MUSE School CA teachers Randi Kearney, Katelyn Patterson and Tressa Wyner explain how they are developing self-efficacy in their students – a core pillar of the MUSE Global School model. Their article below was originally published in the UK-based Every Child Journal. 

What would it look like if school taught us as much about conflict resolution as it does multiplication? How would our lives be different if we were taught to care for the earth while we learned to read? Located in the middle of California’s picturesque Santa Monica Mountains, MUSE School is striving to do these things. We are a progressive pre-K through 12th grade school with an emphasis on learning about the earth and other people while learning academics. MUSE School is built on five pillars: sustainability, self- efficacy, academics, communication and passion-based learning.

In the autumn of 2017, MUSE School shared The Blueprint, our end-of-year assessment tool, as part of the HundrED Global Innovation Collection. Internationally recognised as one of the leading ways to document a child’s educational experience, the MUSE School Blueprint assesses the whole child as an individual instead of focusing only on more traditional academic achievements. The Blueprint is the tool with which each child is recognised holistically for their strengths and areas of growth. 

As an ever-evolving community, MUSE revisited The Blueprint for the 2018–2019 school year in hopes of further acknowledging and better understanding our students’ individual development and growth. Upon reflection, while most of our milestones were detailed and established, but we found we were having trouble fully gauging a student’s self-efficacy within the classroom. Self-efficacy examines a student’s social awareness, stress and conflict management, appropriate decision making, interpersonal behaviour, attitude, and relationship building. These abstract concepts proved harder to track than how a student was performing in maths or literacy. The MUSE school faculty made it their goal to create tangible milestones with which to accurately measure a student’s growth within the self-efficacy spectrum. This would also serve as a tool in which parents could better understand our use of self-efficacy in the classroom. 

Self-efficacy is the belief that one is capable of being successful in performing a task or managing a situation using openness, resourcefulness, and persistence to achieve a specific outcome. As a quote often attributed to Henry Ford says, ‘Whether you think that you can or that you can’t, you are usually right’. A child with high self-efficacy believes they have the skills to help them steer through life and reach their goals. Perhaps most importantly, self-efficacy is about learning how to persevere when one encounters failure or hardship. At MUSE School, teachers encourage goal setting, challenge negative thoughts and provide opportunities for celebrating the process instead of rescuing students experiencing difficulty, or simply celebrating the end product. Students at MUSE students use ORP—openness, resourcefulness, and persistence—and are empowered to take ownership over their learning, environment and social interactions. ORP is taught to all students at MUSE, beginning with our youngest at 2 years old to the graduating seniors embarking on their adult life. 

MUSE School teachers identified 9 over-arching developmental spectrums in regards to a student’s self-efficacy: 

  • Perspective vs. tunnel vision 
  • Open to others’ ideas vs. negatively defending one’s own position
  • Forward failing vs. backwards failing
  • Connecting with a variety of personalities vs. sticking with like- minded peers
  • Effective conflict resolution vs. ineffective conflict resolution
  • Collaboration vs. competition
  • Self and community empowerment vs. self and community control
  • Solution-oriented vs. problem-focused
  • Honest feedback vs. avoiding feedback

Each of these 9 spectrums is addressed in the new MUSE Blueprint. While all are important and visible through all MUSE classrooms, our team has focused on three of our most important spectrums to highlight below: effective conflict resolution, forward failing and an ability to be solution-oriented. Each of these aspects of self-efficacy has had a visible, immediate impact on MUSE School and the lives of our students. 


Effective Conflict Resolution: Compassionate Confrontations in Primary Years 

The compassionate confrontation is a tool that all MUSE students, aged 2 to 18 years, utilise when sharing feelings, thoughts and beliefs with parents, teachers and peers. The compassionate confrontation script reads: 


An example of this would be: 

‘When you excluded me from the soccer game, I felt upset because I wanted to play football with you. Next time, I would like for you to include me. I am prepared to ask a teacher to make teams if I am excluded.’ 

In the primary years, the compassionate confrontation allows students to check-in with one another with confidence. A miscommunication on the playground, a perceived unkind comment or uncomfortable interaction can be addressed in a way that the both child sharing and the child receiving can feel heard and respond healthily. It is important to note that there does not have to be a response to a compassionate confrontation; the goal is to encourage healthy sharing when a student feels wronged, and oftentimes understanding that person’s perspective is all that is needed to resolve conflict. 

One day at recess, I was approached by a frustrated student who felt excluded by older students on the football field. This student had set goals for himself to work on his football skills each day during recess, but felt he was unable to learn and work on his goals because while he was physically on the field during games, he felt he never received the ball. Several days in a row he made me aware of this problem. During our MUSORY, a time in which students focus on self-efficacy and their PCM (Process Communication Model) skills each day, I encouraged the student to use the compassionate confrontation to explain to his older classmates how he felt. The student seemed receptive, and on his own emailed the other students and invited them to sit down for a compassionate confrontation. My student used the script he had learned and was able to explain to his classmates why he was hurt without allowing heavy emotions to colour the conversation. The older students heard him and they were able to come to a shared agreement on times in which the older students would play their games, and other times in which the younger kids played so that all students were able to play in games at their own skill level. 

This student used compassionate confrontation perfectly. After deciding to confront his classmates, he used the script to write down everything he wanted to say in order to prevent an overly emotional response. We encourage students and adults alike to write their script in order to have a strong foundation for a conversation and prevent the ‘emotional freestyling’ that may happen without a plan. This also allows students the opportunity to focus on why they are actually upset. For my student, this meant chiselling down his complaints to a single identifiable issue (‘football field time is not fairly divided’) rather than simply complaining ‘I’m not getting to play’. The older students previously felt that he was getting to play, but did not understand how and why he felt excluded until the compassionate confrontation. 

