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Why role modelling healthy self-esteem is important in the classroom. Plus 3 tips!

Self-esteem impacts learning.

Self-esteem impacts learning. When someone has low self-esteem, it is likely that they will doubt their abilities, hold back their potential or sabotage their end result. This usually means that they will not reach their potential. So how can we help with this?

One way is through positive role-modelling.

It is quite a "kiwi thing" to reject compliments, and I've discussed this in previous blog(s) that they will try to diminish the compliment by rejecting it (e.g., You're just trying to be nice. I know I can't draw), throwing it back (e.g., I don't like how I've drawn this bit) or counter balancing it with a comparison (e.g., I can do better). For some reason we feel deeply for being modest people, and in turn, it results in a lot of self-esteem issues.

So how do we break this cycle? Through positive role modelling.

For self-esteem, if it isn't learned, practiced and refreshed, you will find it will turn into lacking in motivation and belief in oneself.

Why is it important to role model positive self-esteem?

I think it is important to role model positive self-esteem because I feel that it is a skill and behaviourism that needs to be worked on. Like all behaviourisms (such as learning to actively listen when people talk to you), they need to be learned, practiced and refreshed. If this doesn't happen, then it is likely the skill won't be done properly, and you may find an issue arises. For self-esteem, if it isn't learned, practiced and refreshed, you will find it will turn into lacking in motivation and belief in oneself. This can truly have negative repercussions. This is why I think it is so important as a teacher to always role model healthy self-esteem. So how do we do this?

Here are three ways to achieve this:

1.) Role-modelling acceptance

When someone compliments you (and it is likely going to happen if you compliment your students), you need to reply in the manner you wish your students would reply when you compliment them. What this does is shows them a way that is acceptable to allow compliments to happen. When they see someone, they want to be like (because usually teachers portray themselves as fun/confident/trusted members of society) they try to mimic things about them e.g., their clothes, posture, mannerisms, speech/phrases, experiences, occupation objectives.

Imagine noticing a person with bad self-esteem issues smile and agree with what you have said about them. It really is the best feeling in the world...

Imagine noticing a person with bad self-esteem issues smile and agree with what you have said about them. It really is the best feeling in the world knowing you've helped them see what makes them awesome. It is one of my favourite parts about being an effective teacher.

2.) Share what happens in your mind

When you feel your students need to know more about self-esteem, share with them what happens in your head or someone you know that deals with their own self-esteem in a positive way. You can let them know that at first you feel awkward when receiving a compliment and you can feel your body want to reject it and say something that diminishes the compliment, but then you remember how awesome you are and so you just say thank you and let the compliment sink in, instead. You then realise that by allowing someone say something nice and agreeing, you feel proud of yourself in the moment, and this in turn, builds a little more confidence in yourself.

3.) Make it a common practice in the class environment

Encourage others to compliment regularly in the classroom. Whether this is to one another or complimenting their own selves, encourage this to become as normal as sitting in your seat and taking your books out of your bag. Praise can be infectious, if you let it.

When a continuous amount of encouragement and praise occurs in the classroom, the brain will rewire itself to be okay with receiving praise. Especially if you make everyone say thank you and they cannot reject a compliment. If you make sure students must say "don't reject my compliment" / "I know, thank you" then you are changing the behaviour and environment to allow self-belief to take place in the classroom.

Furthermore, it really is important to reinforce the compliment if it is rejected. This trains the brain to allow compliments to sink in. I always make sure that I acknowledge when a student disagrees or lowers their own value. I show them how they have made me proud, and I reason with them using my evidence to justify why I have complimented them. They cannot reject it if I show them what they've done that is wonderful.

An example of this comes from a previous blog of mine: '3 ways I help students with Social Anxiety' which can be further looked into from here:

Here is a scenario that took place between one of my low self-esteem, socially anxious students:

Me: How do you think you went today? Did you write a great paragraph?

Student: I don't know, probably.

Me: Probably? Let's look at the last paragraph you just did...Hmm...I think I see a topic sentence....oww and hold on a minute there's a transition into a quote...what's this part after the quote?

Student: The critical analysis

Me: You sure? There's a lot of sentences going on there. Are they your opinions?

Student: Yes

Me: Are they relevant to the text?

Student: Yeah (starts smiling)

Me: Isn't that interesting... and this ending here. What's that?

Student: A "mic drop" ending

Me: So, what does that mean? Have you written a paragraph with all the structure I've asked you to include?

Student: Yeah.

Me: And it has a critical analysis that is more than one sentence?

Student: Yes (trying their hardest not to smile)

Me: So, what does that mean?

Student: I can write a paragraph.

Me: A good paragraph or a great paragraph?

Student: A good paragraph?

Me: You sure? You had a fantastic analysis in there that wasn't just one sentence. It backed up your quote nicely and even discussed the author's perspective... Seems a little better than just a good paragraph, don't you think? Was it a good paragraph or a great paragraph?

Student: A great paragraph.

Me: So how do you think you went today? Did you write a great paragraph?

Student: Yes, I wrote a great paragraph

Me: Yes, you most definitely did, and I am incredibly proud of you for doing that, too! You're amazing, [student's name]. Can't wait to see what else you can do, next time I see you. Have a great rest of your day and make sure you tell your parents all about this truly amazing paragraph of yours. I don't want to hear any of this "I can't write a paragraph" kafuffle anymore either. Because you can do it and you do it incredibly well too.

Student: [laughing] Yeah ok.

Me: See you later, amazing paragraph writer!

3 different ways to incorporate praise and compliments into the classroom:

- Asking the class to share feedback about positive things they noticed in the class today about what they did or someone else

- Have a section at the end of each lesson to write a sentence or two on the topic: "Why I am proud of myself" (this cannot be left blank, answered sarcastically, answered with "I don't know"/ "nothing", or be answered negatively)

- Get students to talk in pairs and respond to questions you choose in a "deep and meaningful" way. For example, "what is something this person does that you think is brave", "what is something this person does which you wish you were able to do", "what is something this person has done which surprised you", "how does this person make this class awesome each day" (allow the chance for some people to share with the class, if they'd like to or allow the student who received the compliment to reiterate what was said to the class so it is acknowledged even further.

I hope you get to see the beauty that comes from helping your students see how amazing they are. Someone once told me it only takes one person to believe in someone for them to believe in themselves also. Be that person for someone. Be that person for all your students.

"If you hear a voice within you say "you cannot paint" then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced" - Vincent Van Gogh

Online tutorials for 2023 are available now. You can make an enquiry or booking, here:

Time, Experience, Manaakitanga.

Tovah O'Neill

Tovah's Tutoring Company Ltd.


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