Competence and Confidence

I Can Do Hard Things:

Making Peace with the Struggle


Meet James!

James is a 5 year-old in our Primary (3-6 year-old) community. As one of the oldest students in his classroom environment, he is (finally) one of the “leaders” - a title he takes very seriously, especially as the youngest of three siblings. James tells us a little about being a leader.

Congratulations on being a leader this year, James!

My birthday was at the beach, and then...I was just a leader!

So what are some of the things that a leader gets to do?

Hmm. Leaders write down the attendance; we do silent reading instead of naps. I help my friends fix a mess because I already know how to do that. Oh! And I like to help feed Bluey - he’s the fish. And I get to do CHALLENGING leader works!

Whoa! You have a lot of responsibility. What’s your favorite challenging leader work to do?

I’m really good at the flag work. Also, I like to do the big 5-chain with the little arrows. The arrows have numbers and point to the 5-chain, and then I know how many [beads] there are. It’s really hard to make the arrows go to the right place.

The 5-chain and skip counting takes a lot of practice. Does it ever go wrong with those arrows?

Yeah, but it’s ok. I just say, “Oops!” and then I just fix it. (Shrugs.) I’m just still practicing.

And then after you get the work all figured out…?

I go try new things - even MORE challenging leader work!


Competence begets confidence in the child. By offering challenging developmentally-appropriate activities, from the young child learning to form his letters to the adolescent child tending a weather-vulnerable crop on the urban farm over several weeks, the child gains the opportunity to struggle toward successful mastery, and then enjoy the confidence that comes from perseverance.  

In the Good Shepherd Montessori School classrooms, we maintain an attitude of “friendliness with error”. Through repeated struggle, failure, and ongoing practice deep learning and understanding occurs. A discouraged or shamed child will be unlikely to revisit a task following an unsuccessful attempt, missing out on her chance at learning and eventual mastery. On the other hand, if a child is assured that mastery almost always requires hard work and that failures are normal, then he can comfortably practice a task with the confidence that he will eventually succeed. When the child independently achieves that mastery or experiences the “ah-ha” moment her natural, internal response is an expansion of self-confidence and the courageous ambition to take on a more difficult challenge.

In working toward competence, a confident child retains the ability to learn from his mistakes and also remain reflective and open minded. GSMS believes that the competent and confident child will become the competent and confident adult who is ready to enthusiastically work through challenges in order to make an impact in our world.