At Inside SEL, our mission is to act as a megaphone, amplifying the great work being done by leaders in education and social-emotional learning across the country.
Throughout the past few years, we have been incredibly fortunate to help build and interact with an amazing community of educators, administrators, researchers, parents, students, and other proponents of whole child education. Many of our readers will write to us with their own stories and opinions about the future of education, and we view it as part of our goal to help share high-impact stories with as wide of an audience as possible.
The following piece was authored by Charlie Fletcher, a freelance writer living in the pacific northwest who has a variety of interests including sociology, politics, business, education, health, and more.
Teachers love seeing their students’ confidence grow and personalities flourish. This process of building self-esteem leads to better grades and is deeply rewarding for anyone involved in a student’s education. However, what many teachers don’t realize is that their own actions greatly impact the self-esteem of their students.
Teachers who are looking to build self-esteem in their students must proactively curtail actions that derail students’ self-esteem, while also implementing learning materials that help students grow.
Here few things teachers can do to build students’ self-esteem in the classroom.
Confidence in Learning
Great educators create students who know how to learn. Students with confidence in their ability to learn can take the initiative and have the know-how to ask the right questions when they don’t understand something.
For teachers who want to help students become confident learners, you must take the time to instill the principles of learning into your classroom. As a teacher, you can help students become confident learners by foregrounding the idea that failure is part of growth, and that struggling with the material is a sign that you’re headed in the right direction.
In the classroom, you can create confident learners by giving your class appropriate problems. For example, if you’re teaching a mathematics class, consider playing math games that are similar to the content you are covering. Reassure your students that, although the task is new, they can complete it by using prior knowledge and can provide them with a clear route towards the resources they’ll need for success.
By creating students who view themselves as learners, you can foster a classroom environment that embraces challenges as well as success. This helps your students improve their self-esteem, as they will have the tools and ability to find the right answer.
Whether you know it or not, you are constantly defining “normal” for your students. As such, you must create an inclusive classroom that celebrates all students and their backgrounds. With this in mind, you must go beyond avoiding insensitive behavior and actively advocate for inclusivity and diversity in the classroom.
When working through your pre-semester materials, consider how well you currently represent contributions from underrepresented experts. For example, if you’re teaching a class on American literature, you must include literature from traditionally marginalized groups. Not only are marginalized experiences of America of literary value but including their voices will ensure that students from all backgrounds have role models and feel adequately represented.
When building a creative classroom, you should be mindful of classroom events — particularly around the holidays. The holiday period can be a wonderful time for your class, but it can also unintentionally exclude your students.
The easiest way to ensure your classroom remains inclusive around the holidays is to ask your students some informal questions. For example, find out about dietary restrictions or accessibility issues in advance by running anonymous questionnaires about the holiday period. This will help any in-classroom events go smoothly and will ensure you don’t publicly damage students’ self-esteem.
Students’ bodies are always changing, and this can cause them to form negative body images. Negative body image can manifest in things like body dysmorphia or anorexia which leads to dire physical and mental health issues. As a teacher, you must be body-positive and create an environment where you support the physical changes students go through.
Teachers who notice students holding a negative body image should take care to support them correctly. To do this, teachers must respect students’ boundaries while also finding ways to encourage them. This balancing act is difficult but can be negotiated by highlighting resources offered by your school or district + by encouraging students to engage in activities that will help improve their physical health.
By affirming all students’ bodies, your classroom can focus on learning, and you can prioritize building self-esteem.
Engage with Social Workers
Your student might require more significant intervention with a social worker — particularly if their low self-esteem is stemming from an issue outside of the classroom like separation in the family. There are different types of social workers, and the kind your student needs depends on the context of their low self-esteem. Again, the best thing to do is communicate and find expert help.
There is no right way to build self-esteem in students. Instead, teachers must actively work to meet their students’ needs. By planning ahead, teachers can create classrooms ready to support students and raise their self-esteem. In turn, this leads to healthier classrooms, more resilient students, and better grades.