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December 16, 2021

Imposter Syndrome — the feeling that you don’t belong in the environment you’ve worked toward — is very real and seems to impact women and minorities most. Some of the self-doubt professionals feel is reinforced by memories of the messaging they received — both direct and indirect — from the adults who helped to shape their lives. This realization can be both scary and exciting as you consider the power you have in the lives of your students. Use tools from several courses for tips on how you can turn the tables on imposter syndrome and set your students up for success in any field.

Relationships Are the Root

The stronger your relationship is with your students, the more weight your words will carry with them. Most of us can remember at least one teacher with a reputation for meanness. And while, as adults, we recognize it could not have been easy to be on the receiving end of that meanness, it was likely easier to live with than even slightly disappointing a cherished mentor. To lay the groundwork for strong connections with your students, Y4Y offers a staff Training to Go, Building Relationships, and a brand-new training that takes childhood development into account: Understanding Development and Connecting With Children. Also check out Strategies for Creating a Positive Learning Environment, and take an active role in team-building activities.

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

One educator-turned-mom blogger, Shelly Stasney, cites three psychological and child development theories that reinforce the idea that, as a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy, children will become what you say they are. These theories are echoed in the research compiled in the “theories” tool in Y4Y’s Stages of Child and Adolescent Development course. In fact, a course matrix shows that children as young as four years old are forming new images of themselves based on how others view them. The basics of social and emotional learning also remind us that the first and most fundamental skill is self-awareness, so if your program is offering any social and emotional learning skill-building, you’re actively opening students up to taking in and taking on your perspective of who they are. As you consider the students in your program who may be more vulnerable as adults to imposter syndrome, you can use this awesome “power” to build up those little psyches. Every challenge is an opportunity for honest praise. If a child displays:

  • Disruptive behavior, say “I love that you have so much enthusiasm that it’s hard to wait your turn!”
  • Shyness, say “I can tell you have some powerful thinking going on in there!”
  • Self-doubt, say “I believe in you! Want to know why? Because I’ve seen you accomplish amazing things like coming to the program on time every single day all year. You might say that’s easy, but not everyone does it!”
  • Discomfort with anything academic, say “Using your mind is mostly about problem solving. Remember what a great job you did at problem solving when there weren’t enough kids to play a game of basketball? We’re ALL using our brain power every day!”

Passive Imagery

Even if you’ve built trust and actively given positive, personalized messages to your students, there’s only so much you can do about the world outside your program. Be sure to include lots of passive, diverse imagery in your program space and materials. Invite guest speakers that “look like” your students, such as a female surgeon, a college professor from the inner city or an attorney who uses a wheelchair. And teach students to “think big” when it comes to imagining their futures. Y4Y’s newly updated Career Pathways for Students course offers many tools like the Career Pathways Activity Design Guidebook to help students head imposter syndrome off at the pass by envisioning those futures from a young age.

Although you may be focusing efforts on acceleration of learning and general academics, don’t lose sight of the opportunity to expose your students to real-world careers in ways that help them to see themselves there. Not sure where to start? Check these Y4Y courses for activities that connect students to a variety of professions:

Activist Buckminster Fuller once said, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” In your 21st CCLC program, you have the power to build a new generation of diverse professionals who won’t just do amazing things, but feel it was always their destiny.