Building students’ sense of worth
“The world needs a sense of worth, and it will achieve it only by its people feeling that they are worthwhile.” – Fred Rogers
Children are bombarded with cultural messages about what they should be. Pretty quickly, most of us begin to measure ourselves by cultural standards – are we smart enough? Are we attractive enough? Are we ________ enough? The places where we feel like we don’t measure up are vulnerable places. Those vulnerable places are often where our peers can hurt us – particularly in middle school.
As adults, most of us figure out that our differences don’t make us any less human. But, middle school students – in the thick of developing their identities – don’t always have the tools they need to survive a constant bombardment of put-downs, physical attacks, or cruel online comments and messages. The consistent pattern of bullying can strip a middle school student of their own ability to recognize that no matter what their peers are telling them, they are human and deserve love and respect.
Power Up, Speak Out! believes that teachers are uniquely positioned to help build their students’ sense of worth and resiliency in the face of bullying. One way to do that is to take every opportunity to reinforce for your students that everyone may be different, but that doesn’t make them any less human.
Some differences can be difficult to see, such as certain disabilities, diseases, or conditions, such as emotional or physical abuse at home. Some differences can be seen. There are many examples of physical differences – from skin color to body shape to so much more.
But whether differences can be seen or are invisible, the truth is that we’re all a little different. No matter a person’s abilities, environment, life experiences, or physical appearance they are still a person. What you can help emphasize for your students is that every person is worthwhile. We are more alike than we are different; we all have feelings and every human being deserves to be loved.
You don’t have to devote a specific time to reminding students of our worth as human beings. You can take a minute to commend students’ unique talent, even if it’s not part of an assignment. You can insert reminders into your daily class activities – for example, along with your standard questions, include questions such as the following about history lessons, stories for English literature, or even current events:
What do you think [name of a historical person; a character; or a current person] felt during this incident?
Why do you think they felt that way?
How might you feel if you were that person?
Do you agree or disagree with the actions of [name of a historical person; a character; or a current person]? Why?
Even if you disagree, can you find one desire, feeling, thought, or action where you and [name of a historical person; a character; or a current person] are similar? (Even if it’s just that we’re all human and we all share a desire to love, to succeed, and to be happy, among other things.)
The goal isn’t to get your students to change their position or agree with someone – it’s important to make that clear. We don’t have to agree with each other in order to see the worth in others. In fact, it’s important for students to feel like they can disagree with each other and still respect each other. Because the goal is to help students empathize with other human beings who might be different from them.
You’re the expert in your classroom. You can find small opportunities to remind your students that every person, no matter how different from us, is a person. By doing this, you might also reinforce the worth of students in your class who have abusive home lives, or who are experiencing bullying from peers, or who might be experiencing dating violence. It may be easier for students to infer their own worth if they’re constantly told that being human alone is enough to deserve respect and love, no matter how different they feel.
Let’s keep choosing to build schools into places where students find a sense of worth. We can’t do it without you, and the staff of Power Up, Speak Out! thanks you for everything you do for your students!