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Self-esteem is an essential ingredient of a child's personality, being fundamental to personality development and relationships, and has significant implications for teaching and learning. Mruk (2006) believes that self-esteem is a judgement about one's competence or value, based on a process of conceptualising and collecting information about oneself and one's experiences. Hence there are two components, the level of worth a person places on himself or herself and the processes through which people reach conclusions about their self-worth.
Self-esteem is defined in terms of "how you regard yourself" (Baumeister, 2003). In the words of Stanley Coopersmith (1967), a pioneering researcher in the field, it is defined as the "personal judgement of worthiness that is expressed in the attitudes the individual holds toward himself". Self-esteem is therefore the evaluative component of self-concept. Self-esteem is defined by Lawrence (1988) as "the individuals evaluation of the discrepancy between self-image and ideal self. It is an affective process and is a measure of the extent to which the individual cares about this discrepancy." Michael Argyle (1967) concludes that the main origin of self-image and self-esteem is the reaction of others. He calls this the theory of the 'looking-glass self'. To see ourselves we look to see how we are reflected in the reactions of others. Argyle believes that when a person is constantly categorised and treated in a particular way, he acquires a self-image.
Scheff (1989) made the point about lack of comparability in research findings, if self-esteem has been measured and indeed conceptualised differently in the various studies. Researchers have assessed differences in self-esteem by asking experimental subjects how favourably they regard themselves. Self-esteem ratings are almost always based on what subjects say about themselves and such self-respect measures may be problematic. They may tell us more about how someone, wishes to appear than about their 'true' state, which may be never known. When talking about students with 'low' self-esteem, it is important to note that this is only relative to other students in absolute terms Kohn (1994). Many researchers argue that people with high self-esteem are simply those who demonstrate a "willingness to endorse favourable statements about the self" due to "an ambitious, aggressive, self-aggrandizing style of presenting themselves" (Kohn, 1994; Baumeister 2003). Franks & Marolla (1976) identified two dimensions of self-esteem which develop from a child's interpretation of the feedback from teachers and classmates as well as from the child's own learning experience. They believe that "outer self-esteem" is achieved through interpersonal interactions with relevant others including family, friends and teachers. "Inner self-esteem", according to Franks & Marolla (1976) is a function of real accomplishment, either success or failure in a person's interaction with the environment. (Argyle,1967; Snyder, 1989; Tice; 1993) also notes that the middle/low self-esteem child has lost that excitement of learning as any learning means risking failure, mistakes, and embarrassment. It is these fears that result in the child adopting certain self-protective strategies that will limit further reductions in their self-esteem. It is widely acknowledge by educationalists that the primary cost of low self-esteem is missed opportunities. (O'Brien, Bartoletti & Leitzel 2006).
Johnson (1979); Norem-Hebeisen (1974, 1976) and Norem-Hebeisen & Johnson (1981) conclude that self-esteem may be derived through at least five processes. They include "basic self-acceptance (the perceived intrinsic acceptability of oneself), conditional self-acceptance (the perceived acceptability of oneself resulting from outperforming others and meeting external standards and expectations), comparative self-evaluation (the estimate of how positively one's attributes compare with those of peers, reflected self-acceptance (seeing oneself as others see one), and real-ideal self-esteem (the correspondence between what one thinks one is and what one thinks one should be)" (Johnson 1994). Christopher Mruk in his book, Self-Esteem Research, Theory, and Practice (2006) believes that researchers sometimes assume that subjects who rate themselves poorly must be suffering from low self-esteem. The items of a self-esteem test may not be particularly important to the subject. Given the norms of his/her subculture, a student may attach a positive value to the inability to do something well. This research is therefore saying that it does not follow that higher self-esteem causes academic performance to go up or that lower self-esteem causes it to go down (Baumeister, 2003). Correlation does not prove causation (Kohn, 1994). Johnson & Johnson (1989) believe that permanent changes in self-esteem are usually slow in developing and certainly require more than two or three weeks in one 50 minute class. "Researchers may have captured strong feelings about self with their measures of self-esteem rather than permanent changes in self-esteem" (Johnson & Johnson, 1989).
Rogers (1961) cited in Lawrence (1988) considers three personal characteristics to be desirable qualities in enhancing self-esteem. These areas the author feels could be examined under the lens of school effectives.
- teacher's relationship with pupils
- being non-judgmental and accepting a child as he/she is.
