I’ve come to realize that a similar trait in struggling teachers (with struggling students) is a lack of confidence. They might have had confidence, but been handled improperly and lost it. They might have been building confidence and failed to be encouraged and lost it. They might never have had confidence and don’t know what it feels like. Regardless of the reason why a staff might not have confidence, without a good dose of it, it is nearly impossible to grow a staff with enough skill and faith in their skill that they can carry out the important literacy work on their own. When a staff CAN carry out the important literacy work at a high level and without constant leader helicoptering, the leader has built capacity, and there’s no stopping what the team is capable of.

First off how do we build confidence in our people? I was listening to talk radio recently and a mom called in and said that her two year old son lacked confidence (you can figure this out at two years of age?!?!) and, in order to boost confidence, she has been creating situations for her son so that he can be successful. For example, she said that he gets frustrated when she rolls the ball to him and the ball goes under the couch. So, instead of saying to him, “You can get it!”, she no longer plays ball near the couch. She now plays ball with him in the kitchen where they are no places for the ball to get stuck. I listened at this mom talking about all of these manufactured solutions to confidence building and couldn’t wait to hear what the psychologist would say.

Here was the gist of the psychologist’s message: confidence is built in any person when they try and succeed at something that they didn’t think they could do. It is built from the inside out. Period. In fact, said the psychologist, you actually work against a person when you make a task easier because they feel that you don’t believe they can accomplish much. So, needless to say, the mom got schooled that day – she needed to encourage her son to get the ball from under the couch and not over-praise him for simple tasks that he accomplished.

This got me thinking about the connection of this message to the school setting. If we ask of our staff to do the tough things that come with the job like sticking with intervention groups when we think they should just be referred to Special Ed or dealing head-on with a dissatisfied parent, when they’re done (and live through!) the process, they have confidence because they did it. The goal is to not dumb down the literacy work or soft-sell the job at hand, but bolster the staff so that they can look back at what they’ve accomplished and say, “WE did that.”

Check out Thursday’s blog to read Part II as I link confidence to capacity building…