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Three reasons why self-esteem is essential for dyslexic learners.

Believe in yourself.

I don't think that anyone would disagree that it is important for everyone to have a positive self-esteem in life, and yet, whilst I know that schools and colleges see this as 'an important to have 'for their students, work on improving self-esteem seems to be part of activities rather than with specific focus addressing self-esteem directly.

So why is self-esteem important?

In my experience delivering my group coaching programme in schools called The Career Compass, I have seen students move from a life of having a low opinion of themselves and demonstrating the behaviour that comes from thinking in that way, to knowing what is important to them and being able to articulate that and owning what they want to get from life.  They start to see their own value and live a more authentic life taking responsibility for their actions good and bad.

On one occasion, one of my students was able to decide that he didn't want to revert to his past way of dealing angrily with situations at school and was able to choose a better outcome.  When he fed that back to me, his year manager remarked if the student had chosen to deal with this particular situation in his 'usual way' he would have been expelled. Instead, the student chose not to 'kick off', he apologised and offered to rectify the damage he had done.  Not only had he saved himself from being expelled, but he took control, 'owned' the way that he wanted to live and gained a new level of respect from his teachers.
Added to this, the student, who was a frequent absentee from school, didn't miss a day of school until he left.  He had become more engaged in his education.

That lad left year 11 with a greater sense of positive self-esteem and I genuinely believe that he will deliver a positive impact in society as a result.

So with a specific focus on self-esteem, it is possible to see positive outcomes for our young people.
This cannot be truer for students with dyslexia.  With dyslexia, a student will be at a disadvantage from the get-go and it won't take long for them to realise that maybe their peers are succeeding more, or that for them to have the same level of attainment they probably need to put in ten times more effort.  Education and all that effort are likely to be wearing on the student and that can be detrimental to their self-esteem.

So if schools and colleges can start to bring in a focus on building self-esteem I believe that our dyslexic students will be one of the groups of students who will massively benefit.

Below are three reasons why...

Self-Advocacy.

If we as individuals know what is important to us and believe that we are worth the effort in striving to live in a way that honours what is important to us, then we start to get a sense of what we need to do or what support that we need in order to live like that.

With young people, it is extremely difficult to articulate what is important as often they haven't really worked that out or perhaps are not given the opportunity to express or explore it.  Those young people who do have a good level of self-esteem are more comfortable in stating what they need or getting help as they know they will experience good positive outcomes with that help.  Sadly, a young person with a poor self-esteem is likely to withdraw in the presence of someone who has a good sense of self-esteem who is happily articulating what they need.  In that withdrawal, we as parents or teachers may fail to have the opportunity to help that young person as they have not been heard.  Yet, in that act of 'being heard', the young person will feel valued because they have been given that chance to get what they need.

Self-Direction.

I believe that to be successful in anything we need to be self-directing.  We need to have the ability to get ourselves out of bed in the mornings and fulfil whatever purpose is important to us on that day.  If we are unable to push ourselves then we don't change, we don't grow, we don't go anywhere.

That sense of self-direction comes from an innate need to better ourselves and to reach, as the US psychologist Carl Rogers talked about, self-actualisation.
Rogers believed that we all have an actualising tendency, a tendency to grow in our development which never stops.

Interestingly, an author on motivation, Dan Pink, explores research behind what motivates us and states that the research shows that motivation is linked with the need for mastery and autonomy and not necessarily monetary items.  He quotes a company that would give employees a 'day off' to do whatever they want to do in the workplace provided that they report back on what they learnt from that experience.  He went on to say that, in doing this, employees worked on projects that they were passionate about and came up with excellent ideas for their business which they wouldn't have come up with before without this initiative.
It would seem that by that company getting out of the way of their employees and letting them explore potential, that potential was unlocked.  The employees were motivated to fix problems because it was linked to their own sense of purpose.

Another US psychologist, Abraham Maslow, talked about how if the basic needs in our lives such as safety, food, warmth as well as social acceptance and relationships aren't met, then we would not move towards reaching self-actualisation i.e we would not grow and develop.
If we feel threatened we naturally do what it takes to feel safe at the cost of being creative. If our basic needs are not met then we are unable to come up with ideas or dreams about the future or of what we might envisage that we could be or achieve one day.

In a nutshell, if a dyslexic student doesn't get the key ingredients that will help them to grow and develop, then they will lose hope and with that their sense of self-esteem drops.
The more hope that we have about the future the more we push forward, believe in ourselves and ultimately realise positive outcomes.

If you are a teacher or parent, could I kindly challenge you to consider what you might be doing that might make it harder for a dyslexic student to believe in themselves and seek to develop?  Maybe the question is about what you are not doing to nurture that self-esteem?

In my dealings with independent school, St David's in Llandudno, I have seen first hand how they care deeply about their student's self-esteem and seek to help each one see their own potential and 'what could be' through a teaching approach that is nurturing and non-judgemental. An approach that also recognises 'soft skills' and seeks to put students into circumstances that nurture all their skills, not just the academic ones.  By being given the space to explore one's strengths and put them to good use, students believe in themselves more despite experiencing quite challenging barriers to education through having dyslexia or other Special Educational Needs.  For St David's to be able to achieve this they have needed to incorporate a focus on boosting self-esteem and treat it as one the of the primary requirements to having a successful education.  With this extra effort, the students become more engaged and build up a momentum of self-direction which leads them onto successful next steps.


Not everyone can afford for their kids to go to an independent school such as St David's, but I believe that schools need to adjust their ethos and mindset to bring back that focus on self-esteem.  It is often quoted in school mottos but sometimes it doesn't always translate into the day to day lives of their students.

Better Educational Outcomes.

So with children and young people who have faith in their abilities and hope for the future, we should see a rise in engagement in school.
By tackling one's lack of self-esteem at an early stage in their academic lives, we should be able to see a correlation with engagement.
Engagement is a self-driven mindset that is based on a child or young person seeing school or college as a 'leg up' for their future aspirations rather than seeing school as a threat of some sort.
Obviously, in having a good sense of self-esteem, one's dyslexia is not cured.  Indeed it may be that the barriers to education may be felt more intensely as they are more hungry to progress, but the child is more likely to ask for help with that (self-advocacy) as they are motivating themselves to get what they need to fulfil their own sense of purpose.  As a child seeks to honour their own sense of purpose, we should start to see better outcomes in school or college IF the right conditions are in place to allow them to get there.

I am amazed that the UK Government cannot see the link between barriers to education and behaviour enough to put more funding into education at an earlier level for children with Special Educational Needs when we know that successful educational outcomes mean less exclusion and better career opportunities.  Incidents of dyslexia amongst prison inmates are high, surely funding being spent earlier in the life of a child to support dyslexia would mean savings nationally in other parts of society?

Click the banner below to download a useful e-book on what works in teaching children with SEN from the experience of the SEN Team at St David's College, The Cardogan Centre.


 Download this SEN e-book from St David's College.

This article is a sponsored article by St David's College in Llandudno.

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