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Let's raise their game

We could become a 'can-do' nation of confident people with the right teaching tools, says Helen Yewlett

Somewhere in the educational process we are diminishing our pupils' sense of self-esteem and the feeling of joy that we all need to make our lives worth living.

The Americans in particular have realised the importance of self-esteem in the learning process, yet research suggests students have less of it the longer they are in school. In an age of "put-down" entertainment where sarcasm and ridicule are considered the norm, we really need to re-examine our values and our approach to youngsters.

Believe me, in Wales we do not need examples on national television of put-downs. We do it to ourselves. Historically we do it for self-defence.

There is safety in being so ordinary, so insipid that nobody considers us a threat.

But where I work, in the deprived south Wales Valleys, we need all the self-esteem we can muster to turn them back into vibrant communities where life is pleasant for all. We must raise our youngsters' self-esteem, and turn ourselves into a "can-do" not a "put down" nation.

Parenting is the starting point. Parents should be encouraged to praise their children, use positive language, to talk to them and take a genuine interest in all their activities and interests. When a child is secure in the home environment, it is so much easier for them to be secure in any other places.

I listen to parents putting their child down to others with the child present and I cringe. I listen to husbands and wives criticising the other in front of family and friends, and to teachers' biting, sarcastic remarks, and I cringe.

And if I am honest, there are days when I too fall from grace and say things to pupils that I wish I had not.

I remember few of the sermons which my father, a vicar, gave. But one in particular did make an impact. "You can murder someone by what you say, as surely as you can murder them with a gun."

Words can devastate and undermine confidence and self-esteem. So let us raise our game. Let us study neuro-linguistic programming and life coaching, and look at the tools we need to incorporate in our teaching skills to raise our pupils' confidence.

We have two problems to deal with: first how to equip our teachers so they create environments for youngsters to keep and gain self-esteem; and secondly how to raise the self-esteem of pupils generally. We must support our teachers and coach them into delivering positive feedback to youngsters.

We must make sure that the youngsters realise that, although we want them to do well in school and to gain qualifications, these are not the be-all and end-all and that we appreciate them for what they can bring to our lives.

I have discovered one of my pupils is already an Avon lady, another who is impossible in the classroom is hot stuff on a trial bike, and another whom I frequently despair of is a fantastic wing and gives a running commentary of his game as he plays.

Having established their good points and letting them know we value them for those qualities, perhaps we can help further by giving them extra skills.

The best way to sustain self-confidence is to acquire and demonstrate competence by gaining new skills and making progress towards one's goals.

My technique has always been to try and allow every child to experience at least one successful achievement in every lesson. I want them to go home feeling that they have done something positive today.

This year, my Year 8 pupils have begged me to let their parents see their PowerPoint presentations on wild flowers of Wales. To be honest, I want the parents to see too. Their work is so vibrant and outstanding for 12-year-olds.

Some schools use mentoring systems to help raise pupils' self-esteem. I have seen one young man have his life turned round by an inspired mentor. I have worked in an enlightened school that had a full-time counsellor. That was good but was more a mopping-up exercise of problems at home than changing pupil attitudes to their life and expectations.

We should be looking at having full-time education life coaches on site.

Let them work with staff and pupils alike. Let them bring positive thinking, actions and behaviour into our classrooms. Let us become the "can do" land.

Helen Yewlett is head of computing at Ysgol Gyfun Ystalyfera, Neath Port Talbot

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