Denis Lawrence on the importance of developing pupils' self-esteem. Teachers have always known that children tend to perform best when they feel good about themselves and research over the past decade seems to confirm this. As a result, many schools have implemented self-esteem enhancement programmes in the curriculum. Depressingly, however, the optimistic findings from the research do not appear to transfer to the classroom.
Learning is at its most effective when the quality of the child-teacher relationship is at its best. Merely implementing a series of activities designed to enhance self-esteem without regard to the communication skills of the teacher is almost certain to fail.
There are three approaches to self-esteem enhancement: * through incorporating appropriate activities into the classroom * through individual or group counselling * as a framework to everyday teaching through the establishment of caring, empathetic relationships and the provision by the teacher of a high self-esteem model.
It is the last of these which is by far the most effective. Despite this, however, the greatest emphasis in schools appears to be on the introduction of specific activities.
There is more to the enhancing of self-esteem than focusing on what to do with the child. As with most subjects, the teacher's personality has to become involved if teaching is at its best. For many this comes naturally; for others it can be a threatening experience to reveal their own personality especially in the face of a sometimes critical audience.
Activities on self-esteem enhancement sometimes demand that the teacher be non-judgmental of the child and accepting of the right to have negative feelings and even to express them. This can be difficult for some teachers unless they are aware of the need to conduct the activities within a humanistic framework.
Personal qualities of acceptance, genuineness and empathy have been identified as crucial for the effective counsellor. The same qualities are needed by the teacher for self-esteem enhancement to become a reality in the classroom. It is the teacher as a person who makes the difference, not the teacher as an instructor.
It is crucial that student teachers are introduced to the principles of interpersonal communication. After all, one imporant aim of education is surely to help children learn how to communicate and how to live and work together.