By Antionette Meeks of Cairn Guidance, a Dove Self-Esteem Project Partner
Acceptance is a simple and powerful ten letter word. Acceptance opens the door for each student to be themselves and experience all that their classroom and school offer them. As educators, we do not fully know the life stories of our charges, neither do they know ours. Sometimes, a school is the only safe space, and the smiling face of the educator is the one thing they need to get their school day started on a positive note.
It is what we do as educators that support both the academic and personal growth of our students, whether the student comes from a very supportive home or a challenging one. Our words and actions, or lack thereof, can impact a student’s day, whether in elementary, middle, or high school. We are each certified or licensed in our perspective subject areas and have learned about differentiated instruction. We strive to meet the academic needs or our students, as we meet the educational standards prescribed by our states. We rely on the school counselor, nurse, and social worker to support certain needs of our students.
While they have a role, we too have a role. There is not one of us who does not want the best for our students. We watch some of them try to conform to the “popular” peer, strive to meet the images in professional media, or to be someone they are not in other ways. Often mission and vision statements for our school districts remind us that our goal is to graduate young people who can be successful and contributing members of society. Part of that is to graduate that well-rounded young person who accepts themselves.
There are simple things that we do, greeting our students as they enter our classrooms or when we see them in the halls or out in the community, creating an inviting classroom environment, praising students, and acknowledging their positive words or actions. We provide feedback and support via instruction and follow-up assistance independently, in groups, in association with the adults who care for our students, and maybe even tutoring.
I’ve heard some educators say, and I’m sure I have made the statement about it feeling like too much sometimes. Then, the realization of the importance of what we do as educators settles in. We know that how a student feels about themselves can directly impact their academic achievement. We teach our students how to be their own cheerleaders when we help them identify what makes them who they are and what makes them unique. Acceptance of who they are is important. They do not have to be anyone else or become what peers in their social media posts or way of dress or professional media tells them.
The Dove Self-Esteem Project supports educators in their role of facilitating student growth in body confidence and self-esteem through supplemental lessons. These lessons are researched and available at no cost. They are supported by research that tells us that students who have poor body confidence or poor self-esteem are likely to have poor academic performance, not actively participate in classroom discussions, join clubs, or participate in sports.
We provide Confident Me! which can be taught using the single or six lesson format. The focus is on appearance ideals, media messages (personal and professional), confronting comparisons, banishing body talk, being the change, and appearance discrimination. Appearance discrimination is the newest lesson and focuses on ableism, sizeism, racism, sexism, hair discrimination, and colorism/shadeism. These “isms” are shared through real lived experiences and helps students better accept themselves and others. Some of our additional lessons for 11-to-14-year-old students are My Hair My CROWN and Proud to Be Me. My Hair My CROWN is a 90-minute workshop designed for educators, parents, and mentors to boost hair confidence for those with coils, curls, weaves, and protective hairstyles. It educates while building allyship, creating a respectful and open world for natural hair. Proud to Be Me is a single lesson that is two hours in length. It is a body image program that explores different sources of pressure to change appearance and learn skills to push back against the urge to conform to appearance norms. This lesson targets LGBT2S+ youth and their allies.
Another supplemental lesson is Celebrándome which is a single lesson that can be taught in 60-90 minutes and focuses on the Hispanic/Latinx youth. It helps students feel proud of who they are and lead body-confident lives. This lesson is for 11-17-year-old students. It is the Hispanic version of Confident Me!.