Helping Students Develop Self-Esteem

Program Standard 5

5. Learning Environment – The teacher fosters and manages a safe and inclusive learning environment that takes into account: physical, emotional and intellectual well-being.

 5.1 Element – Creating an Environment of Respect and Rapport

5.1 Example of Proficient – Teacher-student interactions are friendly and demonstrate general caring and respect. Such interactions are appropriate to the age and cultures of the students. Students exhibit respect for the teacher.

It may seem obvious that students need to develop healthy self-esteem to flourish in school and make educational gains but all too often the emotional aspect of learning are marginalized or completely forgotten. Imbuing students with a sense of worth can help them understand their own self-efficacy. In order for students to learn they have to first feel like they are capable of learning. Without that understanding students will not put forth the effort necessary to succeed. Joyce, Weil, and Calhoun (2015) emphasized, “Strong self-concepts are accompanied by ‘self-actualizing’ behavior, a reaching out toward the environment with confidence that the interaction will be productive” (p. 309). Helping students realize their potential can unlock their willingness to try unfamiliar things. It is important for teachers to do two things in order to help students develop: help students understand that failing is a necessary part of learning and model behavior indicative of positive self-worth.

self esteem

Failing is an integral part of learning and it is important for students to understand that so they can use it to their advantage. However, in a society where achievement is highly valued students get the message that missteps are an indicator of overall failure or low intelligence. The reality is that just the opposite can be true. Individuals who understand that trial and error is a part of the learning process stand to reach higher levels of achievement than those who do not. Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel (2014) assert, “A fear of failure can poison learning by creating aversions to the kinds of experimentation and risk taking that characterize striving” (p. 90) Teachers cannot assume that this concept will be intuitive to students and explicitly remind them often. It is also important that teachers remember to praise student efforts over their intelligence. Praising a child on their efforts tells them that the hard work they put forth resulted in the desired effect while praising a child for their intelligence sends them the message that their success is inherent and that effort is not required to succeed.

While it is important for teachers to constantly remind students of the benefits of mistakes and to boost their confidence by noticing their efforts it is equally if not more important for educator to model these behaviors. Joyce, Weil, & Calhoun argue, “In many ways, students become what we model for them, and part of our influence on them depends on our own states of growth—our own self-concepts—and how we communicate them to children” (p. 302). It is crucial that teachers take the opportunity to use their own mistakes as an instructional moment to demonstrate to students that it is normal and expected. They can use those moments to show students productive ways to proceed forward after a setback and establish a positive learning environment in their classroom. When teachers exhibit strong self-esteem and are confident in their own learning process students will begin to mirror that sentiment.

Brown, P.C., Roediger, H. L., & McDaniel, M. A. (2014) Make It Stick. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. [Kindle DX version]. Retrieved from
Joyce, B.R., Weil, M., & Calhoun, E. (2015) Models of Teaching (9th ed.). New York, NY: Pearson. [Kindle DX version]. Retrieved from
The photo in this post has been unedited and was found on Flickr following creative commons licensing.

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