This is the third installment in the confidence building series. Click on the
As a teacher, I cannot stress enough how important it is that students have confidence about their abilities. Naturally, not every child will excel at every subject or assignment–over the course of their scholastic career, each students will be faced with tasks they find difficult, some so hard for them that they feel they can’t complete it. Some “preventative medicine” to make sure they are up to challenging assignments can help in dealing with this. By giving students (or anyone) an experience where they do something they think they couldn’t, you help them build a foundation for self-esteem.
My student leadership class partakes in many activities to build self-confidence. Besides constant positive talk and encouragement (the gems discussed in part one), we do a few unusual things to help in this area. One is martial arts board breaking. This activity may not be doable at many schools for a number of reasons, but if you can do it, it is worth trying. As I like to tell my students: you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.
Martial-arts board breaking creates an incredible sense of individual accomplishment, as well as fostering a sense of team/family. It also serves as a metaphor for breaking through life’s barriers. Students are given a one inch think piece of wood (one foot by one foot), usually pine. The board is placed on two cinder blocks. On one side of the board, students write a goal (something important, not “I want Susie to like me”). On the other side, they write a barrier (or barriers) that may stop them from reaching the goal.
The board is placed on the cinder blocks (see photos) and the side with written barriers faces up. Before placing the board on the blocks, the students read aloud to the group their goal and the barriers. The student then breaks the board by hand (the board has about an inch on each side on top of the blocks, leaving a gap/space of about 10 inches for the break-through). A celebration of cheer happens for each success, and the board goes home as a souvenir and reminder that the child accomplished something (s)he thought they couldn’t do (break the board). During a group debrief, I explain the metaphor of this.
There will be students who have difficulty with this. There are various remedies. The group will usually become quite verbally supportive after a failed attempt or two (the board is quite easy to break, the reality is that there is a mental block and self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts: if you don’t believe you can do it, you may not be able to). The trick is encouragement and risk taking: “You CAN do this. You WILL do this.” There’s also technique involved. The board should be struck with the wrist. It shouldn’t be, for lack of a better term, slapped. Having music during the event adds to the atmosphere (I use upbeat Enya, or the Survivor song Eye of the Tiger.) The music loops and goes on throughout the activity.
This activity can become very emotional, could go on for hours with a bigger group, and will bring much joy and accomplishment. Kids will bond with each other, and walk away feeling good about themselves. The idea, naturally, is to make sure this translates into self-talk for students when up against a seemingly impossible task/assignment. It could be as simple as passing a test, or as grand as becoming a doctor or getting into Harvard.
Note: This activity should not be conducted with children before grade six. Also, if you believe a child is at risk of injury after a series of unsuccessful attempts, they can be skipped till later or break the board with their foot (shoe on)–this is much easier. Also, before conducting this activity, consult an expert at a martial arts center and read up on the topic. There is much to be found with a Google search.
Mr. Franklin is a teacher for the
Los Angeles Unified School District. He is an eleven year veteran and has won District and County Teacher of the Year awards. He was also a recipient of the prestigious Bank of America Community Hero award. Before teaching, he spent five years at Learning Forum, which runs summer camps designed to increase student academic potential. It is a world-wide program.