Twentieth-century humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers believed that children have two basic needs: positive regard from others and a feeling of self-worth. Their response to how others view them will affect their confidence and positive feelings about themselves, which will, in turn, affect their success in life.
As a teacher or administrator, you not only have the opportunity to but also the responsibility of helping students achieve their greatest potential. It is critical that educators accept and care for students simply because of who they are.
What Does “Positive Regard” Mean?
Rogers defined “positive regard” as how people evaluate and judge others in social interactions. He further identified “unconditional positive regard” as accepting and loving others simply for who they are. This feeling is not affected by how people act and is not withdrawn if a person makes a mistake or does something wrong.
In the school setting, unconditional positive regard begins even before students begin to achieve or succeed. From the first day of the school year, when the grade book is blank and no tests have been given, teachers and administrators can begin to make a different in the lives of students. By showing them that they are valued and valuable regardless of academic standings, classroom teachers, as well as other staff members and administrators, communicate positive feelings and an expectation of achievement.
How Can Educators Exhibit Positive Regard?
The best teachers care before students achieve. According to educational consultant Jeffrey Benson, they don’t see students as test scores; they see students as human beings with a need to connect and interact with others, as well as be accepted with and in spite of their flaws. Benson says, “Students — from kindergarteners to high schoolers — look to educators for unconditional acceptance. We hear all the time that our best teachers love their students, regardless of their age or achievement.”
Here are some of the tangible ways educators at all levels can exhibit positive regard:
- Call students by name and make them feel welcome even if they do not seem to acknowledge your positive regard for them. In the first issue of The Journal on Best Teaching Practices, a peer-reviewed education journal, Tamara Glenz states, “Knowing and using a student’s name during and outside of class recognizes that a student exists and is important.”
- Be aware of the choices your students make and understand why they make those choices. For example, when an introverted student chooses to write a report, tell her you are sure she will do a great job because she works well when she can work alone and be in control of the assignment. If the same student chooses to give an oral report, tell her how impressed you are that she is trying something that you know is difficult for her.
- Make sure your students know that you are speaking to their parents and guardians. This lets students know you want to work as a team with their families and that you believe their lives have value outside of the classroom.
- Let your students see you as a real person. To the extent appropriate to the students’ grade levels, acknowledge your mistakes and challenges. Be willing to let them laugh with you and see how your life is, in some ways, not that different from theirs.
How Does Positive Regard Affect Students?
Dr. Kenneth Shore, a psychologist for the Hamilton, New Jersey Public School system, believes that building self-esteem in students is key to their academic success. By exhibiting positive regard for students, which leads to stronger feelings of positive self-esteem, teachers can make a difference in learning and achievement.
According to Dr. Shore, how students feel about themselves can directly impact how they engage in activities, deal with problems and challenges, and build relationships. When teachers treat students positively, the students are more likely to open up to positive relationships. When this happens, teachers have greater opportunities to get better acquainted with students and students make healthy choices when making friends.
In addition, self-esteem affects academic performance. According to Dr. Shore, “Low self-esteem can lessen a student’s desire to learn, her ability to focus, and her willingness to take risks.”
What Does Positive Regard Mean for the Administrator and School Leaders?
As an administrator, your contribution to the use of positive regard for your students involves one basic element: time. It is critical that school leaders be intentional about showing positive regard to students on a regular basis. Benson begins by stating, “Being recognized and affirmed by a powerful adult can be life-changing for a young person.” He ends with, “The power you have as a role model for others at school — whether you’re the principal or one teacher among many — will ripple out to every corner of the building, leading to a culture that appreciates everyone.”
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