Teachers' and Students' Understandings of how Self Worth is Influenced in the Learning Environment: a New Zealand Context
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMasters of Teaching and Learning
The aim of this qualitative case study is to identify how teachers and students perceive students’ self worth to be influenced in the learning environment and examine the similarities and differences in the way teachers and students described these influences.
Implications for classroom practice are identified. Semi-structured interviews were conducted to collect data from four teachers and four focus groups of students aged 12-13 years from two different schools. Data was analysed using a thematic approach that allowed for identification of similarities and differences in teachers’ and students’ responses and provided a structure for discussion.
On analysis of the findings it is evident that aspects of the learning environment and interactions students have within the learning environment have the potential to influence students’ self worth. Findings indicate that students who appear to have good self worth seem to find the learning environment a positive place to be. Good self worth is characterised by strong perceptions of ability, achievement related behaviour and positive social interactions. Poor self worth appears to be influenced by what students perceive to be under achievement with, in some instances, a relationship to negative prior experiences related to under achievement. Under achievement seems to impact on the students’ conscious decision to employ a variety of avoidance-related behaviours in an attempt to limit incidences of failure in front of peers.
Findings suggest that there are four main areas of influence on students’ self worth that relate to: achievement, teacher qualities, teacher strategies and connections made with significant other people such as parents/guardians and coaches. Positive self worth appears to be strongly connected to academic achievement in a reciprocal manner where each influences the other. The socio-cultural influences such as positive teacher and peer relationships and support of significant others, teacher strategies including pedagogical approach and supportive learning environments /communities that promote a sense of safety and belonging are described as fundamental to the development of self worth.
This study discusses the need for schools to provide opportunities for holistic development where students can grow through social, emotional, ethical and academic learning experiences in a socially emotionally and physically safe learning environment. Learner-centred or self-directed pedagogical approaches to teaching and learning appear to provide a basis on which to meet the holistic needs of students. It is clear however that the effect of more empowering pedagogical approaches is influenced heavily by the teachers’ personal and professional approaches to meeting the needs of their students. This study shows that self worth is more likely to be enhanced when students feel empowered and involved in the learning process and understand their responsibility within the learning process. Teacher practice and students’ response to the learning environment can be greatly enhanced through the use of critical reflective strategies that allow teachers and students to become more knowledgeable about each other and the influences of the learning environment.
Finally, evidence suggests that self worth is enhanced by a humanistic philosophy. This philosophy seems to underpin positive relationships and other socio-cultural characteristics of the classroom learning environment that enhance self worth. This is consistent with the philosophical framework of the New Zealand Curriculum(2007).
Findings suggest that, if implemented authentically and with understanding this curriculum can provide a strong basis for enhancing students’ self worth and achievement, and meet the all round needs of students as people, through an ethic of care.