By Renee Miller
A while back, a teacher at a local dance studio commented that our Garden School students show a lot of self-confidence. She said they’re always “game” and willing to try new things. I’ve noticed this, too, and was reflecting on what helps to instill this quality in our children.
Here are a few of my thoughts:
We try to keep a lid on kids ridiculing each other. This is often their first response when they feel nervous or afraid themselves. It is also common in most of our own school experiences. So it takes a concerted, conscious effort to develop a school culture where the students respect each other and support one another’s efforts. We give our students lots of opportunities to succeed in a supportive environment, and that builds their confidence.
This is not to be confused with the “Oh, Johnny, you’re so amazing” nonsense when, in fact, he’s not, and we both know it. Truth must always under gird any culture where we expect respect. Boys especially can’t stand empty falseness. This means there is a time when a student’s effort is questioned and he or she is encouraged to do better.
Also, we are of the opinion that every child is uniquely gifted for a purpose in this world. This powerful idea intrigues children. We aren’t expecting them to excel at everything. Instead we ask them, “What has God given you a passion for?” and, further, “How can you encourage another student to discover his or her areas of giftedness?” This is quite different from the notion that you can be anything you want to be.
Another thing we do is to foster an environment that has rich, multi-age interactions. A group of thirty 13-year-old girls just don’t behave as well as a group of thirty girls from the ages of 2 to 80. Trust me, I’ve spent a lot of time with groups of junior high girls. It tends to bring the best out in people to be aware that they are setting an example for someone else or being admired by a younger person.
This brings us to keeping them from being raised in an environment where they learn to be peer dependent, or where they would only do something because it was “approved” by their group. I’ve found the best way to move children from this mindset is through significant time with family and the community at large. What makes a student successful in the local high school does not make him or her successful in life. Bill Gates is credited with saying, “Be nice to nerds. You will probably work for one.” This will become obviously apparent to our students as they spend time with other adults who are worthy of imitation.
While it’s difficult to put my finger on just what exactly fosters confidence in students, I hope the above thoughts will spur our readers to explore this topic further and leave comments below.
Renee is the founder and director of The Garden School and Cornerstone Classical School (as well as “The Miller Family School”). Though trained in the public school model–she has taught everything from first grade to junior high science–Renee’s first foray away from this system resulted in The Garden School. Renee holds a Master’s Degree in Teaching and Learning from Point Loma Nazarene College. She is a strong advocate for classical Christian education and an accomplished public speaker. The Millers currently live in a busy multi-generational household immersed in classical and Christian ideals and a whole lot of love.