One of my favorite authors, Jodi Picoult, wrote, “When you’re different, sometimes you don’t see the millions of people who accept you for what you are. All you notice is the person who doesn’t.” Many students with learning differences are all too familiar with the voices of negativity, unacceptance, and shame. Unfortunately, those voices are often the loudest, and coupled with a student’s perceived failure, can stand in the way of a child building the self-confidence so crucial to healthy development. Research supports what we all know to be true–when people feel they have disappointed others (parents, teachers, etc.), when they feel misunderstood or believe they are alone in their struggles, when their attempts to be successful feel exhausting and futile–self-confidence dwindles. Understood.org, a comprehensive resource for learning differences, details the toll that low self-esteem can take on students: They are at great risk for not developing self-advocacy skills, and they may struggle with self-awareness. Low self-esteem may also cause feelings of frustration, anger, anxiety, and sadness, a loss of interest in learning, difficulty maintaining friendships, withdrawal, an increase in giving into peer pressure, or the tendency to deal with challenges in self-defeating ways.
Enter Noble Academy: a haven for students who have found themselves navigating these places on a daily basis. Individual Growth is one of the five building blocks of The Noble Academy Way, the unique, intentional philosophy upon which the school’s program is built. This building block identifies self-advocacy, growth mindset, social skills, and student engagement as integral to not only a student’s academic success, but also to his healthy social and emotional development. Building self-confidence in our students is not just some elusive goal on a School Improvement Plan. The anecdotal examples are seemingly endless.
Elaine Thomas, parent of a 9th grader, characterizes teachers at Noble as “looking holistically at and being in touch with each individual child.” This specific, personalized attention not only provides students with the academic support they need, but also celebrates them as individuals. She describes him as being “more confident and motivated” since coming to Noble, and says it is there he has “found his tribe.”
“She is more independent and confident,” agrees Stephanie Flowers, mom to Brianna, a 10th grader. She believes this increase in self-confidence has enabled her daughter to “have a true high school experience.” Stephanie has noticed that Brianna, who has only been at Noble for one year, has grown in her ability to self-advocate.
Jason Dwyer graduated from Noble last spring. He sums up his experience: “It changed me as a person.” Jason attributes his tremendous growth in self-confidence to the “amazing” staff. Whether it was his English teacher, who sought out non-traditional ways to assess Jason’s knowledge, or his soccer coach, who pushed him out of his comfort zone, Jason lists a long string of names of Noble Academy staff who took time to know and believe in him so that he could better believe in himself.
Another recent graduate, Will Gusler, who came to Noble in the 7th grade, says, “It was my home away from home. Everything there helped build my self-confidence! Noble made me feel much better about myself every day.”
Efforts to build self-confidence in students is deeply woven into the fabric of Noble’s program. Much of this happens due to the emphasis on the simple yet powerful practice of relationship-building between staff and students and among students and their peers. Other ways this occurs is through intentional programming. Mary Mig McEntire, a drama teacher, observes, “I see quiet, shy students who come in reluctantly…gradually become more comfortable by taking part in improvisation games and then actually being on the stage. I see students with difficulties in social awareness and anxiety learn different ways to use their bodies and voices…letting loose with activities, portraying characters with confidence, and stretching themselves socially…” Spanish teacher, Sonía Jimenez adds, “The foreign language teacher needs to provide an environment in which they feel safe; in which the new language is seen as a non-stop festive process of learning where language mistakes of any kind are just part of their language acquisition.” Students flourish in this safe place. They feel known, supported, no longer alone in their learning differences, creating an atmosphere in which they can be held accountable, challenged, and encouraged to be their best selves.