Self esteem in schools

So, really interesting to read that the state-of-the-art understanding of kids’ self esteem is finally making it’s way into the classroom.  Short version: you cannot give kids self esteem by always telling them how great they are; they have to earn it.  Here’s the gist from a recent Post article:

A growing body of research over three decades shows that easy, unearned praise does not help students but instead interferes with significant learning opportunities. As schools ratchet up academic standards for all students, new buzzwords are “persistence,” “risk-taking” and “resilience” — each implying more sweat and strain than fuzzy, warm feelings.

“We used to think we could hand children self-esteem on a platter,” Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck said. “That has backfired.”

Dweck’s studies, embraced in Montgomery schools and elsewhere, have found that praising children for intelligence — “You’re so clever!” — also backfires. In study after study, children rewarded for being smart become more likely to shy away from hard assignments that might tarnish their star reputations.

But children praised for trying hard or taking risks tend to enjoy challenges and find greater success. Children also perform better in the long term when they believe that their intellect is not a birthright but something that grows and develops as they learn new things.

This was actually among the most interesting findings from the fabulous book, Nurtureshock— which by now is probably the most-mentioned book on this blog.  Somehow, in all my Nurtureshock mentions, I never discussed the basic findings about self esteem (basically, what you read above).  I’m convinced that my parents always telling me how smart I was did me no favors (not that I blame them or anything, and hey, I do have great self esteem).  But I did decide that if something was hard I probably just was not very good at it and I would focus my efforts elsewhere.  After reading Nurtureshock, I do try and praise the boys for hard work and persistence, rather than innate intelligence.  Anyway, good to see that schools are catching on.  Oh, and really, you should read Nurtureshock.  

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

One Response to Self esteem in schools

  1. Kathleen Goodwin says:

    Just wanted to say thank you, for this article. I am doing a study on self esteem and education, the different opinions eductators have across the country about its roll. Its for school I’m working on my associates degree in early child hood education. If you have any ideas of how to get more information please email me back

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