It is no secret that a great deal is expected of schools. Our curriculum documents overflow with worthy content - and even some content that is perhaps less worthy.  Even if the teaching of academic skills and knowledge were all that was expected of schools the task of the teacher would be daunting. However, all educators know that much more is expected of teachers than “merely” teaching content matter.  Teachers are also required to nurture their students in areas other than the strictly academic. 

There is an almost universal belief that self-esteem and success at school are linked. Surprisingly, there is actually some debate about this - the impact of high self esteem on school success is, statistically speaking, only weakly positively correlated. (Those wishing to peruse the evidence for such a claim may like to follow this link.)    However, even if this is true and self esteem is not strongly related to academic success, the question should be asked - does it need to be? Isn’t having students feel good about themselves a valid end in itself - rather than simply a by-product of “achievement”?

There are many that think so.

For the sake of avoiding repetition of previous blog posts I will refrain from discussing the vexing issue of schools actively contributing to low student self esteem by an excessive emphasis on test scores, the requirement for standardised rates of progress, the “everyone must learn the same material” issue - regardless of student interest, and the whole “school as factory” model of education in general.

Fortunately, making students feel good about themselves isn’t always hard. Simply smiling at a student, knowing them and treating them as an individual rather than a learning profile may be all that is required.  Effective teachings strategies provided by the US based National Drop Out Prevention organisation to enhance student self esteem include;

  • knowing the students as individuals
  • greet students by name and useing it often
  • individualise instruction as much as possible
  • view mistakes as learning experiences
  • individualise instruction
  • avoid using grades to separate or categorise students
  • group heterogeneously and
  • create a sense of group and cohesiveness amongst the class

(Those interested in reading further for more recommendations and discussion should click here.)

In other words - having an interest in students as individuals and providing an instructional program based upon their needs is likely to lead to enhanced results - and if it doesn’t actively increase academic results directly it is likely to make the process more enjoyable for all concerned.  Even the sceptics have been unable to provide evidence that making students feel good about themselves decreases achievement.

To remind ourselves just how important it is to have a healthy sense of self esteem I’d recommend watching this video - “Validate”.  It  is a coffee-break length video of the “feel good” genre - and it doesn’t mention schools at all.  However, it is well worth watching - and considering the impact of our actions and comments beyond the realms of academic learning.  The impact of a meaningful compliment or observation can have a significant impact on our students … and our colleagues.



(Those wishing to explore the impact of emotional considerations on student performance are invited to click here to view an earlier blog dealing with Alfie Kohn’s “Feel - Bad Education”.  
Those wishing to explore the impact of mental attitude on student performance are invited to click here to view an earlier blog dealing with Carol Dweck’s “Growth Mindset”.)

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Tags: Alfie Kohn, Carol Dweck, Validate, education, self-esteem, self-worth, teaching


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