Teachers can have a profound effect on students’ well-being, self-confidence, and self-esteem. According to Joyce, Weil, and Calhoun (2015), “our primary influence on our students is what we model as people” (p. 310). When expectations of behavior or learning are clearly communicated, good behaviors are modeled by the teacher, and students are taught to self-monitor, self-evaluate, and self-reinforce, they can be more confident and have higher self-esteem. Social-cognitive learning theory is based on the assumption that we learn through the observation of others. Students learn by watching their parents, peers, and teachers model behavior. According to Joyce et al. (2015), schooling can have a significant impact on how successful a student is and how they grow as people. First, all students can learn how to learn if we provide them with ample opportunities and multiple types of environments. Second, “the more skills students develop and the more they widen their repertoire, the greater their ability to master an even greater range of skills and strategies” (Joyce et al., 2015, p.301). Finally, the community developed in the classroom can influence how students feel about themselves, how they interact, and how they learn (Joyce et al., 2015).
Making sure students’ physiological, safety, acceptance needs are met is crucial before a teacher can hope to foster student self-esteem. According to Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (see Figure 1), people are motivated by their needs and progress in to more profound needs as other basic needs are met. The first is physiological, which includes water, air, food, sleep, and other bodily needs. In the classroom, should could mean allowing students to take a restroom break when they need them, allowing students to have a snack mid-morning, or giving them a chance to stretch their legs by standing at their desk for a minute.
The second basic need is safety. Students need to feel safe and secure before they can even begin to learn. According to John Medina (2014), students who are stressed due to a troubled home life, one or both parents in legal trouble or worse, do not learn as well. Stressed bodies have higher levels of anxiety. Teachers can help students feel safe by assuring students they are important and that if they are afraid of something, they can talk about it with a teacher or counselor. Another idea from a study by Carl Rogers is to allow students to individually talk to the teacher about anything they wanted them to know – something they are worried about, something on their minds, or even something exciting they wanted to share. This can help relieve any anxiety the student might have that prevents them from learning efficiently.
The third need is love or a sense of belonging. Teachers can help students feel like they are a part of the classroom community by including them in decisions about what they would like to read or learn about. Allowing students to voice their opinions and work with others can improve their sense of belonging. Ideas include signing up for a classroom service project or having students work with a partner on classwork in a cooperative learning setting to foster more friendships. Teachers should also model empathy for others and provide opportunities for students to practice.
Self-esteem can be fostered by teachers by modeling behaviors that lead to success. The skill should be as personally relevant to the student as possible in order to increase attention. According to Carl Rogers, “when students’ feelings are responded to, when they are regarded as worthwhile human beings capable of self-direction, and when their teacher relates to them in a person-to-person manner, good things happen.” This allows them to learn about themselves and in effect, they grow as individuals and can become more successful. Another way to help a student’s self-esteem is to make sure they have the tools necessary to be successful with a moderate amount of struggle. One particular danger to help students avoid is comparing themselves to others, which can be especially toxic if they are significantly underperforming compared to other students.
When students are equipped to overcome obstacles they face, they will have a greater sense of self-worth, self-esteem, and self-efficacy. Being able to learn from mistakes and failures instead of obsess over them is crucial to self-esteem. Teachers should also model self-monitoring, self-evaluating, and self-rewarding. When teachers are clear about expectations and set appropriately difficult goals to achieve, students will be able to monitor their progress and correct any errors along the way with feedback from the teacher. When teachers provide a safe, caring, welcoming environment, students can have high self-esteem and be successful in school and life.
Joyce, B., Weil M., & Calhoun, E. (2015). Models of Teaching. 9th Ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retreived February 27, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow’s_hierarchy_of_needs
Medina, J. (2014). Brain Rules. Seattle, WA: Pear Press.
Rogers, C. “Teacher Effects Research on Student Self-Concept.”