Jackie is a former classroom assistant, teacher, AST, headteacher, education advisor and coach. She is the author of many books about school improvement, teaching and learning and personal development including The Complete Learner’s Toolkit.
What can I do to boost a child’s self-esteem?
We asked Associate and author Jackie Beere OBE for three minutes on the subject. Here's her great ten-minute reply!
Scroll down for the transcript of Jackie's great reply
What can I do to boost self-esteem of the children I teach? Well, the first thing is that you absolutely can do lots to boost the self-esteem of children you teach because it's a very important part of being a great teacher, because low self-esteem is definitely a barrier to learning. If you have low self-esteem, then you see struggling when you're learning as evidence of your own inadequacy - it sort of confirms your feeling of not being very clever, not being very good at this particular thing and feeling a little bit less smart than other people in your class.
It's a social thing as well that you feel not as popular, you perhaps think people are judging you and, you then judge yourself to be not quite good enough. But if you judge yourself to not be quite good enough then you will never fulfil your potential, because one of the things about learning is that you need to be able to be vulnerable.
You need to be able to fail, you need to be able to make mistakes and bounce back. You need to have that resilience and you can only have that resilience if you get conscious of your survival mechanism. This is the fixed mindset of ‘low self-esteem, self-protective, stay doing what I’m doing, stay in my comfort zone feeling’. If you can unleash this you can actually be brave, be courageous and fearless resulting in being a fearless learner for life.
Am I Clever Enough?
So, we want our children to be fearless thinkers that have high self-esteem, because they know that anything is possible and if they keep at it that they can find a way. They can find strategies to learn; they can work out how to use their brains effectively and how their brain is particularly powerful and special. It can work in many ways, yet undiscovered.
So, what's really important is that we understand that there's often a repeating record of low self-esteem dialogue in our heads which will be ‘Well, you're not very good, you know you're not good at this and who really thinks you're any good at anything, least of all yourself’. Sometimes we are not even conscious of this but it makes us feel judged and then it acts as a lens through which we see everything. This begins in childhood as, of course, when you're a baby you didn't feel like that, in fact when you're a toddler anything was possible. You were that fearless learner.
You were walking, talking and learning so much as a young child before you started going to school and comparing yourself with others and thinking am I good enough?
Am I clever enough? Am I pretty enough? Am I popular enough? And that habitual unconscious chain of thought will make you frame everything that happens around that confirmation bias of ‘yep see you're not good enough’ and it can make your relationships go wrong, it can make you underachieve, and it can make you feel very unhappy.
So, it's so important that we actually help children to have high self-esteem, to value themselves, to love themselves to feel that they can do anything if they find the right way they find and find the right strategy. So, while you're a teacher and you're working with children and you suspect they might have low self-esteem and you want to boost their self-esteem, there's some things you can do straight away. You can really listen, really connect, really get that eye contact that connection, that listening and valuing them and absolutely making them feel super special.
You'll know somebody that made you feel special and that made you believe anything was possible. So, it's just that feeling of being valued, of being listened to and then you can sort of work as a sort of their self-esteem coach where you can actually get them to challenge that constant dialogue in their head that says they're not good enough and they can't do it.
You can just say ‘well, when did you do it last? what worked for you last time? What strategies can we use?’ You can support that balance of positive and negative thinking. Accepting that low moods and negative feelings come along for all of us, that’s fine, but recognising how to challenge your negative thinking habits when you feel insecure.
Through metacognition (thinking on purpose) you can actually change that negative thinking habit; you can reframe it and question whether the thought that you're having in your head is true or not true.
Saboteurs in Our Head
So, when you think ‘Oh, I knew I couldn't do that I know I'm hopeless at technology. I can't write, I can't spell’ you can challenge it and you can get curious about why am I thinking like that? is it really true?
Inside our heads, we have got thoughts that act as saboteurs to our confidence and self-esteem. They sabotage our performance, our happiness and that's really something that we need to get children to become aware of. They need to become conscious of the fact that the thoughts that are going on inside your head are not always true. And sometimes they're just habitual and unconscious and you can challenge them.
So, first of all you're going to listen and really value your child - maybe use some coaching techniques to coach them and also get them to coach each other. In that way, create a culture of allies in your classroom, which Carol Dweck mentions in her research on the power of growth mindset.
A Culture of Allies
The idea of a culture of allies means it's like we're a team, we all support each other, we all help each other, and we all get it wrong sometimes. We want each other to really experience and succeed in that challenge or struggle and to make breakthroughs with baby steps or big steps.
We support each other and we celebrate each other's breakthroughs, each other's strengths and each other's learning. So that nobody feels judged but we all feel that that we're on each other's side and that's really important in your classroom to actually feel they belong to a culture of allies.
And in that way we can start encouraging children to push themselves outside their comfort zone, because the only way you really grow and grow your self-esteem, is to do stuff that's really hard, to feel how hard it is and to manage to make some progress in it.
If we always do the things that we're good at, then we're not going to feel that we're actually making progress we're not going to feel that we are growing. You grow your neural pathways by being able to challenge yourself and see struggle as growth. This requires fearless thinking and surfing the waves of uncertainty and enjoying the challenge of change.
This is why high challenge, trust and support really works as a classroom teacher - really challenge them, but then have that non-judgmental and ‘have a go’ ‘make a mistake, it's absolutely fine’ mindset. It really works!
One of the key things is that you need to absolutely believe that these children can make progress no matter what the evidence is of past mistakes or problems or home background. Believe the child in front of you can make progress, can improve, can believe that that progress is possible. And if you believe it and they believe it, there’s the magic.
Of course, bear in mind, that no one can raise the level of somebody else's self-esteem above their own self-esteem – so, for you, as teachers, just to become aware and conscious of your own self-esteem and your own insecurities is important.
We've all got them, every one of us has got that voice inside our head that sometimes says ‘Well, you can't do that who whoever said you could’ and sometimes we're quite harsh with ourselves - that's the saboteurs at it again.
Learning is Cool
So, your job I believe, is to get conscious of your own self-esteem, share with the children your own challenges and how you’re relentless in keeping those challenges at high level so that you can break through, so that you can experience the pain to get the gain.
All of us have those challenges in life and, at the moment with a pandemic it's more true than ever that children will be in a state of anxiety and in a ‘survival’ state that feels scary.
And when you're in that survival state, learning is almost impossible so we need to actually have that tolerance of uncertainty through the support of each other and that sense of belief that learning is possible and learning is where it's at - learning is cool, learning is the answer to everything in life because when things go wrong what can I learn?
That process of metacognition, of being able to stand back from your thinking and think why is that happening, why am I in that mood of being a little bit down on myself or a little bit unhappy, what can I do to reframe it? what can I do to change my mood? how can I change it? That's very, very powerful stuff!
And mostly being kind to yourself, be as kind to yourself as you would be to someone you love, someone like a parent or a child or a pet. If you make a mistake, how would you respond to yourself in your head - would you be kind and be forgiving and seek out the learning, as you would advise a friend or a child or a parent?
Or would you be angry with yourself and say that shows how useless you are and this is where raising self-esteem helps that progress towards being a fearless thinker and a fearless learner. So, stop the sabotage and help students have healthy self-regulation and self-esteem. Model this for them every day.
There's loads more I could share with you on this. I'm really, grateful for you for listening and I hope it helps.
You have the power to make the difference and be the change agent so good luck with that!
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