Learning about self-concept and self-esteem this week, one word becomes glaringly present: self. The ideas that one has about their own identity and the attitude they take towards their own actions and thoughts comes down to one entity: themselves. Humans are capable of incredibly powerful things, including the entire determination of one’s self-worth. In our young learners, this is both an important ability, as well as a dangerous one if not considered carefully by the adults tasked with caring for them. I believe that the work of defining a self-esteem, or self-concept is done primarily by the learner herself. However, the ways in which she views and goes about that work can, and should, be molded by conscientious adults.
One way for adults to encourage a positive self-concept in young learners is by modeling one. If we want our students to be the kind of people who reach out and take opportunities presented to them in a compassionate and productive manner, then we, as adults need to do the same. Joyce, Weil and Calhoun describe in Models of Teaching:
We are what we eat, not just biologically but socially and emotionally. Rich substance, well organized, in positive circumstances makes us richer, more outreaching, and more productive. And in our professional work, it gives us the tools to develop self-actualizing students. (p. 311)
Abraham Maslow called this drive towards becoming your best self ‘self-actualization,’ and he believed, as do I, that it should be the goal of a productive human. In order to help students achieve this goal, we, as their mentors, should be working towards it ourselves.
Another way in which adults or teachers can help students develop positive self-concept is by constantly validating them and the entire identity that they are. This can be done through countless approaches: having representations of the students in the physical classroom environment, asking them to contribute to lesson planning and design, or meeting them in their own worlds, outside of the classroom. No matter how it is done, when an adult shows through action that they see and appreciate the individual that a student is, outside of their academic production, students will see and appreciate themselves as well.
Joyce, B., Weil, M., Calhoun, E. 2015. Models of Teaching. Pearson Education, Inc: United