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The Confidence Key

As math tutors, one of our greatest joys is engendering confidence in our students. A confident student is one that feels responsible for their own learning and isn’t intimidated by the learning process. Instead, they feel they can use the learning process to their own advantage and create the conditions for their own success.


The Tools of Confidence


We strive to teach in a way that students can copy, repeat, and adapt. We put tools into their hands so that they can continue to successfully navigate their math studies, even long after they’ve finished studying with us.


One of the ways we accomplish this concretely is through taking simple-to-understand yet powerfully comprehensive approaches to problem solving that students can repeat, repeat, repeat. We give students ample practice so that they can become comfortable with these methods. We also examine concepts from multiple perspectives to give students practice in adapting the problem-solving methods they’ve learned to different scenarios, different angles of a problem. This allows them to exercise the concepts they’ve learned to their fullest extents.


In a more abstract sense, there is another idea that we infuse into our instruction and that we strive to enable our students to copy. We teach to the individual, as we truly believe that every student can succeed in math. Therefore, we are fundamentally convinced that we can unlock every student’s understanding with the right instruction. As we pursue comprehension alongside our students, we enable them to practice digging until they find what works for them. By taking the time to build each student’s understanding from the ground up, we make ourselves into scaffolding that supports them as they build themselves into their own self-instructors.


A Relationship with Confidence


We can all relate to the idea of being very confident in a particular something, and we know the feelings of ease, relaxation, and even joy that accompanies such a level of confidence. We also all know what it feels like to be operating in an area where we’re…not so confident.


As adults, we have a relationship with confidence (or a lack thereof) that allows us to navigate these areas differently from when we were kids. For the most part, as adults, we’ve been able to structure our lives to allow us to specialize in areas we feel more confident. We’re able to opt out of many things that make us feel really insecure and weigh how much we want to invest when it’s unavoidable. For the most part, we tend to optimize our adulthoods for comfort and confidence. We play to our strengths. While it takes reasonable and necessary willpower to negotiate with ourselves to bear with discomfort for the sake of a certain goal, it’s a different story altogether when we deliberately put ourselves in uncomfortable situations for the sake of the discomfort.


As we mature, we learn that playing to our strengths and understanding our weaknesses can be quite fruitful. Sometimes, we can rely on others to excel in areas we are not strong, and we can contribute our strengths with great enthusiasm and efficiency. This is what makes collaboration so productive. We also have the option to work on something that does not come naturally to us in order to work towards a certain goal. We can choose to improve our familiarity, skill, and comfort level with the activity if it’s in the service of something we value.


For kids, in a general sense, life is structured for them. There is a framework in which they practice learning what to value and exercise the actions that are required of them at a given moment. They are learning to understand what it means to have a future, what the stakes in life are, and what the general approach their culture takes to managing those stakes and reasonable goals within them. As they don’t necessarily have the responsibility to create their own framework for life the same way adults do, they practice responsibility by managing how they respond to the framework they’re given.


This is not an unreasonable structure for childhood; kids do need structure as they are learning to formulate their own values, self understanding, and goals. Education is a training environment where it is crucial that kids act out the modi operandi they will choose to take into adulthood.


That being said, kids have a different relationship with confidence that is inherent to the structure of childhood. Kids do not have the same option to “opt out” of an area where they feel shaky, especially when it comes to mandatory school subjects. Moreover, the stakes for them are very high since for many, education is the primary playground in which they act out managing things of superlative importance. Simultaneously, kids haven’t always yet developed the skillset of navigating their insecurities and finding ways develop their own confidence.


The Confidence Key


This is one of the things we try to teach. Working with students on a personal level to find success in math trains them to take a personal approach with themselves. They start to see how they can take their learning into their own hands and reasons to feel confident.


Confidence affects the way children carry themselves, especially in a subject that can be seen as a difficult, such as math. A child who is succeeding in math is more likely to adopt an attitude that they can succeed in other difficult things, too. They may be able to help their friends. At the very least, if math is not a “dreaded subject” for them, as it is for so many other students, the energy and capacity that would be used up by emotional and mental stress over that subject is made free.


Finding success in intimidating area like math can give children the confidence to take risks in other areas as well. Perhaps they will challenge themselves with harder classes. Perhaps they will put more effort into homework, because they’ve seen their efforts pay off in the past. Perhaps they will spend more time working through difficult problems, because they’ve experienced the process of keeping at something until it works for them.


They are learning to value not just the subject on the surface, and not even educational success. They are learning to value a belief in themselves on a fundamental level, a confidence that will empower them to take not just their learning process into their own hands, but their futures.

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