Relationship Building

Building Confidence and Validating Our Kids (Ep. 126)

After her last appearance talking about why we should be our authentic selves, Andrea Slusarski is back to chat with Tim about developing student confidence. Listen as they discuss how authenticity can lead to more student confidence, why positivity is so important, and why we should validate our students and their opinions. Full episode transcript below.


Resources and Links





Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by The Art of Education and I’m your host, Tim Bogatz.

Alright, I am pretty excited about the podcast today. I mean, I’m always excited of course but I think we’re gonna have some fun. Andrea Slusarski is here which is always cool in and of itself. I love, love talking to her. And today we’re gonna continue the conversation that we had last time.

About a month ago, she was on an episode where we talked about being your authentic self and how your authenticity helps both you and your students. And as kind of an addendum to that, we’re gonna discuss how that authentic environment helps your students build confidence. And there are a plethora of reasons why this is and we’re gonna get into them today.

You know, I think part of it is being or allowing kids to be their authentic selves but also recognizing them for who they are and what they do. And that’s an empowering experience for kids. That’s something that builds confidence. And I want to ask Andrea about how and why she does that for her kids.

Hey, but before we get the conversation going, I need to tell you about our upcoming online conference, the Art Ed Now Summer Conference on August 2nd. It is the perfect way to get your summer professional development. We will have over 2000 other art teachers and you will get to see some of the most current and some of the most innovative ideas in the field of Art Ed that are happening right now. The highlight is going to be our featured presenter, contemporary artist Jen Stark and if you are interested, you can learn more at And the best part of this, if you want to register, we have a special code for our Ed Radio listeners. Enter ‘YOUSAVE20NOW’ to get $20 dollars off the conference, that’s Y-O-U-S-A-V-E-2-0-N-O-W for $20 dollars off at checkout. So go to to get registered and we will see you on August 2nd.

Now, let’s bring on Andrea to talk about how that authenticity that we discussed can help develop confidence in your students.

Alright Andrea Slusarski has joined me. Slu, how are you tonight?

Andrea: I’m great, Tim. How are you?

Tim: I’m doing well. I am excited to talk to you. You’re making regular appearances on the podcast now and I love everything about that. So-

Andrea: Well I love whenever I get to like dork out a little bit on some Art Ed with you. So-

Tim: I know.

Andrea: Keep ’em coming.

Tim: It’s a good time. So, and hopefully people continue to enjoy our witty banter and-

Andrea: I hope so. Prepare to be entertained.

Tim: Yeah. Hopefully, hopefully educate a little bit at least.

Andrea: And educate, yes.

Tim: Yes, but entertaining is our main goal for tonight. Now, we talked last time you’re on about, you know, being your authentic self when you’re in the classroom and I know that’s super important to you.

Andrea: Mm-hmmm.

Tim: And I want to talk about that a little bit more but in a little bit different way. Like, put a little different spin on it. So, I guess we can look at it like this, like when you are yourself, like when you let your personality show through, when you’re authentic, it puts kids at ease and it allows them to be themselves as well. And so the question coming out of that, I guess, is when you are able to establish that environment in your classroom, where everybody’s comfortable, everybody’s at ease, do you feel like that it … Does that make kids more confident in themselves?

Andrea: Oh yeah. Definitely. When you, you as the teacher are working on your own authentic self and you’re showing your passion for art and learning, you’re really just being the role model your students will watch as they build their own confidence for creating in the classroom. And one of my favorite expressions to tell the students is to just let your freak flag fly and-

Tim: Mm-hmm.

Andrea: Yeah. And it’s like, “Should I use this color?” I’m like, “I don’t know, let your freak flag fly.” And I value those risks and those moments in the classroom so much and I make, like, I say out loud how much I value them. It helps my students move very quickly from that timid phase with creating art to acting and thinking and believing themselves as an artist. And when you have that confidence built up, then you’d be amazed to see where they’ll go. I just had a student come interview me yesterday ’cause she’s writing a paper about our arts culture at our high school and I was like, “We have an arts culture?”

Tim: I was gonna say, for kids to pick up on that, that’s amazing.

Andrea: I was like, “Oh my gosh,” I was like, “Thank you so much.” But that’s a student being confident in what they’re doing. To even explore like what kind of culture they belong to.

Tim: Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, I think, like you said, you want kids to believe in themselves and one thing that I used to talk to Andrea about all the time is how we need to build up kids’ confidence. And I always say, you know, we need to celebrate every success.

Andrea: Yeah.

Tim: So like, you know, if 95% of a kid’s drawing sucks but they shaded that one part oh so beautifully, like we’re gonna talk about that one part. We’re gonna talk about the 5%.

Andrea: Yeah.

