Confidence tricks

10th July 1998 at 01:00
Trying to walk a middle road, with one leg going one way and one leg the other, is not to be recommended, yet I found myself doing precisely that as I tackled Creating a Confident School. "This is brilliant sage stuff," I told myself. "This is tripe," I replied.

Let me make it clear from the outset that any stratagem, ruse or policy that will turn children into confident learners has my unreserved support. So if creating a Confident School makes the earth move for you, then good luck to you. But getting to grips with the material was like taking a tape-measure to a bag of eels.

My folder, a ghastly contraption with thick pages of varying sizes and odd flaps that were very difficult to control or to put back together when it fell apart, which it did, came complete with testimonials from schools that had made the approach work. One photograph showed children after 90 minutes of confidence-building wearing individually crafted T-shirts emblazoned with profundities such as "John is cool!!!" and "William Fenn is Super Duper". Govan High School, Glasgow, produced statistics: Creating a Confident School led to a 10 per cent increase in children who thought that they were pretty intelligent all or most of the time.

Norma Black aims at doing something about "sad brains" (brains deprived of "challenge, stimulus and goals") because how we think influences important learning factors such as motivation and feelings. The premise upon which the package is built is that we learn to think and feel differently. Hence games like the Scenario Cards, which challenge children to come up with positive outcomes to difficult situations. "You walk into a room and find that someone has exactly the same jumper on as you, so you..."

Black believes in the power of positive thinking and sets out to work on what she calls the eight confidences: confidence to dream and think big; decide and be yourself; take risks; listen; lead; change; fail; and love.

Heeding the advice that "negativity can be overcome", I tried the Positivity Pyramid and pretended to be negative.

Arriving at a box stating, "Come on. There must be something positive in your life", I realised that I'd been rumbled. But if anything made me feel negative about Creating a Confident School, it was the exhortations and quotations with which one is bombarded.

"People with greater certainty about their feelings are better pilots of their lives," we are told. "Energy comes from power, but without power to make change the only energy around comes from negative power." I tried making my own meanings, although "Flow is a powerful feeling of being one with what you are doing" was a challenge, as was the obscure "Everyone has a Thomas inside them".

But my favourite quotation was in the small print: "Any person who does any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution." I was undecided about this material, now I'm not so sure.

Paul Noble is head of St Andrew's primary school, Blunsdon, Wiltshire

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