Las Vegas Sun

March 3, 2024

GUEST COLUMN:

How to inspire children and community hope

The persistence of COVID has caused fear, anxiety and uncertainty about the future ­— significantly disrupting students’ learning. Extended school closures that began in spring 2020 interrupted learning routines and prevented students from connecting with classmates and friends, an experience critical to a child’s development. It was no surprise, then, that at the start of the 2021-22 school year, the pandemic had resulted in lowered student engagement and performance, as well as diminished social and emotional well-being. Students worried, especially about their families; one of my fifth-grade students shared that her mother was having a hard time finding a job and was feeling stressed.

In response to my students’ traumatic experiences of loss, grief, and food and housing insecurity, I implemented daily affirmations at the start of our day to build students’ positive self-image, and cultivate confidence, motivation and self-awareness.

Affirmations are words or phrases that are used to elicit a positive state of mind in the listener. Words and ideas are very powerful, and they have the ability to make or break us. They can be used to confront and overcome self-defeating and negative thoughts and behaviors. We repeat them often and believe in them in order to bring about good changes in our lives, which helps to reduce the impacts of stress.

My scholars are now taking control of their affirmation by pushing themselves to come up with one of their own. Some of my students’ examples are, “If you fail, it’s not because of your brain, it’s your actions,” and “Even if you fail, you can still try.”

My students read and recite positive affirmations to inspire a growth mindset and foster confidence. Students with a such a mindset believe they can improve and grow. Affirmations proved to increase self-esteem and confidence, and to be a powerful way to help them have more positive perspectives.

Three ways I implement affirmations include encouraging positive self-talk, cultivating community and inspiring connection.

Encourage positive self-talk. I encourage and remind students daily to practice their affirmations to counter feelings of discouragement or sadness and practice self-compassion. Self-talk plays an essential role in our self-esteem, confidence, and ability to set and achieve goals. Positive self-talk becomes simpler and more natural with practice. Modeling empathy and resilience provides students with a way to cope with anxiety and significantly improves their lives. Teachers should emphasize these skills alongside reading, writing, math, science and social studies. One quiet student said, “I am in charge of my happiness. I use this affirmation when I am feeling down or sad.”

Cultivate hope within the classroom community. Students write affirmations to classmates through the classroom discussion board or class padlet. I challenge students to create affirmations to build hope for themselves and their families within our classroom community, which they share with others. One student shared her affirmations with her family, specifically her mother, telling her that she believed in her. They celebrated together when her mother was recently hired. We engage in positive interactions as students learn to navigate intercultural relationships with curiosity, humility, kindness and respect. Our classroom community encourages students to be kind, empathetic and compassionate. Writing and developing individual affirmations strengthens students’ identities and beliefs, further deepening our individual and collective hope and classroom community.

Inspire connection. COVID left many children feeling isolated from extended family and friends. We share our affirmations within the classroom, as well as with our school community, as we persevere through the pandemic. Students’ affirmations are shared with families and school communities through our class website. They take pride in seeing their affirmations online. One student shared proudly, “Each day, I (write) a daily affirmation in my notebook. I (do) this because I (don’t) want to forget any of them; I am up to number 71. I take my notebook with me wherever I go. When I see a homeless person or someone in my family is sad, I go to my notebook and find an affirmation to inspire them.” As challenging times persist for our students and their families, we foster hope in our children that they, in turn, share with others.

Cultivating and sharing affirmations gives my students hope that they share with others. Together, we have a significant impact on who we are as a classroom community.

We have that same impact on our school and our families. We are empowered to provide compassion in a space where there is significant uncertainty. We teach self-compassion and compassion for others, while fostering hope. I am committed to providing all students opportunities to realize their potential to build hope and empathy. I encourage all educators and families to consider how affirmations can inspire hope in their classrooms and homes. It is what each of our students deserves.

Gail Hudson is a fifth-grade teacher at Hummel Elementary School in Clark County School District in southern Nevada. She is a Teach Plus Nevada Policy Fellow.