A healthy self-esteem is not handed out at birth—not even to those enviable individuals who were born with such advantages as intelligence, good health, and loving families. The reasons for this are not hard to determine, but the negative effects of a poor self-image can devastate a classroom when challenging students don’t make even the smallest efforts to try to work or behave. When students regard themselves as capable learners, they act in ways that perpetuate their positive beliefs. They resist the negative effects of peer pressure and learn to develop the social skills that will help them be positive members of class.
Self-confident students are courteous, willing to offer help, tolerant of others, and willing to take risks. Their positive attitudes will make it possible for you to create the inclusive class identity that you want for them. Promoting self-esteem in students is not something that should replace the curriculum; instead, it should be a natural part of the positive approach with all students.
It is also important to remember that in school self-esteem must be based on achievement. It can’t be founded merely on personal qualities; but must be solidly based in the sense of satisfaction that comes from doing a job to the best of one’s ability. Although there are some simple activities that teachers can do to help students see themselves as part of a successful group, the best ways to bolster a healthy self-image are the ones that will appeal most to your students.
Here are some simple suggestions to help create the positive class atmosphere that will allow you to create a positive class identity for your students.
· Improve your listening skills; students are acutely sensitive to the nuances of body language. Treat your students as if they are important people in your lives by attending to what they say, even in the frantic press of daily activities.
· Pay attention to the way you talk to students. Use a pleasant, soft voice. Be friendly as well as firm with them.
· After a particularly long or difficult unit of study, hold an awards ceremony to celebrate its successful completion.
· Encourage them through specific praise and encouragement, not just by saying, “Good Job!” no matter what a student does.
· It is also important to avoid needless negativity with students. For example, instead of saying “Don’t interrupt me,” try saying “I’ll be with you in a minute” if you want to send a more positive message.
· Offer help to those students who need special help and encouragement. Some students need an extra tutoring session or a bit of extra time with you to become more capable and confident.
· At the end of class, ask students to tell you something important that they did well or learned.
· Hold your students accountable for participation in class. Do not let them sleep, refuse to work, neglect to make up work, forget homework, or ignore what you have assigned for all your other students. Students who opt out of participating in class may be relieved for the moment, but they are not going to feel good about themselves or about your class if you allow this behavior. Other students will also be watching how you handle their difficult classmates, as well.
· There is a great deal of personal reward to be found in activities that help others. Involve your students in class activities that are geared to helping other people. Students who tutor each other or younger students, collect money and goods for the needy, participate in an Earth Day clean-up, or are involved in other compassionate and helpful activities will reap tremendous benefits in the form of improved self-esteem.
· Ask students to describe the most difficult part of a lesson and what they did to overcome that difficult part.
· Take a no-nonsense approach to how you provide correction for your students, but be gentle. Over and over again, research and common sense both prove that it is the positive actions teachers take with students that promote a productive classroom climate. Students who have teachers who show sincere approval for their actions are more successful than those students whose teachers intimidate them into compliance.
· Create opportunities for students to reflect upon and recognize the contributions of their classmates after a shared assignment, project, or discussion. Teach the importance of recognizing each other’s accomplishments.