Developing Student Self-Esteem in Special Education

Instructor: Amanda Wiesner-Groff

Amanda has created and taught English/ESL curricula worldwide, has an M.Ed, and is the current ESOL Coordinator for the Saint Louis Public School District.

If you teach special education, this lesson will be very beneficial. We will go over why you should help develop self-esteem in your students, and ways you can go about doing it. Read on to learn more.

The Importance of Self-Esteem

Every student may face self-esteem issues, but this can become a far greater problem when it comes to students with special needs. It is hard enough dealing with the difficulties and struggles that come with special needs, without having to worry about the feelings of insecurity and rejection that can show up when surrounded by potentially judgmental peers.

Lack of self-esteem can show up in a variety of destructive ways. Students need to feel valued and supported as a whole, so they are able to dig deep and keep trying, even when failure is an option. When students have well-developed self-esteem, they will be more successful in all areas of life.

Let's take a look at some ways you can develop student self-esteem in special education.

Classroom Management

To develop student self-esteem, it is important to first establish classroom management and a classroom support system. Start by having students help you create and plan a structured routine for the class. When your students feel a sense of ownership in their surroundings, they will feel more inclined to protect it, as well as the people in it.

  • Have students create rules and guidelines together, as well as consequences for rule breaking.
  • Give students jobs and responsibilities so they know their skills are not only trusted, but also valued.
  • Go over ways to support one another so students feel encouraged to make mistakes and try new things.
  • Have the class routine posted, and go over it daily, so students know what is expected of them each day.

Developing Self-Esteem

It is now time to start working on building up student confidence and self-esteem. Give some of the following ideas a try to see if they can work for your students.

Focus on Strengths

Take time to get to know your students' strengths, skills, and special talents, even if they are not academically focused. Find ways to incorporate these strengths into the classroom, so students can rely on them during times of struggle. Focusing on strengths, rather than weaknesses, will boost self-esteem and then give students the confidence they need to tackle areas of weakness.

  • Have students complete a Multiple Intelligence Assessment to see where their strengths lie.
  • Have students fill out interest inventories, and incorporate the results into the classroom.
  • Incorporate a wide variety of learning mediums into each lesson.
  • Display students' successes and achievements for all to acknowledge and celebrate.

Understand Your Students' Struggles

Take time to understand where your students' struggles are coming from. This is not the time to make assumptions. Determine if your student is struggling because of a special need, learning disability, or if they are just unable to understand the content being delivered. Talk with your students so you understand where they are coming from.

  • Break larger difficult tasks into smaller, more manageable, tasks.
  • Provide plenty of opportunity for questions during lessons and activities.
  • Do not solve your students' problems; rather, teach problem assessment and solving skills.
  • Celebrate your students when they overcome a struggle, no matter how small.

Celebrate Individuality

Teach students that individuality is something to be appreciated, not rejected. Special education students should be reminded that all people are different, and that is a good thing. The world would be a very boring place if we were all the same. Make a habit of celebrating differences and pointing out the benefits of those differences, so students can see how they should be valued individually.

  • Offer sincere individual praise that focuses on their personal traits, strengths, accomplishments, and character.
  • Avoid comparing, generalizing, or categorizing students according to needs, culture, learning style, demographics, or academic achievements.
  • Teach students ways to offer genuine appreciation, acknowledgement, and respect for their peers.
  • Remind students of their worth on a regular basis.

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