Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Self-Concept Critical to Student Success

Students who are successful after high-school exhibit confidence, a strong sense of character, independence and the ability to demonstrate 21st century workplace readiness skills. Having a strong self-concept has been shown to be crucial to future success, particularly for traditionally marginalized youth (Marsh, Byrne and Verschueren, 2011). Although many youth have had to overcome incredible obstacles and setbacks even to reach the point of applying to college, they may need even greater determination to stay in school and finish their studies. 

Learning to code and program a robot
at the Carnegie Science Center
FabLab where HFA Students attend
weekly classes as part of the
Network Campus Program.
High schools should feel compelled to support students in gaining strong self-concept, learning independent thinking skills and knowing how to ask for support. Equally important, is showing all students how they can become part of a system in the face of school pressures traditional students may not face such as: racial, cultural and/or gender biases. Self-concept is frequently positively correlated with academic performance, but it appears to be a consequence rather than a cause  of high achievement (Baumeister et al., 2003). This suggests that increasing students’ academic skills is a more effective means to boost their self-concept than vice versa. Cokley (2000) found that the best predictor of academic self-concept for students attending traditionally white colleges was GPA, whereas the best indicator of academic self-concept for students attending historically black institutions was quality of student-faculty interactions. While having a positive self-concept is important for all students, it becomes even more important for those with non-traditional experiences because of the added complexity of navigating in a system that was not designed for them. What might we do in high schools to prepare students with the skills to navigate these systems and build their self-concept?

Some thoughts:

  1. Help students find their strengths and passions. As students transition from middle to high school, their self-concept should gradually grow if schools are providing an equitable, safe and engaging environment. Schools should design projects and activities for independent thinking and more opportunities to participate in activities in which students feel competent. However, none of this type of learning will take place if students don't build relationships with teachers that are based on trust and understanding. Furthermore, students who identify, learn to leverage and build their strengths are more likely to remain in school and progress into managerial roles in their career (Perrone, Sedlacek and Alexander, 2001). High schools can build mentoring programs, advisory classes and integrate activities for students to uncover their strengths as part of career and college readiness programming and offer internships for students to explore careers and strengths.
  2. Leadership through voice and choice Helping students grow into leaders and not followers, participants and not spectators and young adults that transcend doubts from within are critical to student success. Some ideas include monthly student recognition programming and on-the-spot recognition such as Holy Family Academy's Academy Award program. With the Academy Award program, any faculty or staff member can recognize a student at any time as competently demonstrating one of the HFA Mindsets (Problem Solver, Servant Leader, Entrepreneur and Resilient Learner). Additionally, advisory programming and personal learning plans support students by incorporating their strengths, voice and choice and opportunities for growth and help them plan to overcome challenges they might be experiencing academically, with attendance or behavior. Additional ideas incude peer mentoring programs, adopting a restorative practice approach to mediation and after-school support programs to boost self-concept. Last, encourage students to explore and embrace their racial or gender identity. Cultivating a positive self-image, exclusively around race, gender and ethnicity should make a lasting difference in student performance and confidence.
  3. Define success beyond the usual measures  Like many Big Picture Learning affiliated schools, our school, Holy Family Academy measures student success beyond test scores, grades and other traditional indicators. Success is viewed in terms of whether a student has shown persistence in academics, internships, relationship building, civic involvement and positive self-concept. Support systems, advisors and personalized learning approaches have been proven to boost self-concept and character traits necessary to be truly college or career ready (Washor et al., 2008). Allowing students to proceed at their own pace, such as taking college classes in high school or working an extended internship requires more planning but the benefits are worth it. School staff members can help parents and peers be more effective “supporters” by providing suggestions and opportunities for appropriate positive reinforcement, and they can help students learn to be more aware of the support they receive (Harter, 1999). Alternative assessments such as ePortfolios, capstone projects, student-led exhibitions of learning provide another means for studnets to build self-confidence and demonstrate mastery of core academic content as well as 21st century skills. 
Schools can deliberately help to enhance each student's identity and feelings of self-worth when they strategically design programming to help students find their strengths, honor their cultural and ethnic norms, build positive identities, become leaders and measure themselves beyond the traditional high-stakes tests. A strong self-concept opens doors and encourages students to take risks, express their creativity and invest in the work they produce at school while preparing them for post-secondary pathways.

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