Tim: That’s really good. Because, you know, I always have thought that positivity goes a long way toward developing confidence and you know, as does focusing on growth where you say, “Hey, you know, remember when that drawing 95% sucked, hey? You know, you’re up from 5% good to like 80% good.”

Andrea: Yeah.

Tim: And that’s just in one semester. And, you know, you want to show kids how much they grow over the course of a semester or the course of a year. And don’t you feel like that just does so much for their confidence as well?

Andrea: That does so much and what you pointed out is something that I think I always like reflect on and we’re building these positive relationships with our students and because you’re doing that, it allows you more naturally to talk about growth. So it kind of is like this thing that just keeps on growing in your classroom. If you’re genuine and authentic to yourself and you are making a conscious effort to build a unique relationship with your student, you’re gonna remember that like, that drawing sucked last week or you know? It’s about building those positive interactions so that you have that knowledge in your head of how to show a kid that they grew.

So for the past few years now, my SLO data, you know that, those charts you have to send to your district that you’re proving, that you’re doing a job?

Tim: Yes.

Andrea: Yeah, yeah. That thing. It’s been focused solely on student interactions. And I started actively monitoring how many conversations, positive, constructive and behavioral during my class times. From there, I was just able to pin point students I needed to focus more on and compare their progress in my class with the relationship that I had built up with them. However, more importantly, when you’re – like I said, when you’re engaging with those positive interactions, the best thing you can do is connect it to your growth ’cause then you’re not full of bull crap anymore.

Tim: Yes.

Andrea: ‘Cause you remember. Yeah. Like, I remember that you really like to draw this certain type of character. I learn about your art. So what subject matter are they interested in? How can I take something I learned about them, an interest, a concern, a past experience and relate it to our positive learning environment? I just love when a student struggles with something and then you catch them succeeding and you remind them – like you said, “Hey, you overcame a struggle and now look at what you’re doing.” It’s specific, it’s personal and it’s exactly why we do what we do is to teach someone to have confidence in their own art making. And sometimes that means like having 80% of your drawing look really crappy ’cause you just started learning.

Tim: Yes, yes.

Andrea: But it’s your art making.

Tim: Well yeah, and I think that’s huge, especially when you can, you know, zoom in on those specific things, when you can really focus.

Andrea: Mm-hmm.

Tim: On those specific things. So, let me ask you that, like are there particulars that you focus on? You know, when you’re trying to build confidence in your kids? Like is there something you look for with everybody or is it more of just an overarching attitude or just a big approach that you take when you are trying to build confidence?

Andrea: I think it’s an overall attitude. I don’t feel like there’s an important thing I primarily focus on except for the fact that there are so many opportunities to have a positive experience that will build someone’s confidence in a day that you just gotta look for them. And that focus can mean being honest with my students about my own experiences. Like, I have a headache today so I’m gonna be kind of quiet and that’s me, you didn’t do anything wrong. Or having the mindset to constantly be looking for those times that I can be drawing next to a student or just chatting with them. So much about our confidence building and classroom management is directly influenced by our own authenticity. So, when you build your strengths and model for your students, you’re going to be guiding them in that confidence building through your actions. So it’s kind of just like this overall like attitude towards your teaching that can kind of work really well in a lot of areas.

Tim: Yeah. And, I don’t know, I have a lot of thoughts swirling around in my head so I’m hoping this makes sense. But-

Andrea: Okay.

Tim: I think a big part of that is, you know, when you’re building confidence through your actions, I think part of that is you need to allow kids to be confident in themselves. And-

Andrea: Yeah.

Tim: When you’re teaching high school, kids want so badly to be adults. They want to be treated as adults.

Andrea: Uh huh.

Tim: And sometimes you need to do that and sometimes you don’t but the worst thing that you can do is be condescending toward kids.

Andrea: Oh gosh, yeah.

Tim: Yeah, alright, that could be a whole nother podcast episode but-

Andrea: Yep.

Tim: You know, I think it’s really important to allow kids to feel validated in your classroom. You know, I think that you need to listen to their concerns, you need to listen to their opinions, you need to get to know them like you were talking about. And most importantly, I think you need to not pick fights, you need to not get into arguments and you especially need to not talk down to kids. And I think you and I are kind of on the same wavelength with this but have you found that taking that attitude, you know, of not talking down to kids, not being condescending, you know, doesn’t that help them build their confidence? Doesn’t that help them to feel validated?

Andrea: To feel validated, I think. Man, you like threw me for a loop here, these are, like they’re just so … Like there’s just so much that goes into, you know, your relationship that you’re building and when, like you said, like you don’t want to pick fights or get into arguments or be condescending because they’re just kids. Like, you’re the adult. Like, I still don’t feel 100% adult sometimes, I do know that it’s tough. But, and we expect our students to think before they speak and always make the right decisions and we have these expectations of them and then you become an adult and those expectations are just now unchecked and when you’re condescending or when you are, you know, picking a fight over something, you’re not being a great adult role model. And that loses your authenticity as someone they are looking up to.

