A former colleague of mine did his doctoral dissertation on the concept of student self-efficacy, which is just one fancy way of saying: confidence.

This is an important concept in education, because the research is pretty clear that students need to feel engaged in school to maximize their ability to learn. Think of the idiom: You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.

Self-efficacy takes this concept a step further by highlighting the importance of feeing empowered to make a difference and then to succeed in difficult situations. It is an attitude that you develop: Your actions can make a difference in your life and the life of others.

Unfortunately, the state of education today can hardly be characterized as promoting this important concept. In a nationwide survey of students done by the Million Voice Project (pictured above), only 54% of students agreed with the statement: “Teachers care about me as in individual.” Even fewer, 34%, agreed with the statement: “Students respect each other.”

Some of the outcomes of these types of statistics are well known. Over the past few weeks, there has been a very harrowing series of stories in the Duluth News Tribune on bullying. While Marshall was not included in any of these stories, we too are committed to providing happy and heathy environments for children. It just manifests in different ways.

Our focus goes well beyond just safety. When students have a sense of self-efficacy, they are happier and they learn more. In the right environment, it becomes a virtuous circle. As they feel more empowered, they take on greater challenges and gain more self confidence that their hard work will be worth the effort.

Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck has spent decades proving just how important this concept is for learning. She calls it “Mindset.” When individuals develop a growth mindset, Dweck argues, they believe their abilities and outcomes can be improved through hard work. This allows them to overcome the inevitable setbacks we all face in life and develop the resilience to push through difficult moments.

Perhaps one of the best illustrations of this concept can be found the the 1993 movie Groundhog Day, when the character played by Bill Murray had to relive the same day over and over again. As he faced difficult moments, his first reaction was to blame others or give up, but eventually he started to try to better himself and to figure out ways to improve his situation.

Importantly, developing and nurturing this mindset takes place in relationships with teachers, parents, and peers. The environments we create become essential to helping young people develop the mindset and skills to be successful in school and beyond.