It is like a hole in the bucket, through which the reservoir of belief, optimism, positivity and energy will drain away.
So how do you fix that anxiety hole to build the energising confidence in your school at a time of anxiety?
For about 20 years, the psychological literature around confidence was profoundly mistaken. In the 1980-90s the assumption was that confidence is best built by unconditional praise; positive self-regard which is independent of accurate self-evaluation.
Praise, affirmation and celebration focusing not on success but on intrinsic worth was proposed as the way to address the perceived root problem of many social ills. It was assumed problems such as criminality, poor parenting, poor work performance arose from low self-esteem, and could therefore be addressed by ‘boosting’ self-esteem.
However, studies then emerged which questioned this consensus; repeatedly, it was shown that individuals who had experienced too much unconditional praise often exhibited anti- and not pro-social behaviours: narcissism, bullying, sense of entitlement, even violence. The literature on effective praise has had to be re-worked because unconditional praise proved to be wrong.
It is now believed that effective praise is two-fold. First of all, it is linked to a specific quality or attribute which an individual has demonstrated or acquired. Rather than being general praise ‘Oh, you are such a lovely person’ it is specific ‘When you helped Max in the classroom you showed kindness’; ‘I have noticed how you have worked on your bowling; your arm is much straighter- well done’; ‘In break time, I noticed how patient you were explaining the rules to the new girl; thank you.’
Praise is targeted and specific, attributed to a quality or behaviour. The effect of this is to motivate the individual to produce more of that quality; they know what they should be focusing on, and it builds pro-social development.
Secondly, the most effective praise is self-praise. By this, I mean that the individual properly and accurately evaluates their own qualities, effort and progress, and can reward them self accordingly. Individuals who accurately (and not excessively) self-praise exhibit a resourcefulness and resilience that can see them through tough times and setbacks. It should not be confused with self-reliance, in which other’s opinions are dismissed; healthy self- praise values others’ opinions.
Let’s apply this to your own school. There are many things you cannot control at the moment. One thing you can, is each staff member’s sense of capability and self-efficacy. Practically speaking, each should have a set of personal goals they have set and are working towards; each should have an understanding of the department’s development goals and what they can do to achieve them; the same can be said for the year, house and school development goals. Each should know how, and when, they will evaluate their own progress. They will know that their progress matters not just to them, but to you.
The beginning of the school year provides an opportunity not just to set out the goals for the next 12 months. It is also when you ensure individuals take tangible, measureable, specific ownership of their part in them. Being confidence in a time of anxiety is about recognising the good progress that has already been made, and by setting out the steps, keep moving forward.
How does STEER’s AS Tracking help you achieve this for your school?
AS Tracking was designed to build staff efficacy and measureable outcomes. As staff write individual and group action plans for pupils, they articulate tangible goals, precise actions, and specific timeframe, to observe their impact. Evidence repeatedly shows that schools who follow this protocol not only improve pupil outcomes, but increase staff confidence, skill and agency in a virtuous circle.