“Self-esteem is the key to learning,” I wrote this in my very first essay as a primary teaching student over 22 years ago and I still believe that it is true today. If a child has low self-esteem, then they are not in a good place to take on board new learning. So much of an educator’s job is about their relationships with their pupils and the pastoral care that they give to them. Children’s mental health and wellbeing is of paramount importance and even more so during the pandemic. I believe that educators should do everything in their power to build up a child’s self-esteem daily. Self-esteem can be a very fragile thing. That is why I love the creative subjects so much, art, dance, drama, music, poetry, creative writing are areas of the curriculum where there are no wrong answers. Through the creative arts, children can express themselves without the fear of getting it ‘wrong’.
In my school, we use art therapy for our children who need additional support. We employ an art psychotherapist part-time to work with our children. Art therapy is all about the process of art making and building positive relationships with the therapist. The end product is not as important, it is the process that the children enjoy and can really express themselves with. Often our children discover a natural talent in art and will go on to pursue art as a hobby which can give them great joy and raise their self-esteem when they see that they are developing skills and unlocking their creative potential.
I think that one of the most damaging things we can do for a child’s self-esteem is to underestimate them. To have low expectations of them, to put a ceiling on their natural gifts and talents is very wrong. That is why we are not a data-driven school. Children are so much more than a SATs score, a phonics screening test score, a GCSE result. I have seen children work creatively together to produce incredible things.
During lockdown, our Head Girl Emily was diagnosed with leukaemia and she has undergone a punishing treatment schedule of chemotherapy all year. That little girl was completing school work to the highest standards while in her hospital bed. Her family, her friends and our school managed to raise over £4500 during the pandemic for Manchester Children’s hospital. Her classmates went on sponsored bike rides, they shaved their heads, they made little bead angels to sell. They created beautiful artwork for her and they encouraged celebrities from all over the country to join in a Thumbs Up for Emily campaign on social media. Emily is a Salford Reds Rugby fan and her favourite rugby player, Jackson Hastings wore special rugby boots dedicated to her in a rugby match. She has done things that I never expected or dreamed she could do, but I never underestimated her strength, her will and her determination to get better. We have all got a lot to learn from our children about dignity, integrity, compassion and kindness and when we recognise this and celebrate this each day, we can raise their self-esteem.