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Self-Esteem and Learning
Marina de Godoy Bueno


Self-esteem and learning are closely connected because if we have good self-esteem, we believe we are able to learn and we learn more easily. So self-esteem helps the learning process. At the same time, it is good to be aware of our self-esteem, and learn how to improve it, both are interlinked.


Self-concept is what you think you are. Self-esteem is the feeling you have about your self-concept.


According to Mark Fletcher (2000), students learn if they have high confidence and good self-esteem, if they are strongly motivated to learn and if they are in an environment characterized by “high challenge” coupled with “low threat”.

Basic skills are very important but textbooks don’t develop the kind of skills young people need to be able to succeed in the future.

As teachers, we have great influence upon our students, so our responsibility is to do more than just feed students with knowledge and content.

Most adults can recall teachers who destroyed their sense of worth and self-confidence and who taught in ways that were not motivating.

The teacher can relate to his students in ways that build confidence, develop motivation and a sense of personal worth.

If the students build their self-esteem with the help of teachers they will learn more easily and efficiently.


– Creating an atmosphere of security, showing our students their rights, defining the rules, trusting and supporting them.

– Accepting our students as they are, bearing in mind that the value of the individual is constant, however, his behavior can change. Many times we don’t agree with the attitudes of our students, but respecting them as human beings, we try to find the positive intention in their actions.

– Providing opportunities for our students to give their opinions, to show their emotions, and to work together in order to acquire social skills.

– Encouraging students to identify their goals and expressing confidence in their abilities to succeed.

– Supporting students and showing recognition of their progress and accomplishments.


In order to improve our self-esteem and help our students, it is important to know how the circuit of self-esteem works. Suppose we want to change an undesirable behavior. If our internal dialogue is a limiting one, we don’t change and we remain in the comfort zone, doing nothing. We feel frustrated and our self-esteem goes down.

Example: I want to start using computers in my classes.

Limiting internal dialogue:

Computers are very expensive.
They are difficult to operate.
They are a waste of time.
I am too old; they are for young people.

Result: I don’t use computers in my classes. My self-image is not good because I failed.

In the comfort zone I say: No Problem! I am a good teacher and a responsible professional and I’ve never used computers in my classes.

My self-esteem is low because I couldn’t do what I really wanted to.
Challenging our limiting internal dialogue and creating one full of possibilities is the best way to improve our self-esteem.


Our unconscious mind receives all the information available and stores it in our brain; it doesn’t judge. So if we put wrong information in our mind the result is going to be undesirable behavior.

Example: Everybody in my family has difficulty in learning English.

Result: I have difficulty too.


Our unconscious mind doesn’t know the difference between the real experience and the imaginary one. So we don’t need a real experience to get the abilities we want to have in our life.

If we program our brain well, we will improve our self-image and we will be able to do what we want to.

If the image of “oneself” is created, it can be modified whenever necessary.


The understanding of what the brain is, and how we learn, will provide teachers with new insights and help them teach more efficiently.

Our brain is divided in two hemispheres: the left hemisphere, which favors analytical, logical processing. The right hemisphere which seems to be more holistic, intuitive involved with sensory perception. They are both in constant interaction.

Questions and answers, grammar rules and exercises, structured practice are activities related to the left side of the brain.

Colors, music, stories, mind maps, drawings are more related to the right side of the brain.

So teachers should vary the teaching activities, in order to reach students who learn faster either through the right or left hemisphere of the brain and also to make the connection easier between both parts.


As we noticed, learners don’t all learn in the same way. The VISUAL learners need to see something written or in pictures, before they learn. The AUDITIVE learners need to hear a voice, sounds or music in order to learn. The KINAESTHETIC learners need to move physically to learn. Usually a student is not only visual, auditive, or kinaesthetic, but they have a favorite learning style. Having this in mind teachers will be able to prepare their classes with resources that will help the different kinds of learners.


“ According to Joseph O’Connor (1989), there are four stages of learning:

1.Unconscious Incompetence: not only do you not know how to do something, but you also don’t know you don’t know.

2.Conscious Incompetence: when we start to learn something but we are not competent yet.

3. Conscious Competence: when we have learned the skill, but we need a lot of attention because we have not mastered it yet.

4. Unconscious Competence: when we learn to do something well, we do it automatically.”

Whenever we want to improve something that we do unconsciously, we have to go back to the conscious competence stage.


As the purpose of teaching is learning, we teachers, will be able to fulfill our aims and feel positive about our mission in life, if we are fully aware of how to develop self-esteem in our students, if we know how their brains work and the different ways in which people learn.


Clegorn, P. (1998). 30 Minutos Para Aumentar sua Auto-Estima. São Paulo: 1998.
Fletcher, M. (2000). Teaching for Success. The Brain-friendly Revolution in Action. Kent: English Experience.
Hay, L. (1991). O Poder Dentro de Você. São Paulo: Best Seller.
O’Connor, J.; Seymour, J. (1990). Introducing Neuro-Linguistic Programming. London: Thorsons
Robbins, A. (1987). Poder Sem Limites. São Paulo: Best Seller.

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