Struggling with Self-Doubt? Don't Believe Everything You Think.
For a while now I have been in contact with an early career teacher who co-teaches with a teacher who is more experienced than her. This arrangement might work out beautifully, except that the more experienced teacher is an ‘expert’ in a balanced literacy approach and the early career teacher is firmly ‘on the bus’ of evidence informed practice. This leaves my young colleague in the precarious position of taking 2 steps forward and then doubting everything she does. I know that there are so many of you out there in this same position. Perhaps you don’t co-teach, but you are definitely in the position of working alongside people who think that the ‘Science of Reading’ is the latest fad and aren’t afraid to tell you so. This week’s post is dedicated to providing some suggestions for how to overcome the doubt monsters when they come calling. This can be summarised as “Don’t believe everything you think.”
Every single one of us struggles with feeling unworthy at some point. We all have unhelpful thoughts that can bring us undone. Just as we all have these thoughts, we also have the power to counteract them and influence our emotions. Here are a few thoughts that teachers have shared with me and my suggestions for alternative ‘internal scripts’. You can create your own internal scripts by asking yourself the question, “What else could be true?” whenever you encounter negative, unhelpful thoughts.
Negative thought - “Who am I to be talking about what other people do in their classrooms?”
Alternative Script - "Sure, other people might know things, but I have gifts and knowledge to share too. As a member of a profession, I have the right to a voice. As long as I’m respectful and professional in my conduct, my thoughts and experiences are valid. By not sharing my experiences, I might well be denying knowledge to others who need it."
Negative thought - “Everyone else is more experienced than me. Maybe they really do know better.”
Alternative Script - "Yes, there will always be people who are more experienced in teaching than me, but that doesn’t mean that I don't know what I know about evidence informed practice. It also doesn’t mean that they don’t have things to teach me. I can find a balance between being open to learning from their experience and trusting my own knowledge."
Negative thought - “I can’t cite all the research, so I’ll just stay quiet in staff meetings.”
Alternative Script – “I can’t cite all the research, but I read widely from reliable authors and am constantly learning. As part of a profession, it is my responsibility to share what I learn with others. I can back up the knowledge I share with accurate and reliable data from my own classroom and examples of practice from others. I am open to working with others to broaden my experience.”
Negative thought – “My school already thinks I’m a troublemaker. I’d better just mind my own business and stay quiet.”
Alternative Script – “There’s a mismatch between where I am at in my professional journey and the direction my school is heading in. I might be able to contribute to positive development or I might not. Regardless, my worth as a teacher is not determined by validation by colleagues who have not yet had the chance to learn the things that I have. I will continue to connect with those who are on the same path as I am while remaining professional with my colleagues. I can’t control what other people do and think, but I can continue to make connections with others who understand my path and will help me grow in my practice.”
Negative thought - “Everyone else seems to have it all together. What’s wrong with me that I don’t?”
Alternative Script – “It might look like everyone else has it all together, but we teachers are really great at pretending everything is fine. I have many good things going on in my classroom that children are learning from (list them). There are also some things I know I need to work on. The length of this list does not determine my value as a teacher. That comes from my willingness to learn, to reflect, to take measured risks and be reflective."
The take home message from this post is that you aren’t alone in your struggles. We are all plagued by self-doubt at times, but his doesn’t mean that we should believe those unhelpful thoughts. The thoughts that win are the ones we listen to. Work hard to banish the negative thoughts and replace them with alternative scripts so that you can be in the best mental and emotional shape to serve your school community and your students.
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