Growing Confidence With Jovan Goodman

Growing Confidence With Jovan Goodman

April 5, 2023 | Evident Change

Jovan Goodman poses with a group of students in Uganda

Readers of Evident Change’s blog may know program specialist Jovan Goodman, APSW, for her work with child welfare agencies across the country to develop and implement Structured Decision Making® assessments. What you might not know is that Goodman is also an author and a prolific community advocate and trainer, with a focus on building the confidence of girls and young women.

Goodman’s confidence work began in 2016 when she created a class for girls in her hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Her goal was to help girls build a foundation of confidence that could serve them in every aspect of their lives. The classes, which met monthly on Saturday mornings, encouraged girls to build on their strengths through activities including “confidence recipes,” “confidence walks,” and positive affirmations.

After three years of giving successful classes, Goodman compiled her lessons and experiences into a book, The Confidence Continuum, so that all girls could access confidence-building tools. She also began training other practitioners to deliver the classes.

Goodman’s mission is to reach a billion girls worldwide. “When I wrote the book, I envisioned kids in India. I saw kids in Africa benefiting from these classes. I saw it being a resource for kids overseas, specifically from more oppressed communities. I thought the topics in my book would resonate with many girls in these communities,” she said.

A recent trip abroad brought Goodman closer to that goal. In December 2022, she traveled to Uganda as part of a delegation with The Culture Connection, a nonprofit organization. Goodman and other professionals from the United States visited to conduct a week of workshops with students at the Arlington Academy of Hope in Bududa.

Bududa is a town with few social supports and financial resources, and it is not often frequented by travelers. “The school superintendent was thanking us and said when people come to Uganda, this is the last place on their list,” Goodman recalled. “I experienced water and sewage issues, not having access to hot water or electricity at times.” The town is known for deadly mudslides. “There was a girl I met there,” Goodman recounted, “who when she went home from school one day, her family was dead from a mudslide.”

Arlington Academy of Hope’s students eagerly participated in the confidence classes. “The girls really loved the class,” Goodman said. “There were noticeable changes in how they saw themselves at the beginning of the week compared to the end of the week in terms of their confidence. I also received letters from some of the girls saying how helpful the class was for them.”

Students in Uganda reading Jovan Goodman's book, The Confidence Continuum
Students in Uganda reading Jovan Goodman’s book, The Confidence Continuum

Goodman donated 60 copies of her book and taught four confidence classes while in Bududa, and she noticed both similarities and differences between the girls she’s taught in the United States and the children she taught in Uganda. In both places, “girls are interested in talking about confidence, and girls need tangible skills and resources in order to enhance their confidence,” Goodman said.

The differences were more surprising. “Sometimes, the assumption is that these kids are experiencing more poverty, a lack of resources, so they’re going to benefit much more, and they need it much more,” Goodman said. “[But] being there with them, I felt that they were more resilient than girls in America. Some of the subjects that affect girls in the US weren’t concerns for them. There’s no concept of bullying. They didn’t appear to understand that concept. There’s one activity where we discuss scenarios in your life where you need confidence. Raising her hand, one of the girls said, ‘When your parents die.’ It just hit me like, yeah, this is not the same as the US.”

Goodman also noted that she “didn’t see the frequent girl-on-girl conflict in schools we see in the US.” She explained that at the Academy, “There is not much comparison of looks by girls. All have similar looks in terms of race and size, wear a uniform, come from the same neighborhood community, and come from similar socioeconomic backgrounds. There are not many differences to drive the kinds of comparisons that often create conflict here.”

Reflecting on her experience led Goodman to an unexpected conclusion. “I feel like we need [confidence work] more in the US,” she said. “I now feel like girls in the US are more my target. We have more resources, finances, more tangible things, but ironically, girls are struggling with confidence in more drastic ways, it seems.”

Goodman credits Evident Change with enhancing her confidence work in several ways. “When I came to Evident Change, everyone on my team was so supportive of the program. [CEO Kathy Park] heard about it in one of our first meetings, and she was so supportive that she came out to my class and met the girls.”

Goodman sees her confidence work as aligned with Evident Change’s commitments to data and to racial equity. “Some of the skills I learned here helped me formulate and put technical pieces of the program in place so I could collect data on its positive impact,” she said. “The thing we discover with our Data for Equity work at Evident Change is that people are doing such good work but aren’t collecting data, or they don’t know they’re collecting it in a meaningful way. Ensuring that the data speaks to the great work can be challenging.

“[Also,] the fact that I have a program that’s for all girls but that I try to intentionally be in spaces with marginalized and oppressed communities, where access to confidence tools is both necessary and limited, speaks directly to equity.”

Goodman adds, “I really understand and appreciate research data now, and I have to give all of the credit to Evident Change in helping me understand the importance of capturing data, both qualitative and quantitative, to improve outcomes.”