They say you can take a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. Some, transferring this concept into education, may say they feel they are smothering the horse with water, bringing the water as close to the horse as possible. The concept of holding the horses head under the water may seem appealing to some too, though not advisable.

This concept of the desire to act directing behaviour doesn’t try to understand the possibility that the horse may not believe he can successfully drink from this source, at this time, in this way. When thinking about the students in our class, we can often feel like we are doing everything we can to provide the work in the format required, but if that self belief is not there, this can fall quite quickly by the wayside.

Improving self esteem and sense of self worth in our students is key therefore in allowing students the freedom from fear to attempt work. A child must experience success on a regular basis within school in order to enhance the narrative of their own abilities and worth to the school and to others. We must provide opportunities within the curriculum for this. Some children, for reasons beyond the control of the teacher, will need a little more help with this with an increased regularity. They may have been told explicitly they are worthless or the actions of those closest to them may have left them feeling they are not worthy of time being spent with them, their opinions being considered or their needs being met. Below are 5 strategies that can help bolster the self esteem of not only these children but also the wider class too.

  1. Collateral Compliments
    Preparation – lollipop sticks or cards with each childs name on. Paper.
    This works better in a small group but can work with a larger class. Each child is given the name of another child which they keep to themselves. The child must write down something that that child has done well within the lesson / day or a skill/attribute they have. This will then be handed back in with the corresponding stick/card name. The teacher can then read out the statement and the class will guess to whom the statement refers, gesturing by pointing with elbows. The name is then revealed. This will enable children to gain positives from other children even if the statement is not directly referring to them.
  2. Positive Attribute Tracking (informed by narrative therapy)
    There are two strategies I propose here that could work together or separately depending on preference and aims. A positive notes jar is a useful tool to collect positive events and store them visually, using them to reflect upon on bad days and celebrate on good. This should be clear plastic to enable easy visualisation of the positive experiences had. The teacher or the student can enter these events on post it notes either separately or together.
    An alternative of this is to use a prompt list to draw up words the child would like to be described as. The words can then be entered into a work book, one word at the top of each page. The teacher and child can populate each page with examples of where the child has shown that skill or attribute, thus building up an enhanced picture of that child acting in that way.
  3. Dedicating time to the child in the week
    Providing a student with a dedicated slot in which the adult is seen to be enjoying the time (and the adult can refer to during the rest of the week “I am looking forward to doing…”) with the child on an enjoyable task will help the child to feel they are worth spending time with.
  4. The Job!
    This is a simple and well utilised tip but something as simple as providing a child with a job within the school can provide a great deal of confidence to them. Going further with this, for example, by interviewing the child, providing a high visibility jacket and clipboard with job images on could also provide a sense of importance and community. This is also effective for transition if the child needs to come in to do the job at a particular time.
  5. Language
    Language is so important when working with a child with self esteem needs. Use collective terms like “us” and “our” to enable the child to feel part of something bigger than themselves. Refer regularly to positive experience had with the child. Discuss, using your opinion, why those experiences were important to you and what attributes were shown during that. Tell the child you considered them whilst you were away from them – “I was thinking about what we did…”. Compliment using your opinion the actions they have performed but not what you believe them to be e.g. “I think that is a good drawing” not “You are a good drawer”

There are many different ways to improve self esteem – please feel free to share your ideas with me! I am always keen to learn more.