The research by psychologist Carl Rogers suggests what many teachers may already know—that good things happen when students’ feelings are responded to, when the students are regarded as worthwhile human beings, and when their teacher relates to them in a person-to-person manner. Positive human relations in the classroom are related to positive human/student behaviors (Rogers). Teachers and school play a major role in determining a child’s sense of self-worth and dignity (Brooks).
We know that it’s important to build and foster positive self-esteem in our students, but how do we go about doing that? The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) suggests a handful of ways that teachers can foster self-esteem in for the children in their classroom. The most important way is to express “unconditional positive regard and acceptance for children” that will create “an atmosphere that promotes optimistic attitudes and a willingness to take risks” (NASP). Other strategies include: listening respectfully to students, which helps children trust themselves and their feelings; set appropriate boundaries and expectations while being firm, consistent, and emotionally warm, so that students feel safe taking risks; teach problem-solving skills and hold children accountable for their mistakes; use specific words to praise effort; and provide children with opportunities for success.
Other strategies, according to Dr. Robert Brooks, pertain to the teacher being positive and charismatic, nurturing resilience, and finding and providing accommodations for students to learn best. Brooks also agrees that we should provide students with problem-solving and decision-making opportunities and skills that help develop in children a sense of control. Activities that can help with this are to give choices and decisions to students such as, “Do only the five problems that will help you learn best.” Teachers and schools should also allow students to contribute to the school environment to help them feel like they are making a positive difference in their school. Activities such as service learning, cooperative learning groups, or even just the opportunity to help a younger student can foster positive feelings in students. Teachers should make sure that students know that it is okay to make mistakes and that failure is a part of learning. It is especially important to make sure students know that we all learn differently and that we each have our own strengths and weaknesses, which help students understand their place in the classroom and build respect for others.
This last idea is one that is very important for me in my classroom. I consistently emphasize to students that we all learn differently, and that all of us make mistakes, even myself. When I assign homework, I make sure that students understand that it’s okay if their homework does not look like the homework that the person next to them has been assigned. I tell them that they are working on a skill that will help them grow as a learner. It is also important to me to make sure students don’t feel labeled or that they are in the “high” or “low” groups. I recognize that students will create their own labels for their learning, but I try to mix up my groups and homework assignments whenever possible, in an attempt to debunk their myths about which group they might be “in.” I also emphasize with my students that sometimes, we make mistakes. I use those mistakes as learning opportunities. It is my hope that when my students see that it is okay to learn differently or to mess up on occasion, and that doing so builds us as learners.
Brooks, R., PhD. GreatKids. “How can teachers foster self-esteem in children?” Retrieved from: http://www.greatschools.org/gk/articles/teachers-foster-self-esteem-in-children/
The Key for School Leaders. “Boosting children’s self-esteem.” Retrieved from: https://schoolleaders.thekeysupport.com/sample-articles/boosting-childrens-self-esteem
Rogers, Carl. 1970. Teacher Effects Research on Student Self-Concept.