Your students might sometimes make you smile with their own high opinions of themselves. They’ll proudly say things like, “I’m super strong!” while flexing a tiny arm. Or, when praised for their brains or good looks, they’ll simply say, “Yes, I know!”
It’s actually good when little learners exhibit high self-esteem, because it gives them the confidence to participate fully in class and to tough it out when the academic going gets tough. Unfortunately, the challenges of school and life can start to erode self-esteem.
But as a teacher… you can help! Look below for easy ways to help promote healthy self-esteem in your students.
Be specific about what and how you praise
Rather than saying a generic “Nice work,” to all students, include specific details like, “You colored that red house and stayed in the lines!” Or “I’m impressed with how you stayed focused on your math problems the entire time.”
Praising effort, as in the examples above, is better than praising results (like getting the top grade on a test) or fixed qualities (like “being smart”) because it gives students a sense of control. No one can fully control the outcome or result of our actions in life, so it’s best not to peg students’ self esteem on them.
It’s also great to offer praise for having an excellent attitude and making progress, because these are things that are within a child’s control.
Children can sense false compliments and not take it to heart when a teacher showers everyone with praise like it’s confetti at a New Year’s Eve party. The feel-good, everyone-gets-a-trophy philosophy can erode the value of praise and make students discount it—especially when a student knows they didn’t do well on a particular test, game or performance.
It’s far better to be honest in these situations, yet positive. Try saying things like: “We all have bad days, but you’ve been working hard and your skills are really improving. Next time you can do better!”
Your full attention and genuine interest can often be more effective than praise in boosting self-esteem. Praise is spoken, while attention and interest are powerfully shown actions.
If you can take a moment to stop and really listen to what a student is telling you, giving them supportive eye contact the whole time, they’ll know that they matter and their opinions count. Children also flourish when you take a moment to show that you’re sincerely interested in their activities, hobbies, pets, etc.
Decorate your class with projects your students have done. Make it a fun, welcoming place for your students to spend their time—where they feel pride in their contributions to the class. This can be a great way to highlight those special interests, hobbies and pets your students have been telling you about!
Recognize special talents
Every child has unique talents and abilities. Take advantage of the vast array to help everyone feel needed and appreciated. On your whiteboard or in an pocket chart, you can recognize students with fun titles like: Expert Explainer, Word Wizard, Super Speller, Team Player, Math Master, etc.
Feedback with flair
When grading homework, quizzes and tests, make positive comments stand out with colorful stickers or bold, illustrated stamps like our Jumbo Teacher Stamps. These can also soften the blow when you need to give constructive criticism.
Pay it forward
Making other people feel special has a boomerang effect. Start in your class by encouraging students to put a note in a classmate’s desk, place a smiley face sticky note on someone’s locker, or share a small gift, like a cute pencil. Talk with students about how it feels when someone does something nice for you. Help them see the benefits of a pay-it-forward mentality.
You may be teaching social studies, English, or math, but really, it’s not what you’re teaching, but who you are teaching that matters. You’re teaching and supporting their ability to build their own healthy sense of self that enables them to thrive and cope with everything life throws at them!