- disapproving of the behaviour but without devaluing the person.
To be Genuine
- implies the ability to recognise that failure and success are relative terms and in some sense we are all failures just as in some sense we are all successes.
- means to be able to appreciate what it feels like to be another person having time to listen to feelings of children, which is difficult in any classroom with so many interruptions. Rogers (1975) demonstrated a correlation between the degree of empathy in a student and the level of scholastic attainment. According to Humphreys (1993) there are two central dimensions to self-esteem, the feeling of being loveable and the feeling of being capable.
The process of development of the self-image has been referred to as the 'looking glass theory of self' (Argyle, 1967), as the individual is forming his/her self-image as he/she receives feedback from others. Humphreys (1994) believes that self-image is the end product of family relationships and "is developed through the looking glass of how others perceive you and your interpretation of received messages as positive or negative". If children experience sarcasm. Blaming, ridiculing, scolding and 'put down' comments, they will form a negative self-image of themselves as "inadequate", "never good enough" and "falling short." Individuals with low self-esteem are often awkward, self-conscious and especially vulnerable to rejection (Rosenberg, 1965, Braiker 2006). Coopersmith (1967) shows that children with high self esteem are more resistant to peer pressure and better able to follow their own judgement than those with low self-esteem (Cohen, 1976). This implies that children with a healthy measure of self-esteem value and respect themselves and are less dependent on the approval of others and are more likely to treat others in positive ways. Self image is therefore whatever one believes about his/her worth and can be positive or negative. It also acts as "a guide to behaviour".
Although the family and parents are the major determinant of the self-image, the developing self-image is also influenced by school experiences. Humphreys (1995) believes that school children have two choices or defence strategies open to them: avoidance or compensation. Avoidance techniques may involve non participation, low levels of effort, or very high or very low levels of aspiration. Compensation strategies are adopted by the child where he/she places an over emphasis on school work and neglects social, emotional, athletic or creative activities and who attempt to compensate for their lack of inner security by being the 'goodie-good' child, the child who people - pleases, or the child who puts enormous energy into certain tasks. The influence of school experiences is highlighted by many recent studies which have "focused upon classrooms as social systems and have sought to categories and quantify the type and quality of the teacher - pupil and pupil - pupil interaction in classroom settings". An accurate picture of the child's self-image is therefore as important as an assessment of the child's intellectual potential and academic progress. Meyers (1969) states that "understanding of the self is the most crucial of all understandings".
Can self-esteem, self confidence and self-management be taught? Klein (1993) poses a similar question, if a positive self image is a prerequisite of effective learning, how can this not be a curricular issue? Research is showing that people's level of achievement is influenced by how they see themselves and more specifically that self-esteem and scholastic achievements are strongly associated. There is substantial evidence that students with high self-esteem generally have high achievement levels in school. In general, "positive experiences, personal attributions, higher expectations and anticipated success are all involved in self-fulfilling prophecies which lead to improved self-esteem and subsequently to higher achievement levels in schools." Aronson (1978). A number of studies by Purkey (1970), Bloom (1976), Gammage (1982) and Lawrence (1988) have shown how the way a child sees and feels about himself is related to how he responds in the classroom. "Self-esteem cannot be said to be a sufficient condition for promoting academic achievement but there is ample evidence to suggest that it is a necessary condition if children are to achieve their best in a learning situation." (Fisher, 1990).
- Argyle, Michael, (1967).
- Beane & Lipka (1986).
- Coopersmith, S, (1967). The Antecedents of Self-Esteem. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman. P. 5.
- Franks & Marolla (1976).
- Humphreys, T, (1993).
- Humphreys, T, (1994). The Family: Love it and Leave it. Cork: Humphreys, T. p. 230.
- Kohn, Alfie, (1994). The Truth About Self-Esteem. Phi Delta Kappan, Dec. p. 273.
- Lawrence, Denis, (1988). Enhancing Self-Esteem in the Classroom. London: Paul Chapman. P. 4.
- Johnson (1979).
- Johnson & Norem-Hebeisen (1981)
- Johnson, D. W, & Johnson, R. T, (1994)
- Johnson, D. W, & Johnson, R. T, (1989)
- Norem-Hebeisen (1974, 1976)
- O'Brien, Bartoletti & Leitzel, (2006).
- Rogers (1961, 1975)
- Scheff (1989)