Self-Confidence with the Habits of Mind

Daniel Vollrath

Daniel Vollrath, Ed.D. (@HabitsofMindInc) is a special education teacher at Hunterdon Central Regional High School in New Jersey, and a United States Professional Development Trainer for the Institute for Habits of Mind. As a current educational leader within the classroom, Daniel’s best practices, strategies, goals, classroom culture, and interactions with students with a learning disability are centered around the Habits of Mind. Infusing dispositional thinking and strategies into IEP procedural formats, behavioral plans, inclusive environments, and developing 21st-century skills into students with learning disabilities is paramount to his beliefs and values as an educator. Daniel provides extensive workshops custom-fit to the needs, visions, and goals of any school district.

Please feel free to email any questions or ideas you may have in regard to topics – In addition, follow Daniel on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


This blog post was first published on the Institute for Habits of Mind website and is part 3 within a series.

We all have heard the old adage “A picture speaks a thousand words,” and if you are a movie buff, you should be able to recognize this photo. In the city of Brotherly Love erects a statue symbolizing the true meaning of perseverance, confidence, and the ability to never give up. The effigy represents the motion picture Rocky, which can be argued as one of the most revered and highly influential films of all time produced in Philadelphia. So what is it about this story that resonates with so many people? Well, it connects to blue-collar, hard-working people, not only Philadelphia, but cities around the world. Individuals who may not have the most talent, opportunities, or intelligence to be successful, but instead through self-confidence and hard work, they overcome and fulfill their dreams. It can happen!

So, what is the connection to self-confidence and Habits of Mind? In order to cultivate and display the Habits of Mind effectively, one needs to consistently sustain and practice these dispositions with confidence. For students to truly incorporate the habits into their daily routine and life situations, it is imperative they do so with comfort, ease, and motivation.

To show the effects of self-confidence with the Habits of Mind, students with a learning disability and special education teachers will express their thoughts, ideas, and stories.


“We never give up!” – Math student

One theme developed from students with the Habits of Mind was their ability to persevere. The “never give up” attitude played a significant role in the success and focus for students. More and more throughout the school year, students displayed increasing positive behaviors and productivity due to the Habits of Mind culture infused within their classroom. One student stated, “I have been persevering more with assignments and tasks in class, and I feel the whole class has as well. I think the habits are helping me stay focused and get more done. The class works well together and we all seem to be doing better and are motivated to use the habits to learn each day.” Clearly indicated by this student, their ability to persevere and persist in the classroom was an attribute that became a common denominator for all learners.

“I can do it!” – Dancer and Basketball Player

Another significant piece to the Habits of Mind is the ability to transition them into real world experiences. Whether it be a sport, job, or an encounter that elicits the use of the habits, the end goal should be for students to practice and apply. With this thought process, reaching the point of “I can do it” is a motto, in combination with the habits, that these two athletes model.

The Dancer

“I have been dancing for 8 years now. My dance instructor told me a few weeks ago that all the dance in the world could not get me good technique. I feel she was basically saying that I am not a good dancer, and that I should not feel bad if I don’t succeed in dancing. From that point on I made sure I was going to strive for accuracy and persist on a daily basis in order to prove her wrong. I have been so consistent with this goal and am doing great and improving.”

The Basketball Player

“In basketball practice when the running gets tough and I want to give up, I tell myself to keep persisting. If we want to be champs we all need to make sure we support one another and strive for accuracy to be the best. I see that the habits of mind help me in school and on the court.”

Both experiences allude to the thinking and attitude of being confident in yourself. The confidence displayed connected to the striving for accuracy and persisting. It can concluded that both of the habits were formed from the opportunity to learn, practice, and cultivate them within the learning environment, and then transfer those dispositions into real life experiences.


“The confidence is building and building!” – Math teacher

Most of the time a teachers perspective differs in comparison to students. This could be due to experience, maturity, personality, or even an alternative outlook on a situation. Confidence in the eyes of a math teacher was defined as “a certainty in one’s ability and belief about a topic.” In math, a major component to solving equations, questions, and problems is the tendency to be unsure/uncertain about your final answer. We all have experienced math in our lives and can sympathize for students in this situation. Although, the math teacher experienced a different emotion within her students, and not just with solving math equations, but also with their confidence.

The math teacher stated, “Over the past couple months I have found all my students making significant strides. Not so much in their work, but in their confidence with attacking problems and solving them. They are finding different ways in learning about the concepts I am teaching them. Although they do not follow my exact procedures, they are solving the problems in their own way and bring more meaning to math along with confidence. It is really neat.” It is inferred that this teacher is more enthralled with the productive behaviors of the students rather than their ability to solve the problems correctly. The consistency and commitment with the Habits of Mind in math class, seemed to build students behaviors in order to be successful.

“Confidence brings understanding.” – History teacher

The ability to understand a concept, feeling, or other person’s point of view takes focus and commitment. As teachers this could be something that we may need to improve upon. Think about it, how often do you listen to a statement from a person, and forget what they said a few seconds later? I know I do. This brings up the point of devoting mental energy and confidence in order to understand. The history teacher stated,

“The more I saw my students being mindful of the habits, the more they displayed confidence in their answers to questions and completion of work. For example, after a student gave an outstanding presentation, she mentioned to me that she felt successful because she made sure to communicate with accuracy and precision. She told me all she kept thinking about was being clear with her thoughts and words so that everyone would understand her, and she had to read her audiences faces to make sure they were comprehending. She did a great job and I was more excited about her ability to present a successful habit of mind than her understanding of her topic.” It was apparent that this student was able to bring a feature to the Habits of Mind that is rarely pointed out, the idea of analyzing others. Her confidence and ability to do this was what made her a success with the presentation.

The Knockout

The perspectives of teachers and students are similar in reference to the idea of self-confidence. By infusing the Habits of Mind into a learning environment, building a common language, and modeling the behaviors, students are more inclined to present the habits on a consistent basis. Although, as mentioned in this blog, self-confidence plays a role by “taking it to the next level”, that being displaying the habits without being prompted. In other words, using the Habits of Mind in real life situations and at your own will. In order for that to occur, self-confidence needs to be in tact.

As teachers, a few strategies for building self-confidence into your students Habits of Mind are:

  • Create goals with your students on how to display the Habits of Mind into what they enjoy. How can they connect it to a passion?
  • Discuss the importance of “accountability” with your students. How will they use the Habits of Mind to hold each other accountable within group projects, or even as a whole class/team?
  • Share stories from personal experiences, trips, events, and weekends. Include how the Habits of Mind played a role in the experience.
  • Gauge levels of comfort with the Habits of Mind. This can be done weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. This gives students an opportunity to share their feelings and comfort.

Who knows? If you build self-confidence, maybe you could lead students to finding their Rocky!


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