Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Defining Self-Esteem...

"You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”
-Hindu Prince Gautama Siddharta, the founder of Buddhism, 563-483 B.C.
'Self-esteem' is one of those terms we use so often without really knowing what it means... try defining it right now without thinking about it- not so easy, eh?

As an educator, I passionately believe kids need to possess self-esteem if they are to accept and conquer the learning challenge successfully, but I can't support my belief if I'm unable to define what self-esteem is. Not unlike irony or respect, self-esteem is something we know when we see it, but find it hard to wrap words around. We have to do this if we're to effectively promote it. 

So many programs, therapeutic models, school curriculum and other people themselves claim to be able to increase our self-esteem. This is one of the big lies... self-esteem must come from self. If it could be derived from any other person or program it would have to be referred to as something other than self-esteem. How then do we contextualize the concept of self-esteem in order to support its presence in our students?

For me, the answer is rather simple, (although it's taken me a long time to formulate it- ironically, the simple things often really are the most complex.) Self esteem is grown in two ways, and both must be evident or it doesn't grow at all.

First, a person must become good at something, (understanding that 'good' is a relative term.)

Second, and most importantly, a person must have an opportunity to share what they're good at with others.

For me, it's that simple. As an educator, my primary role is to focus on children's strengths by holding up a metaphoric alternate mirror that reflects a positive image back at every child I encounter. The next step is to seek any and all ways for that child to share this positive image with others. We need kids to say to themselves,
"I'm good at this, and I'm going to show everyone I know!"
No matter where on the spectrum of development each child is, saying these words to themselves empowers them to be confident and capable at every incremental step along the learning journey.

Self-esteem must come from self, but receiving positive messages and reflections from others will never hinder the process- that's for sure.
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