The compassionate confrontation has revolutionised conflict resolution at MUSE School. Our students use the compassionate confrontation script with each other as well as with their teachers. Teachers use the script amongst their colleagues, administrators and parents. The compassionate confrontation gives the members of our community a consistent, strong voice to share their feelings with others and allow others to respond in a healthy way that leads to a better environment for everyone. 


Forward Failing: Accountability for Middle School Students 

Middle school and high school students are held accountable for their actions and encouraged to take responsibility rather than shift the blame onto their teachers, their parents, or their peers. We learn that the only thing we can control is ourselves. For example, recently I had a student enter my room and give every reason in the book as to why he didn’t finish his exit problems in maths: it’s too hard, it’s too confusing, I was going too fast and nothing made sense… With 8 more minutes until lunch, his face was full of blame and he was making it clear that this was my problem, not his problem. I acknowledged his frustrations and said, ‘So tell me what you can do to make this happen and still be on time to lunch.’ He admitted that he was wasting a lot of time and that he never actually asked for my help, followed by the magic words, ‘will you help me now?’ I helped him, he chose to stay back a few minutes until he was done, and there was no power struggle because I was able to help him recognise his own responsibility in the situation and take charge. 

MUSE teens consistently discuss what it means to have a ‘growth mindset’ as they come to understand that ‘failure’ is a part of progress. It’s not realistic to think we will never fail. Instead, we recognise that perseverance is what matters most. Teachers look at how a student arrived at an answer in maths, for example, and praise the process, the thinking, and the strategies demonstrated. Even if mistakes are made, allowing students to find their own errors and use their own intuition is part of the learning process We celebrate collaboration and resourcefulness, not just speed and accuracy. Young adults are trying to decide who they are, versus who their parents are, who their friends are, or who they ‘should’ be. MUSE encourages students to challenge outdated assumptions rather than accepting tradition blindly. Students learn to actively listen to each other, to be sceptics, and to think, feel, reflect and react based on their own perceptions. 

Soon, students learn to think, ‘Hmm, I wonder why that didn’t work’ as opposed to thinking, ‘I’m a failure’. When the emphasis is placed on the process, rather than the individual, it is much easier to pick yourself up and try again. This is what we mean by forward failing, rather than backward failing. 


Solution-Oriented: Problem Solving in the Classroom in the Early Years

In the Early Years classroom, social-emotional learning takes the front seat as students learn how to navigate their feelings and learn how to communicate effectively with their peers. It’s no secret that these young learners can be impulsive, have temperamental natures, and can sometimes be downright stubborn when attempting to get what they want. Encouraging students to work collaboratively or think creatively to solve their own problems takes centre stage as teachers support students through their daily routines in the classroom. 

One 4-year-old student in the Early Kindergarten classroom seemed to be having an especially hard time navigating how to play with her peers during free play time. 

While she was eager to join in dramatic play activities, she would quickly become frustrated when the story line didn’t follow exactly what she had in mind. She would melt down into tears and run to the teacher with recounts of her troubles; ‘I want to be the mommy, but Ella says she’s the mommy already and she won’t let me be it too!!!’ It was important, as her teacher, that I support her through these conflicts. However, I still wanted to encourage her growth in self-efficacy. In order to empower her to begin to lean more towards solution-oriented resolutions, we reverted to our MUSE philosophy of encouraging our students to be ORP (Open, Resourceful, and Persistent.) I began challenging her to find solutions using this language. I would ask, ‘I understand that you really want to be the mommy in this game. Could you be open to playing another character for a while and then switching after 5 minutes?’ In other conflicts, I would encourage the student to be resourceful to find solutions for her problems: 

Student: ‘I want to be a magic fairy, but Sarah is playing with the fairy wand right now!’ 

Teacher: ‘I understand that is probably frustrating. I wonder if we could be resourceful and look around the room to find things we could build our own fairy wand with!’ 

Student: ‘I could glue some popsicle sticks together and colour them?’ 

Lastly, I would encourage my student to be persistent in asking for exactly what she wanted. Sometimes persistence comes in having the patience to wait her turn if what she desired wasn’t readily available. 

Although it would be easy for me to solve problems by placing myself in the middle of a conflict and forcing a compromise between two students, very little is gained in terms of the students’ social-emotional growth. By equipping them with the tools necessary to be self-efficacious by using their ability to be open, resourceful and persistent, Early Years students gain a sense of power over their own interactions. Watching the pride they have in themselves when they come up with a clever solution to their problems is far more rewarding than forcing compromises or avoiding conflict through separation. As our teachers emphasise Openness, Resourcefulness and Persistence, all students at MUSE are gaining control over their own self-efficacy. Supporting students through compassionate confrontations, allowing them a safe space to fail forward, and encouraging creative thinking in coming up with solutions to problems are all ways self- efficacy is alive in and thriving in the MUSE classroom. The creation of these clear and measurable self-efficacy milestones have allowed our teachers, students, and parents to gain a better understanding of how each child is growing their social-emotional skills. 

Katelyn Patterson is a primary school teacher at MUSE School and an instructional coach and advocate for STEAM education. Randi Kearney is the Early Childhood Manager at MUSE School and an ambassador for ambassador for HundrED, an organisation dedicated to innovation in education. Tressa Wyner is a certified PCM trainer who teaches seventh grade at MUSE School. 

For more information on MUSE Global’s Self-Efficacy Pillar, our innovative education model, or to learn more about our franchise opportunities, please e-mail – we look forward to hearing from you.