense of professionalism to the world of the classroom and think about what a seasoned, confident teacher looks like – now imitate that image.
Teacher confidence changes the risk-reward calculation that students make when deciding (consciously or otherwise) to misbehave. For weaker or novice teachers, some of their students may decide that getting out of their seats to chat with a friend is a safe bet. These teachers will react by telling the students to go back to their seats – nothing to worry about from the students’ perspective. If these situations were to escalate, the offending students feel that they have the upper hand; they can instantly call upon a litany of street-wise curses and backhanded remarks. In these situations, the teachers are outclassed and forced to rely on their positions of authority; they may even beg students to comply. For the students, there is no potential for embarrassment or loss of face in front of their peers –they will comply, eventually, but on their terms – not those of their teachers.
Teachers with the most amount of confidence (and who command the most respect from their students) are often soft-spoken, thoughtful and reserved – at least until they decide not to be, on very rare occasions.
With confident teachers however, the games change quite dramatically. The street-wise remarks don’t work. Confident teachers will not ‘cop’ them – these teachers do not back down, nor do they accept any indiscretions or back-handed comments. They have a quick response for every ‘grenade’; their students don’t get the opportunity to dominate, manipulate or control their interactions with them. In these ‘shows’, the confident teachers are the playwrights – building the stages and designing the dialogue to their liking – not students. Their students know the price to pay for such games are verbal exchanges they are unlikely to win, as well as follow-up consequences. ‘Why bother – may as well do some work’, they consequentially think.
Hint: The confident teacher is ‘on the ball’ at all times – thinking 3 steps ahead, planning, strategising, and making continual adjustments. When you think in this way (planning, predicting, scanning and using all the little behaviour management techniques that you know of), there is no time for self-doubt or negative inner voices – you have become a confident teacher!
So where does teaching confidence come from? Here are 5 ways to build your confidence:
Hint: Teachers (like students) tend to build barriers and hide when they are feeling threatened, unsafe or defensive. If you catch yourself standing in the corner of the classroom, feeling more comfortable behind your desk than in front of your class, or looking for reasons to work with certain students over others, then you might have a confidence problem. Get out from behind your desk, move away from the corner of the room, and start actively teaching for as long as possible each lesson. Eradicate these unhealthy habits, watch your confidence grow and be amazed at how students react to your changed persona!
Brophy, J. (2006). History of research on classroom management. In C. M. Evertson & C. S. Weinstein (Eds.), Handbook of classroom management: Research, practice, and contemporary issues (pp. 17-43). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Pool, I. R., & Everston, C. M. (2013). Elementary classroom management. In J. Hattie, & E.M. Anderman (Eds.), Elementary classroom management (pp. 188-191). Routledge.
Weinstein, C. S. (2003). Secondary classroom management: Lessons from research and practice (2nd ed.). McGraw-Hill.
Brekelmans, M., Wubbels, T., & den Brok, P. (2002). Teacher experience and the teacher student relationship in the classroom environment. In S. C. Goh & M. S. Khine (Eds.), Studies in educational learning environments: an international perspective (pp. 73–99). World Scientific.
Davidson, A. L. (1999). Negotiating social differences: Youths’ assessments of educators’ strategies. Urban Education, 34(3), 338–369.
Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Prentice-Hall.
O'Neill, S. C. (2016). Preparing Preservice Teachers for Inclusive Classrooms: Does Completing Coursework on Managing Challenging Behaviours Increase Their Classroom Management Sense of Efficacy? Australasian Journal of Special Education, 40, 117 - 140.
Adam Green is an advisor to government, a registered teacher, an instructional designer and a #1 best selling author. He is completing a Doctor of Education and was previously head of department for one of the country’s largest SAER (students at educational risk) schools. Adam is managing director of ITAC, an accredited training provider for thousands of teacher aides every year.
Source: Behaviour Management Skills and Strategies for the Modern Classroom: 100+ research-based strategies for both novice and experienced practitioners.
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