I don’t know, we have a bunch to learn from our students and they’re looking at us how to be adults and so by not picking fights and working through the difficult parts of being a human, like conflict, we’re still teaching. Because yeah, there are gonna be kids that like grind your gears but, like, everyone needs to like feel good, no matter what they’re doing. Like, kids don’t wake up in the morning and think like, “Man, I can’t wait to get to painting class to tick off Miss Slu.” Like, that’s not what’s going on, it’s really about kind of like, getting to know your students so that you’re better able to respond in a positive way to them.

Tim: I think the community thing is huge.

Andrea: Mm-hmm.

Tim: And I like what you said about everybody needs to feel good about.

Andrea: Yeah!

Tim: What they’re doing because, you know, I know that one thing that really helps with both validation and with confidence is helping kids to be recognized for their work, for what they’re doing in art class. I think they need to be a part of a larger community, in both, in the art room and in your school at large, maybe even community at large. And those communities, you know, from small to large need to validate what they do. And when kids are feeling validated, that builds their confidence so much. Like, has that been your experience as well?

Andrea: Mm-hmm. My students are proud to be artists and once you build that community in your classroom, it’s only gonna grow, it’s only gonna spread. Because now our student body values the art community and this doesn’t happen by staying in your classroom and focusing only on your students. I am constantly sharing photos and art room successes with my school, my colleagues, my community. Twitter is free and it’s easy and it doesn’t take that long and kids love it. Email, email your person who does your website and put up some art. And you build sort of that swag going on, right? Like, almost like high schools with like super successful sporting teams?

Tim: Yeah.

Andrea: That’s kind of how you want artists to feel too. It’s … So when those kids are there celebrated for their work and others see how amazing their work is, they have that inspiration to see what they can keep doing. So building your culture, it just ties together all those experiences and those relationships that you’re building in your classroom and it helps just kind of expand to more of a student audience. I have kids now that like come into my classroom and are like, “Oh my gosh, you’re Miss Slu, like my cousin told me that you’re who I had to sign up for.” And like, I’m like, “Cool, thanks cousin!” Now I don’t really have to work so hard at the beginning of the school year to build-

Tim: Yes.

Andrea: A relationship.

Tim: Yes. And I think that’s huge. And I think, you know, building that art room culture and building that community helps in so many ways. Like – and I’ll get to that in a second, like how it helps us as teachers too, but you know, for kids, like they love – like you said, to be part of the art community. They are proud to be artists. And-

Andrea: Yes.

Tim: You know, I think that is a huge confidence builder for kids who maybe aren’t good at anything else or they aren’t recognized for anything else, you know? But if their work is showing up on Instagram and their work is shown up on Twitter-

Andrea: Yep.

Tim: And you know, kids are like, “Oh hey, are you the one who did this painting?” Or, “Hey, I saw that sculpture that you did.” And they’re getting recognized for that, that just lifts them up so high. Like, they love that. And then part two, like I said-

Andrea: Yeah.

Tim: Go ahead.

Andrea: I have one more.

Tim: Go ahead.

Andrea: I have one more to add to those ideas ’cause you talked about how high school want, they want to feel adult, they want to have responsibility. They don’t know what that really looks like yet but I don’t know, it’s kind of a weird time in your life being 17. We all were there and in my classroom, I make it very student focused. So students are kind of running the show in terms of like getting their own materials, taking care, like sometimes I’m like, “This place is a mess you guys, we gotta clean up.” It is their studio and I tell them that all the time. I’m like, this is your guys’ space, I’m just like the kooky lady that’s here to help.

Tim: That’s good.

Andrea: They’re like involved and they take it, like I love, I have kids who are like call out a kid and be like, “That paintbrush is not washed right.” And it’s like awesome.

Tim: Yes. Well and that’s the point I was getting to because when you build that community, when you build that culture, it makes your life as a teacher so much easier and you’ve pointed a couple things out, like-

Andrea: Yeah.

Tim: Yeah, kids start to take responsibility for all of those little things, they’re proud to be in the art room, they’re proud of what they’ve built and they don’t want people messing it up. So-

Andrea: They’ll let me know.

Tim: They’ll do a lot of that dirty work for you. And then yeah, second thing is classroom management is so much easier when you have a positive reputation coming in. Like you said, kids will come in and be like, “Oh, my friends all took this class, told me I had to sign up for it.” “Oh hey, my sister had you four years ago and she said I’m gonna love this.” And when kids are coming in with that positive attitude, you know, it just, it’s a game changer.

