The Teaching of Confidence

When parents of prospective pupils come to see me one of the most regularly asked questions is how does the School ‘teach’ boys to become confident? Generally speaking this arises from the tour that a sixth former has conducted with the parents and their son. Our boys show themselves to be confident but not arrogant. In the words of the Good Schools’ Guide boys “are genuinely grounded, rounded individuals with bags of personality and myriads of interests, not a swot in sight – we doubt arrogance, even a mild dose, would be tolerated by anyone.” They go on that boys “present as great lads, able to hold their own in conversation and debate but with a wicked sense of humour and lovely ability to poke fun at themselves – what more could you ask?”

So how do we achieve this? This is not an easy question to answer. Certainly there are no ‘Confidence lessons’. So how do our boys acquire this important life skill?

At the heart of this is our vertical tutor system. When boys join the School they are assigned to a tutor set with approximately three boys from each year of the School. Thus, from their very first day at the School boys get used to mixing with older pupils. These natural relationships develop over time to make them comfortable in each other’s company. As boys move up through the School they mix freely with boys both older and younger than them and this certainly assists in their developing confidence. The tutor system is tied in with our House structure. Senior boys take responsibility for a vast range of activities and in running things like House choirs they learn how to manage their peers and this too helps in the development of confidence.

Another key factor is our wide range of school activities. It is very much the case that boys who do not do very many activities do find it more difficult to become confident. The activities again often put boys of different ages together, perhaps in a play or a musical group, and again this helps to develop confidence. The more relaxed relationships with staff in these different settings also help boys to develop a wide range of communication skills so important to the development of confidence.

Confidence is also developed in the classroom. There is an atmosphere in the vast majority of lessons which nurtures boys in both giving and listening to opinions. Tolerance of each other’s views is very much encouraged and this gives boys the confidence to express their views. Regular involvement in form assemblies and in presenting to their peers in class also helps to ensure that boys are comfortable in speaking in public.

Another reason that boys develop in confidence is that we place trust in them. At Open Day, for example, we use volunteer boys of all ages to conduct tours. Even from Year 7 this helps to equip boys with the skills to communicate with our visitors. We do not hand-pick our tour guides – we hope that any boy would be able to do this. Equally our major sporting programme gives boys opportunities to develop in confidence; they are given positions of responsibility in teams but equally important have to take decisions on the field of play.

There may well be many other ways in which schools develop confidence and I hope that this blog post will encourage others to reflect both on what else we do at the High School but also perhaps to anyone reading this from outside of the School to reflect on what they do to develop confidence. Please leave a comment below.

A community

Over the past week I have experienced many examples of the School as a community. Last weekend I went to the Old Boys dinner in Oxford. This was a really good evening bringing together a good number of ex-pupils of the School and their partners. I started the evening sitting with a group of our recent leavers and it was fantastic to hear their enthusiasm for both their current university but also the way that they were reflecting back on their time at the School so warmly. Indeed, the passing of only a relatively short time since they left us had given them a sense of perspective to their experiences at the School. The key to many of them had been the teachers who had worked with them and inspired them. Later in the evening I spoke to some of the ‘older’ contingent and it was amazing just how much they had in common with the younger ones. They too still felt a strong bond to their school but also had their own memories of the staff who had done so much to inspire them. It was great to see just how interested they were in the School today and the sense of community was very evident.

Later in the week I met with the mother of a young old boy who very sadly lost a battle with cancer just prior to his twenty-first birthday. She has been a long-term supporter of the School so I was delighted to be able to help with her fundraising campaign for the Teenage Cancer Trust – more on this in a future post. Again this was a really positive example of the wider school community at work. We are currently developing the concept of a ‘community for life’ to link the School back to our ex-pupils, ex-staff, the parents of boys who have left, together with the current pupils and parents. I hope that these sorts of links can be developed so that over generations people will stay connected with the School.

On Friday we were visited by the new Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham who was undertaking a ‘Pilgrimage by Tram’ to link into his new community. He came into school to have lunch with a number of boys involved in our own community action programme as well as with boys of all faiths. It was good to meet him and be able to explain to him how we link into our own community. Soon we have a field day when a large number of boys will go into local schools and help at various locations to give something back to the Nottingham community.

I think that the key point in all this is that together we are so much stronger than we are individually. The term ‘Old Boys Network’ is often used in derogative terms but the purpose of any community surely has to be to support each other, to remain good neighbours and friends and to help out the less fortunate members of that community. We all belong to many communities, at school, at home and in the wider world. Perhaps we should all reflect on the contribution we make to the communities we are connected to. And if there are any Old Boys of Nottingham High School out there reading this who have not been in touch for a while do contact us, we’d love to hear from you.