The Power of You Can Do It!
Michael E. Bernard, Ph.D.
Professor, Melbourne Graduate School of Education
Emeritus Professor, California State University, Long Beach
Founder, You Can Do It! Education
Do you know a young person who has self-doubts when it comes to friends, schoolwork or self-image?
As a result of my professional experiences as a psychologist and parent, I learnt that a lot can be done to help young people change their negative attitudes and thinking to a more positive mindset. I captured this in the phrase, You Can Do It!
Its’ been over 20 years since I created with Patricia my business partner and wife, the now well-known social-emotional learning program called You Can Do It! Education.
We are Australia’s first and leading SEL program for students that in part focuses on combating the problems of low self-belief in students and to instil confidence.
Today, 1000s of K-12 schools here and overseas employ our curricula (e.g., Program Achieve, The Successful Mind) in classrooms to help strengthen student self-belief and social-emotional skill.
How does You Can Do It! as an attitude influence the way young people think, feel, and behave?
When faced with stressful events or people, young people with strong self-belief talk to themselves using a strong and convincing voice, “You can do It!” “You can cope with being teased or even bullied!” “You can get this difficult work finished!” “You can give a great talk, speech, or presentation!”. The result is strong feelings of confidence and determined behaviour.
After many years of teaching You Can Do It!, it continues to help both Patricia and I get through any bad patches. It gives us the courage to be ourselves and to keep trying to do our best. You Can Do It! has helped our children and over 1 million young people who have participated in YCDI! programs at their schools.
You Can Do It! is not a guarantee that you will be successful in anything you attempt.
You Can Do It! is an energising force that helps you to have a go. To not be afraid when the going gets tough, and to believe in yourself. What can be more powerful than that?
What teachers can do to strengthen students’ belief in themselves
Continuously communicate the message that students have the ability to learn, grow academically and have capable brains.
I can do it!
Beware of and change any unconscious negative expectations you may hold that may include a deficit mindset about one or more students. Instead, focus on strengths communicating that when learning takes time, you are never going to give up on them and that they can do it.
Model your own self-belief to your students. Share your own obstacles and efforts to work towards goals. Continually express your belief in your own success. Tell stories how your own self-belief helped you overcome a setback or failure.
Reinforce the idea that simply thinking “I can do it!” or “I have what it takes” is not enough to be successful. Explain that student success is due to their continuous effort when they are finding school work hard.
Create an emotionally safe learning environment. Teach that it’s OK and often helpful to make mistakes when learning something new. That while it is great to achieve, they do not always have to be successful in everything they do.
Help students cope with negative comments from peers when they have made mistakes or said something silly. Teach them that it is not the end of the world if someone thinks they are silly or stupid. And that they do not need the constant approval of others to survive.
So that students refrain from self-criticism teach self-acceptance in multiple ways. To not take it personally when they do not immediately understand learning material, make mistakes or others are critical of their schoolwork.
Teach students how to appreciate the importance of setting goals for what they are learning. Include a pathway for students to take to achieve the goal.
Give students the tools for trying hard. Including teaching high frustration tolerance, time management and ways to overcome procrastination.
Provide students with feedback for times when they have stayed calm and managed their emotions in stressful situations. (I can do it!)
Help them develop positive future expectations. Confidence that with effort they can do difficult and time-consuming work in order to achieve their personal best and at a high standard.
When students do not perform at a level consistent with expectations, continue to insist that they persist in trying to do their best work.
Teach students the tools (e.g., finding someone to talk to, positive self-talk, anti-catastrophising, relaxation-mindfulness) for managing learning anxiety.
Show students how to recognise and challenge I Can’t Do It! thoughts that are not accurate or sensible and replacing the negative thought with positive thoughts – I Can Do It! that is based on evidence and make sense.
Have students create learning diaries or construct success trees where they record and celebrate small and big successes. Have students record when:
1. they have learnt difficult academic content and
2. they were able to stay calm and calm down when faced with challenging learning tasks and difficult people.