Andrea: And it’s just be nice. Like be nice to kids in the hallway.

Tim: Yeah.

Andrea: I have kids that I’ve never met before and they’re like, “Oh, I can’t wait to have painting.” And I’m like, “Who are you again?”

Tim: Yes.

Andrea: They’re like, “Oh, you were nice to me last year when I was having a bad day.” And I was like, “That’s just a nice thing to do ’cause-

Tim: Yeah. But they don’t-

Andrea: Being human is hard.

Tim: They don’t get enough of that, yeah.

Andrea: Yeah.

Tim: They don’t get enough of that. So I guess, you know, if we can wrap it up just with one last thing there, like when you are nice, when you are building a culture, when you’re trying to build confidence, like how does behavior follow that? Like how does behavior change when building confidence and validating kids is a part of what you do?

Andrea: Well I have a funny story ’cause I think the important thing to remember is like we’re in high school ’cause it’s kind of a safe place to make a mistake. And I remind myself of that a lot. Like when I’m getting frustrated, it’s like, we’re in high school, like these are why we’re here to learn. And I once got so disappointed in the way a class of mine treated a substitute that I totally went like full on parent mode. And I am by no … Yeah! I am by no means close to having my own children but I pulled that like “I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed,” Kind of-

Tim: Yes, that’s classic.

Andrea: I like went, yeah. And I had a good look in the mirror and was like, “Who are you?” But then I had them all silently write apology letters as our classroom warmup and I didn’t expect it to actually work as well as it did. ‘Cause after that, after that reality check, they were so reflective on how all relationships were built and we discussed things like trust and being honest and how that applies to our lives because we’re learning and it’s not just art in the art classroom. That’s the cool thing about being an art teacher is kids take so many lessons out of our classrooms that we don’t directly teach but every person loves their art. Like, every person remembers their art teacher for that reason. Even in the most frustrating days and the times, if we can find the energy, twisting it into a learning moment, that’s what we want to provide for our students. So they sat there and they wrote all these letters and they were just so … Oh, god, they were just so sweet and it was like, I’m not mad anymore.

But something a little beyond the typical drawing skills. You know, we … Like focusing on those life skills too. But following that warmup, you know, we quickly switched right back into our fun classroom because we all make mistakes. And I’m very conscious of pointing out the behaviors, not the students when I am addressing behaviors in the classroom. Then I hope that because of all our efforts to work through behavior, it just validates them even more. Because I tell kids, I’m not going to just write you a referral and kick you out. I’m here because you’re my student and if you have that mentality, even on like those times when there are behavioral problems or there are frustrating days, there are still learning opportunities and still ways that you can validate a student.

Imagine that kid that gets kicked out of every class and you’re the first person to not kick them out but instead, like “Hey, let’s talk about this.” I will always guide, at the end and any time I talk about behavior and what that means for students and validation, I’m very reflective to make sure I don’t need to apologize or change my own behaviors because that’s the only way to truly cooperate with our students. So when you’re building that classroom where mistakes are okay, they’re learning opportunities, we’re here because we care about each other and we’re going to be nice to one another because we want to have fun, kids will really respect that. And that just all builds their confidence and just like a fun hour out of the day. I tell a lot of my kids, I just want to make someone smile every hour and then I’m like golden.

Tim: Yeah, that’s very true. And I think that’s really well said. So, I think we can go ahead and wrap it up there. I couldn’t finish it any better than that so Slu, thank you so much for joining me and yeah, we’ll talk to you soon.

Andrea: I can’t wait, Tim. Have a good night.

Tim: Just a couple points that I wanted to make. First, Andrea, talked about how building your culture is important and it all ties together, all of the experiences and the relationships that you’re building in your classroom. And I feel like on this podcast, we’ve been preaching that forever, whether it’s me or Andrew, Abby, Andrea today and so many other guests. You know, just how important culture is for everything that happens in your art room. Hey, whether it’s classroom management or confidence or motivation or so many other things, your art room culture is vital. And that’s what sets everyone up for success.

Hey, and finally, Andrea talked about those positive experiences that help develop kids’ confidence. And I want you to keep in mind that you can create an art room that fosters, you know, positive experiences, that develops creativity and develops kids’ confidence. And the biggest way you can do that is just to model that positivity and that confidence yourself and your kids will follow. And trust me, nothing but great things can come from that.

Art Ed Radio’s produced by The Art of Education with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. Two weeks away from the Art Ed Now Conference, I have been working really hard on putting everything together and it’s gonna hurt my feelings if you’re not there, let’s just be honest. So go sign up for the conference, use the ‘YOUSAVE20NOW’ discount code that I mentioned earlier and make sure you show up so we can hang out on August 2nd with another couple thousand of our teacher friends.

As always, thank you for listening and we will talk to you next week.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.