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The importance of self-esteem in the classroom

Of course, self-esteem is an essential part of life wherever we go, but if you think about it for a moment, the classroom is for most of us the first place where we are out there in the world in an independent capacity. We may be at school and under the loving guidance of a teacher, but schools have a student ecosystem that teachers can never enter, as is evidenced by the bullying that continues to happen in schools today. The teacher cannot possibly have their eyes and ears open to everyone and everything at the same time. It's a jungle out there! We pack our little ones off to school on their first day, and hope and pray that they will get by without being tormented - that they'll be strong enough to withstand any comments or actions that may be made against them in the children pack.

And what happens if they're not? From my long-term experience as a teacher, derisive comments, chasing, physical assault however mild it may appear, ganging up and other forms of bullying are commonplace in schools at all levels. The sensitive child learns to retreat within to a safe space, to find some refuge in the library or in a public place within sight of protection, or to play along with the others and follow the unwritten rules of schoolground acceptance. It's a social tragedy.

The barriers come up, the child sinks within, the open-hearted curious questioning becomes a fear of speaking out or asking anything, and the child is driven by the need just to survive. While my school years were generally positive, I can speak from life experience and say that overcoming emotional fragility can take decades of learning, especially if we come from a family in which emotional intelligence is not part of the daily routine.

Real Life Theatre brings theatre workshops into schools and runs them with the whole class. It's in the modality of Theatre for Living from Canada. Ironically, working in schools is a bit the same as running theatre workshops with a group of professionals in the workplace. People love to play, no matter what their age is, and our workshops are based on fun games and improvisations. In the process of learning theatre skills and developing techniques and confidence for creative expression, we work on a social issue of importance to the participants, like peer group pressure, workplace relationships, social media or family health. The stories come out, they are expressed through the images and plays, and participants begin to see each other in a new light. Common ground is established, teambuilding happens. Social hierarchy can be blown away as people begin to see each other in a new light, with new strengths and sudden-found similarities and understanding, and relationships can change.

For this reason, we claim that our workshops foster inclusion and resilience. A new empathy for others develops in the group, and there is the possibility of connection and relationship as the barriers break down and people discover both personal courage and surprising acceptance of others. Participants are reminded that there are many colours to a community beyond black and white.

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