Your self-concept forms the foundation for your interaction with the world: your personal and academic relationships grow and change because of your shifting perceptions. Educators can use assessment tools and student reflection practices to encourage the development of self-efficacy and a congruent self-image, which both support improved social and emotional functioning during times of stress. 

Self-Concept: A Brief Definition

A person’s self-concept consists of at least four related yet distinct conceptions of the self. All four explain an individual’s evaluation of the relationship between perceived characteristics or abilities.

  • Self-esteem: your perception of personal worth or value, either internally or by others, is often established as early as age five.
  • Self-image: an internal assessment of your present self that may not align with reality, skewed perception of traits can occur through personal experience.
  • Ideal self: the set of characteristics toward which you work, which can change based on adaptations to the other two components.

Since the late twentieth century, educators and policy-makers have spent copious time and energy understanding and building children’s self-esteem in school. While Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, published in 1943, establishes self-esteem as one of the building blocks to academic success, modern application of the theory may be conflating the term with either self-actualization or self-efficacy.

Self-Efficacy: The Perception of Ability

The American Psychological Association defines self-efficacy as the judgment or perception of your abilities. Assessment of students’ self-efficacy may yield more valuable data for driving instruction. If students believe they can work towards success, they will show greater willingness to attempt challenging tasks, even when failure remains possible.

This approach forms the basis for Carol Dweck’s theory of growth-minded learning. A fixed mindset, according to Dweck, restricts students’ ability to learn from mistakes and inhibits the development of a congruent self-image. Instead, students should reflect upon their successes and failures with a growth mindset so they can make decisions about ways to move forward. Creating a growth mindset requires self-awareness, which educators can encourage with appropriate instruction and assessment tools.

Self-Actualization: The Primary Aim of Education

Self-actualization operates as an effect of “grit,” which prominent researcher Angela Duckworth defines as “the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals.” Students can strengthen their self-efficacy and thereby increase their grit.

More grit leads to more significant gains in self-actualization and congruence between self-image and reality. A more congruent self-image may lead to improved academic performance, as students can learn to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses honestly. Students then find the intrinsic motivation to take risks academically and accept failure as part of the process of learning, not as an indictment of their inherent abilities.

Assessing Self-Concept: A Path to Improved Social and Emotional Functioning

Educators can incorporate self-awareness scales to support their students’ emotional and social development. Students with a clear sense of self can interact with peers and adults with greater confidence and extend it to their learning ability. Learn more at WPS about how to help kids in school using tools to assess self-concept, so students can discover the intrinsic motivation they need to work towards success and emotional health.