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Why CONFIDENCE is the most important thing you should teach- Part 2

In Part 1, I argued for confidence being critical in young people’s development and lack of it the main barrier to positive outcomes. I believe confidence should be the primary focus of our work with young people. Given how important confidence is, how fundamental it is, why don't we do this already? Why don't we have confidence 'lessons'? Why do we consider confidence a by-product rather than something we should focus on in and of itself?

I believe there are 4 key reasons for this:

1. It is a topic we often scoot over in discussions with others. It's a bit taboo. A bit personal. We feel that it's not our place to judge whether someone could do with some more confidence or not - at least not to their face anyway. We are worried that talking about confidence (and the lack of it) will upset people, and perhaps even knock their confidence further.

2. There's a pervading thought that confidence is fixed - that it can't be changed, that you are either born confident or unconfident.

"He's always been a confident lad." "She's so shy. Never had any confidence"

For a long time we even confused confidence with the introvert-extrovert scale. I hope we can all now see why this is a complete misunderstanding.

3. This brings me on to the third reason. There's a confusion about what confidence means. Some people would say confidence is the ability to be heard. It can be likened to arrogance and have negative connotations. When I say confidence I don't mean the person who can stand up and shout the loudest in front of others; true confidence is having self-esteem, self-worth, the ability to actively express your opinion to others, the comfort in being self-aware and content with yourself, believing in your abilities, trying new things, speaking to new people, knowing that you can achieve through effort, feeling you have a purpose in the world and not being afraid of challenges.

For me, all of these thoughts and behaviours are best described as 'confidence'. However I recently had a conversation with a colleague in the sector who called all of this 'wellbeing'. The lack of clarity and disagreements around the language we use is certainly seen as a barrier to putting it at the top of the agenda.

4. And finally, this is a quick one but a crucial one: we don't know how it works. It's a hell of a lot more complicated than teaching kids fractions and so it scares us. We end up concluding 'it can't be taught'.

Let's take the last point first. This is incorrect. Confidence can be taught. Not from a textbook, but there are exercises and processes that can be put in place to take a person from a point A to point B on the scale of confidence. And if we are explicit with them about these processes and this scale, it can happen even faster.

The complicated part comes in helping individuals to recognise that whilst there is a scale, it's not a stepladder.

It's more like snakes and ladders!

Where we are on the scale of confidence changes, weekly, daily, sometimes hourly, depending on where we are, who we are with, what's just happened to us, how healthy we feel that day...

By understanding this, and showcasing examples where confidence has been developed in a young person (just read a few of the Yes Futures case studies!), we also tackle point 2. Yes, some people might have more natural tendency towards displaying confident behaviour, but in the same way as it is possible for all of us to learn how to speak French (if we put enough effort in), it is possible for all of us to learn how to be confident.

Now to tackle the odd numbers. Point 1 first: avoidance of the topic. Simple: when you put a structure in place, it becomes okay to talk about. On the Yes Futures Programmes, the focus of all of our coaching sessions is confidence. We talk about it in a way that becomes empowering for the student, rather than an invasion of their personal feelings, and guess what? They absolutely love it!

They love talking about how they have developed their confidence and they love moving their way up our various confidence-based target scales. Of course, these conversations need to take place in a secure environment with much attention paid to individuals' sensitivities and needs. But this is what teachers practise on an hourly basis.

And finally, point 3. Consistency of language. What a ridiculous point to hinder us! Maybe if we all spent more time focusing on what I call ‘confidence’ and he calls ‘wellbeing’; (a) we'd start to see consistency develop naturally; (b) we'd realise that it really doesn't matter what we call it - the outcomes are the same!

So let's stop worrying about it and put confidence at the top of the educational agenda for all young people. Why? Because one of those young people is going to change the world. We don't know who it is yet, so we've got to give them all the best chance to fulfil their potential.

For more information on Yes Futures, and to find out how we could support your students, please email

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