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In writing a book for teachers with purpose of developing their self-confidence, I was always very wary of being misinterpreted as representing confidence as some gift that is granted to us with a moment of inspirational self-talk. Confidence isn’t some elixir that grants us success; in fact, an unthinking pursuit of confidence can prove dangerous.

Too often, confidence is wholly divorced from competence and over-confident individuals prove hugely damaging [insert criticism of bankers, politicians etc. here]. I try, therefore, to reveal the perils of overconfidence that can bias our thoughts and action.

I ask ‘how much confidence is enough?

The answer is imprecise, so I defer to a ‘Goldilocks principle of confidence’: not too much confidence, but not too little.

There is little doubt that, rightly or wrongly, we all respond positively to individuals who exhibit self-confidence. Those who speak first often become viewed as leaders, regardless of whether what they are actually saying has any value. Appearing confident in our role as teachers is therefore important, but in terms of our beliefs and ideas, it is important not to prove overconfident and to check our biases and ingrained habits.

Given my position and the ‘Goldilock’s principle of confidence’, I was drawn to what Paul Saffo described as having “strong opinions, weakly held“. This extract from his blog explains it well:

“Since the mid-1980s, my mantra for this process is “strong opinions, weakly held.” Allow your intuition to guide you to a conclusion, no matter how imperfect — this is the “strong opinion” part. Then –and this is the “weakly held” part– prove yourself wrong. Engage in creative doubt. Look for information that doesn’t fit, or indicators that pointing in an entirely different direction. Eventually your intuition will kick in and a new hypothesis will emerge out of the rubble, ready to be ruthlessly torn apart once again. You will be surprised by how quickly the sequence of faulty forecasts will deliver you to a useful result.” (see the blog here)

It is interesting to see self-confidence here conflated with doubt. Striking this balance in our daily work would appear to capture that aforementioned ‘Goldilocks principle of confidence’. I offer what are hopefully useful methods for putting a stopper on our overconfidence.

Simply recognising the biases that attend our thinking is a good start. Then, if we surround ourselves with honest critical friends, whilst opening ourselves up to social networks that don’t simply echo our opinions, we can further prick our bubble of overconfidence. It takes work and effortful thinking on our part.

My experience is that most teachers have no problem with possessing strong opinions, but it is pretty much our all-too-human nature which means they are seldom “weakly held”! If we can find useful evidence to challenge our assumptions when we think about teaching and learning and when we enact our self-improvement as a teacher, we may well find more ‘useful results’.


You can read much more about confidence, and over-confidence, in my book – ‘The Confident Teacher’, for teachers and school leaders of every stage and phase.