Hearts with student's writing are all over the classroom door

10 things I do to boost my students’ self-esteem

Try any (or all!) of these strategies to make students feel safe, cared for, and loved

Recently, scores were dismal due to a poorly written assessment. I turned the class into a game where they could buy hearts, magic wands, phone a friend, use a computer, use the math book, use the Google Home, or ask a clan to help them. I gave them a budget and the option to work collaboratively to build their math skills. If they went into debt, they had to work that off by solving extra math problems. Turning assignments into games excites and engages them in their own learning process.

6. Attend one event outside of school for each child who asks
Every year, I am fortunate enough to do something outside of school for each child who invites me. Students feel I want to know the whole child and not just their school identity. I have been to robotics tournaments, sports activities, recitals, dinners, and family celebrations. I also attend events long after students have left me, fostering deeper relationship building.

7. Offer experiences for students to show off their talents
Sometimes, we have to look beyond the four walls to provide experiences to build student’s self-esteem. Peter Reynolds, esteemed children’s author, provides Hutch magazine as an option to inspire our writers and artists. I submit all kinds of student work (with parent permission) throughout the year. A few students become his magazine staff and are invited to the publishing party of their magazine issue. Students from all over the world can submit work. You should see the magic in a child’s eyes when she learns she is the cover artist!

MIT’s Curiosity Challenge is another great way to inspire students to think big! Students can submit artwork or writing on what they are curious about and have a chance to be celebrated during Science in the Street Week in April.

I also take students on the road with me. They have presented for MassCUE’s Annual Fall Conference and Alan November’s Building Learning Communities (BLC). They began to internalize the power of their own words.

Freedman and her students at the BLC conference in the summer of 2018.

8. Learn from students
Every month, each student goes on a Discovery Quest. They start with a BIG question and research the answer, teaching our class about their learning journey. This puts the student’s in the driver’s seat, running a mini lesson for classmates. I have learned more from my students than I do anywhere else. They develop a sense of pride and public-speaking skills that they will carry for a lifetime. Students in the audience sketchnote what their classmate is teaching them. Allowing students to think visually is another great way to build their self-esteem.

9. Celebrate student success
We have a success party every year. Students and their parents are invited to celebrate individual success. Parents who cannot attend are invited to participate by creating a paper heart at home and inscribing it with the success they have seen from their child. At school, students make their own heart and reflect upon their own success. They write about where they have seen themselves grow. These hearts greet us on our door frame for about a month.

At the end of our school year, students write a letter to their future self to be opened when they graduate high school. In the spring of their graduating year, we meet together as a class one more time to open the time capsule over dinner. The laughter and memories from this event are worth waiting 10 years for.

10. Grow with your students
I have an open-door policy. Students know that no matter how old they are or where they might be, they always have a home to come back to. They might be with me for only 180 days but I tell them they can have me for a lifetime should they choose. I’ve had students return looking for help with college essays because I always said I would help with anything. Some come back seeking emotional support; others want to see how the classroom has changed. Just the other day, a student wrote to me on Instagram that a project we did in third grade had him reflecting on his own life.

Using strategies to help build self-esteem connects you to the heart of your students. Establishing a foundation and building relationships with them are keys to creating a bridge where students can cross over and flourish, feeling great about who they are.

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