One of the most precious but fragile qualities of a person is their sense of self and self-esteem.
A positive word of encouragement can reinforce the strength of one’s self-image.
But that image can be shattered all too easily through a sigh, a grimace, an ill-chosen word or careless remark.
Our self-esteem flourishes when we are happy and wilts when we are sad. It is much easier to boost someone when they are up, and to hit them when they are down. Maintaining a healthy self-image requires just the right amount of self-knowledge and confidence to be resilient when faced with negative feedback and to not adopt an inflated sense of importance when receiving false, or genuine, positive input.
Fostering self-esteem in the classroom
As a teacher I have always considered it to be equally or more important to strengthen a child’s self-image as it is to extend their thinking and learning abilities.
My primary aim has always been to cultivate a group of happy children, with strong senses of self, confident in what they could do and willing to have a go to extend their learning. I believe that these qualities are necessary in order for children to learn efficiently.
A child who lacks confidence and is fearful of having a go lest a mistake be made, will make slow progress, finding it difficult to move out of the “comfort zone” into the unknown.
Because children have no choice in whether to be in school or not, despite whether they like it or not, then, I believe, it must be a happy place, a place where they want to be and look forward to coming. How powerless must they feel if they are compelled to attend every day in a situation which gives them no pleasure.
Sometimes the response to this remark is, “It’s life. They just have to get used to it.”
But really, when you think of it, adults, no matter how trapped they may feel in certain situations, do have a choice. The choices may be no more palatable than the one they are in, but they are able to make that choice. My point is: children don’t make this choice. The choice is made for them. We are lucky that most children accept, and most rather willingly, indeed with enjoyment, this institution of childhood.
Start each day with a song
Because these beliefs and values guided the choices I made as a teacher, I started every day with at least a song or two, and always one of affirmation. It is almost impossible to frown when singing, and almost as impossible to not join in when everyone around is singing too.
There were mornings when it was just as important for me to sing the songs as it was for the children. As for them, it gave me time to forget the problem that had occurred outside the classroom, the difficulty getting something to work the required way, or the disagreement that had taken place some time earlier. As for them, it gave me a quiet time to reflect and reassure myself, “I’m okay. I can do this. Let’s get on with our day.”
I noticed, too, that when parent volunteers or other visitors were with us for our song, they also joined in with our singing and invariably followed up with a spontaneous comment about how much they appreciated, and needed, the song as well. Many times I received comments from passers-by about how the class’s happy singing had helped them start their day.
I took every possible opportunity to remind parents of how wonderful their children were and we always shared at least one of these songs with parents during end-of-term celebrations of work. I believe the songs help to model, for parents as well as teachers, a way of sharing positive feedback and affirmations with their children.
Some of the songs we sang regularly in the mornings were from Anne Infante’s “Special as I can be” CD, the title song of which is my favourite and always the first I introduce to the children.
Click here to find out more about Anne and her songs.
I always wrote the songs out on charts so that, from the first day of school, we could follow along with the words as Anne sang them, even before most of the children could recognise any of them. The melody and repetitive structure of each verse invited the children to join in:
“Nobody else is just like me.
I’m as unique as I can be.
I am beautiful, wonderful and
beautiful, special as I can be.”
The following verses substituted things such as “Nobody’s face, nobody’s smile, nobody’s eyes.” I simply told them, before the verse started, the words that changed each time.
It wasn’t long before the children were joining in with the singing and recognising some of the words repeated in the songs e.g. “I” and “beautiful”.
If ever I was called away during the song, they took great delight in being the one to point to the words for the rest of the class to follow.
As the children became confident with one song, I would introduce another; and as our repertoire built, we would sing a different one each day. Sometimes the children would change the chart I had selected for another of their choosing for that particular day.
The children loved these songs, and often during the day, while they were working on another task, someone would start quietly singing a song, and before long everyone would be joining in with joyful affirmation. I loved it when they left the classroom in the afternoon singing another of Anne’s songs, “Today I’m feeling happy. I am, I am, I am.”
Singing an affirmation song is a little “happiness pill” you can take every day without any side effects.
Happy being me
Affirmation songs provide benefits in many ways:
- Share the joy of being alive and happiness with self
- Put a smile on everyone’s face
- Invite everyone to participate
- Encourage acceptance of and respect for self and others
- Reinforce self-esteem
- Insulate the classroom from outside troubles
- Quiet the mind and settle the body in preparation for the day’s work
- Provide words to express feelings
- Give musical pleasure
- Are an avenue for literacy learning.
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