An Alternative Strategy to Build Students’ Self-confidence
I finally finished reading the book of Chris Ripple entitled, “The Gatekeepers.” It took me four months to finish it, but considering my lackadaisical attitude when it comes to reading for pleasure (talking about speed reading is my Achilles heel), I definitely consider this an achievement. While Gatekeepers mostly re-counts the experiences of former White House chiefs of staff to past US Presidents, surprisingly I encountered a gem of thought. A take-away which eventually made me ponder and later question myself regarding my teaching, and turn that wide-angle lens of self-evaluation squarely at you know who.
What started my quest for redemption was the quote in the book from Erkshine Bowles who was the former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton. He says, “The key success as Chief of Staff is being empowered by the President.” While discussing topics on politics is absolutely out of bounds in my classroom to avoid controversy, this quote, however, seems to be appropriate when it comes to my role as a catalyst for change. Symbolically, in this case, I as the president (I know that is a mind bender but stay with me) and my students could be seen as the chief of staff. When I first read this quote, I couldn’t help but ask myself – Do I ever empower my students? How do I empower them? How do I build up their self-confidence? Can I and will I be a key to their success? I wonder how many educators have ever asked themselves the same questions.
I remember many of my students when they first came to my class admitted to me that they had enrolled in our ESL program because they wanted to speak English more fluently. Mind you, many of my students in my ESL classes are already successful professionals in their home country. I have lawyers, engineers, teachers, nurses, journalists, etc. However, I notice every time I turn to them to participate in our oral dialogue drills, the responses I often get is either a nervous laugh or complete silence. There’s something about oral communication that many people, especially our ESL learners find nerve-wracking. I suppose it has something to do with the fear of being ridiculed for using the wrong grammar or unintelligible pronunciation. In the Philippines, we actually have a word for it – nosebleed!
To address this concern, one instructional strategy that I employ in my classes is the recitation of affirmations. You may be wondering why affirmations. Well, the answer is simple. The opposite of doubt is faith. And, it is exactly what we need when we are confronted by self-doubt and insecurities. When we affirm ourselves, we renew our confidence by reminding ourselves who we really are and what we are made of. Of course, I am not the first one who has used this technique. As a matter of fact, I just borrowed the idea from my first mentor/trainer in the Philippines. Like many of us, he believes in the power of speech – the power of words, and I will never forget his favorite borrowed quote from Buddha, “What you think is what you become.” Thus, I instill the same idea in my students. Every time I see that they lose heart because of falling short of their self-imposed expectations, I share with them the famous quote of Napoleon Hill, “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, the body can achieve.”
Does it work?
I answer that question with a resounding maybe! I must say, it’s a work in progress. Like anything else, it is something that my students have to internalize and decide for themselves and own. I, as an instructor, serve just as a facilitator. However, I strongly believe that when I begin to trust my students’ capability, I encourage and empower them to engage and believe in their full potential. Hopefully, in this small way, I can bring out the best in my students and make a difference in their lives.
“Sometimes the heart sees what is invisible to the eye.” – H. Jackson Brown, Jr.