Every day, students come into our classroom spaces from their own life experiences the day before. As educators, we do our best to make students feel welcomed and engaged every time they cross our thresholds.
I work hard to make sure students feel safe, cared for, and loved. To do this there are several activities or spaces in our classroom that build students’ self-esteem. I encourage other educators to try a few of these and see the impact it has on their own students.
Build your students’ self-esteem all day, every day
1. Greet every child at the door with a smile and say his or her name
I started greeting students at the door a year-and-a-half ago. I stand in the doorway, awaiting students each morning. I greet them with a handshake, teaching them to look someone in the eye and have a firm grasp. I also call each student by name and ask how they are doing. Students now do not even come into the room before saying hello to me. If I am absent, I leave a note for my guest teacher to do the same routine.
2. Ask a question of the day to kick start your morning and touch base with every child
For morning work, students answer a question of the day. I make the questions up, but they could be anything from ‘What makes you happy? Sad? Annoyed?’ to ‘If you could change a color in the Crayola crayon box, what would it be and why?’ Their answers allow me to get to know each student and have a brief conversation with everyone before the business of the day gets hold of us.
3. Encourage students to advocate for themselves
If students need to reach out to me for any reason, I tell them to email me—rather than their parents. I want the student to tell me when he or she is upset or has a question about an assignment. I also have a bothering box in our classroom where students can express things that are bothering them in a safe place. If children want me to talk with them, they write their name on the bothering box slip. If someone wants me to just be aware of a situation, no name is needed.
4. Provide opportunities to give feedback to students—not just grades
I once heard when you put a grade on a paper the learning stops. Therefore, I decided to go gradeless in 2015 and instead provide feedback to help students grow in their strategies and skills. Our 5th-grade students write reading letters twice a month to me, expressing their thoughts about books and ideas they have about author’s craft. I respond to each individual child. Responding to children makes them feel heard.
As students begin to trust me, we end up sharing about our lives, our weekends, and things we enjoy. I am also able to ask questions and push students to meet their potential as readers through these letters. I invite students to share their work with the class, which is another great way to build self-esteem. Students also blog twice a month, which provides an authentic global audience for their writing. They write a draft in a Google Doc that is taken through the writing process before being published. Their post is shared in Google Classroom with parents and on our social media accounts. This is a great way to build critical- and creative-thinking as well as communication skills.
5. Let students fix mistakes
I used to hand back math assessments for students to see their performance, get it signed by a parent, and place it in their portfolio. Now students take an assessment, get feedback on it, and have two weeks to correct mistakes should they choose to do so. The real learning takes place while fixing these mistakes, and our students feel great when see a point total increase.