Writing for The 74, Patrick Cook-Deegan shares four tips for helping students develop strong, positive identities. Excerpts of the piece appear below:
No matter the subject they teach, all educators share a common cause: supporting students to build agency and purpose.
To accomplish this goal, they must give students the opportunity to holistically develop their identities. With a strong sense of identity, young people are better able to focus on what matters to them and better prepare for personal and academic growth. What’s more, identity work is a powerful way to address historic inequities in education and support students in finding a sense of belonging.
Identity formation and exploration is a key component of the Project Wayfinder curriculum, as it is foundational to understanding one’s place in the world. Here are four reasons why identity work should be a part of every teacher’s efforts in the classroom:
1. Students must feel fully seen to thrive.
Historical approaches that embrace only certain parts of students’ identities contribute to the oppression of already marginalized students. In a 2017 study of racial inequality in K-12 schools, researchers named colorblindness as one of the most pervasive forms of ongoing systemic racism in American education.
2. Creating identity-safe classrooms supports belonging.
To understand how they want to make an impact on the world, young people must first believe they have a place within it. A strong sense of belonging is crucial to providing the support needed to live a purposeful, fulfilling life.
3. Positive identity formation mitigates stereotype threat.
When people are put in situations in which they feel they risk confirming stereotypes about one or more groups to which they belong, they face stereotype threat. Initial studies on stereotype threat showed that Black students performed more poorly on standardized tests than their white peers when race was emphasized, but that their performance met or exceeded that of their white peers when it wasn’t. Further studies have since demonstrated similar effects based on stereotypes around other social groups.
4. Developing connection to identity supports students in crafting purposeful lives.
In high schools today, most teens associate their academic work with feelings of boredom and exhaustion, which highlights an alarming lack of purpose. In contrast, a strong sense of purpose has been associated with self-esteem, achievement and behaviors that benefit others.
Students who feel a sense of purpose in their work also tend to have stronger academic engagement and stronger self-regulation, leading to higher academic achievement overall.