Academic self-esteem

academic-selfconcept-I hope you enjoyed the recent holiday break, were able to have a relaxing time and catch up with family and friends.  Holidays that include time at the beach remind me of a walk with my son during one of our family holidays.  I should mention that my son is now an adult.  At the time of this walk on the beach, he had been spending a lot of time in libraries as he completed his postgraduate studies; however he was (and still is) very fit and active and had just returned from hiking in the Himalayas.

My idea of a walk on the beach is a quiet stroll, enjoying the view and a chat with a companion.  My son had a very different idea.  I am not as fit as I should be and I was struggling to keep up within the first few minutes.  This didn’t deter my son, who challenged me to walk faster and told me it would be good for my cardiovascular fitness.  The beach seemed particularly long that day; there were times when I fell behind and he dropped back to urge me on.  I was a bit too puffed to be able to talk much and there were moments when I wasn’t sure I would be able to complete the walk.  It wasn’t the most enjoyable experience of the holidays, and at the end of the walk I felt quite miserable about my lack of fitness. However, the experience did prompt me to review my performance and I resolved to undertake a more rigorous exercise regime to improve my level of fitness.

B-report-cardsI think that walk on the beach is somewhat like the experience that students could be encountering at this time.  Many capable students have been able to ‘stroll’ through school without expending much effort.  Suddenly the pace and academic rigour has increased significantly and some students may be feeling uncomfortable or stressed by a sudden change in their educational experience.  Students may have been feeling rather miserable around exam time; a few might even be wondering whether they will be able to keep up.

Research undertaken by Professor Miraca Gross (UNSW) indicates that students at NSW selective high schools tend to experience a temporary dip in their academic self-esteem when they enter a selective school environment.  Many of these students have achieved at high levels in a non-selective environment and find the skewed student population and increased academic rigour in a selective school very confronting.  This dip in academic self-esteem reflects the students’ reassessment of their abilities in the context of their new school environment.

self-esteemThe good news is that this dip in academic self-esteem is temporary. Students soon regain a healthy academic self-esteem as they develop a range of skills and increased confidence in their ability to tackle a more rigorous academic programme.  This research also found that other aspects of students’ self-esteem (e.g. social self-esteem) remained high or increased upon entering a selective school environment.  When discussing exam results and reports, please remember that first term has involved a significant transition for many existing and new students as they are required to ‘step up’ to the next level.  Academic results may reflect existing abilities and vigorous academic endeavours or these results could be an indication that there is a need for students to focus on developing specific skills that will enable them to thrive in a more rigorous academic environment.  Students intending to achieve well won’t experience a ‘stroll on the beach’. They can enjoy that stroll during holidays.  Students will encounter a fast-paced, academically challenging environment where they can develop intellectual rigour, academic talents and healthy academic self-esteem.

© Michele Juratowitch
michele@clearingskies.com.au