High ability and confidence do not always go hand in hand. Paul Ainsworth suggests how life coaching techniques can be used to help G&T students

Many G&T pupils get used to scoring high marks in tests and being able to learn quickly without a struggle. Then there comes an occasion where learning in a certain subject becomes difficult or they perceive they have failed in a test even though they have scored a high grade. These occasions can hit these pupils hard and their confidence can take a considerable knock, with peer-group behaviour often exacerbating the situation. For other pupils, their ability remains unrecognised and unrewarded; they lack confidence in themselves and what they think they can achieve.

So what methods can we use to build/rebuild their confidence? Life coaching is a form of mentoring that is proving very popular with many adults. A life coach gives people the confidence and ability to move forward in a positive manner in the areas of their life where they crave change. It is seen as a holistic approach that looks at the present and sets goals for a successful future. It is not counselling or consulting but a different type of intervention. The following ideas are drawn from life coaching combined with neuro-linguistic programming.

Technique 1: Positive log If the difficulty or lack of confidence is related to a particular subject, then suggest to the pupil that at the end of each lesson they record at least one thing that they have been able to do successfully: ‘What I have achieved today’ (the inside front cover of their exercise book is often a good place). These comments could be very specific points where the pupil considers the learning objectives that the teacher has shared with them at the beginning of the lesson and identifies those that they have achieved or understood. Or they could write more general positive thoughts related to presentation, accuracy, a verbal answer given or a piece of praise the teacher has given them. The advantage of the former is when their learning is being built upon in future lessons, the pupils will relate the vocabulary used with previous positive thoughts. If the pupil retorts in a future lesson, ‘I can’t do this subject’ the class teacher could encourage the pupil to revisit their learning log and see all the occasions were they have succeeded.

Technique 2: Visualisation

This is a very powerful technique, favoured by many sportspeople, politicians and stars of show business. Ask a group of sitting pupils to close their eyes. First, tell them to try and think of a time when they have failed. When was this? How did they feel? What can they see? Hear? Smell? Then ask the pupils to raise their arms. Now ask the pupils to remember a time when they’ve succeeded and felt really good about themselves. When was this? How did they feel? What can they see? Feel? Hear? Smell? Then ask the pupils to raise their arms again. Ask the pupils to open their eyes. Did they notice any difference between raising their arms? People normally say that their arms almost float up the second time, in comparison to the first. This gives an indication to the power of visualisation.

The question then is how can this technique be put into practice to help G&T children who are lacking in confidence? I have taken small groups of children and returned to the example of a situation where they have felt really successful and discussed in more detail what all their senses could reveal to them about the memory to make it as clear as possible. We then brainstormed different words to describe how they felt at that time, eg why they felt positive and full of self-esteem. The children wrote these words on to a postcard or a small laminated card. The suggestion was that when they were about to enter a stressful situation where they lacked confidence, eg a task that they found challenging (possibly public speaking) or before they sat an exam, they should look at the card to remind them of their successes.

If the issue of confidence is with a specific subject the crucial aspect is for the pupil to feel positive at the start of lesson, so that when they first sit down they are not thinking ‘I can’t do this’. To develop their visualisation techniques we worked on remembering a situation where they had done particularly well in that lesson. It could be a test, a piece of classwork, homework or a strong verbal answer. We considered what it was about that moment that had made it a success and how they had felt at the time. This information was put on a card and at the start of that lesson the pupil was encouraged to visualise the previous achievements and adopt a positive attitude.

Technique 3: Self-affirmation
This method relies on the pupil thinking about what they would like to achieve or how they would like to behave, and writing a short positive statement about this aspiration. I have normally introduced this technique by discussing the book Climbing High by Lene Gammelgaard. Lene was a Danish mountaineer who attempted to climb Everest. She made the decision that the mental component of her training plan was equally as important as the physical part. During her training, all over her apartment she had pictures of Hilary’s Step (the crux of the Everest ascent) with a statement printed on it, ‘To the summit and safe return’. You may wonder why she needed the last two words. Lene knew that statistically more people die on the descent from Everest than on the climb to the top. During her descent from Everest there was terrible storm and Lene had to spend the night on Everest. A large number of the expedition died, including the leader, but Lene survived. During that lonely night she kept repeating her self-affirmation, ‘To the summit and safe return’, over and over again. I have used this story as a successful assembly and have encouraged students to read her book.

It is thought that by continually repeating or reading self-affirmations they chip away at even the strongest negative resistance and the individual begins to feel more positive about their future performance. You can work with students in identifying an aspect of their life which they are trying to change or achieve and then get them to write a short positive statement of how they would like to be. The phrase should not have a negative element in it such as ‘I won’t do…’ or ‘Don’t do…’ They must be written as ‘I can…’ or ‘I will…’
This is a technique used in neuro-linguistic programming and students, particularly those whose gifts lie in the sporting arena, may wish to research this area in more detail.

G&T children are often very interested in the power of the mind, especially when it is linked to famous people who have achieved success. So those with a scientific bent may enjoy the psychology behind the ideas. Whereas those pupils with sporting or dramatic talents may be fascinated by how particular performers have used these techniques to reach the top. Sometimes, the ‘novelty value’ is alluring: these techniques are more commonly used with adults and rarely taught in school.

You may choose to use these techniques for your own self-advancement. I have used all the techniques listed to help me with interview preparation, sporting performance or just to feel more positive about school.

Further reading and information:

I have already mentioned Lene Gammelgaard’s book, Climbing High, which is a truly inspiring book. The difference between this and so many other mountaineering stories is the emphasis on mental training. In terms of life coaching if you enter your local bookshop there are shelves full of books on the topic. The doyen of British life coaching is Fiona Harrold. She has written a number of books herself but Be Your Own Life Coach: How to Take Control of Your Life and Achieve Your Wildest Dreams is a good place to start as it presents a broad overview to life coaching and includes lots of exercises that you could use. For an introduction to NLP, The NLP Pocketbook (The Pocketbook) by Gillian Burn and Phil Hailstone is a short, practical read. However, for your talented sports stars, Mental Game Plan by Steve Bull is excellent. He has provided psychology support for British Olympic team also worked with footballers, rugby players and golfers. In addition there was a time when a number of English cricket players were reported to have this book in their kit bags.


This article first appeared in Gifted & Talented Update – November 2007