The Power of Positive Affirmations

Lindsey King, Eighth-Grade English Teacher
In pop culture and trendy workout groups, the word “affirmation” is hot right now. Everywhere you look you can find media on “Positive Affirmations to Repeat for Success.” And while I do often affirm myself with phrases like “I am grounded” and “I am joyful” as little positive reminders, I think this current trend misses a big opportunity by spending more time teaching people how to send those affirmations inward rather than learning how to turn that affirmation outward toward others. It’s certainly valuable for me to cling to those inspirational positive phrases that help me stay centered but, at the same time, I feel so much more connected when I am able to give that affirmation to someone else.

This year is my sixth year at Girls Preparatory School and, I have to admit, having both attended and taught in coed education all my life, I was really nervous about coming to an all-girls school. When I told people that I got the job here, I heard the stereotypical comments from those outside the community along the lines of, “You’re brave—girls can be so mean to each other.” I was irked by this comment but, what’s more, I knew it to be a false perception of a single story, and I set my intentions to highlight and encourage the powerful sisterhood that I know comes from this environment. 

Every year, on day one, I build my classroom community around the power of affirmation—yes, affirmation of themselves as individuals (adolescence is hard), but more importantly we shift that focus outward toward their peers. To affirm, I tell them, is more than a compliment; it is to say “I see you.” Affirmation is more about offering support to let someone know who they are and how they show up to a space is valuable. Affirmation, I tell them, is not in what you get, but what you give to others. 

Throughout the year, they are tasked to write an affirmation note to someone who said or did something in class that made a difference in their day. Every year I have girls who immediately jump at the opportunity, and then I watch it grow as those who receive affirmations get excited to affirm someone else. They will lift each other up with comments such as: “I really needed that hug yesterday—thank you.” or “I wasn’t going to share my writing with the class until you shared yours—thank you.” or “You were really brave for what you did yesterday, and I wanted you to know I saw it and was grateful.” 

In reminding our class to stay focused on giving those affirmations, I watch their perceptions change from a comparative view and looking inward at themselves to looking outward for actions or attitudes to praise in other people. When our class focuses on lifting each other up for the small things, it reinforces that connection we all have with each other and reminds the girls that each person matters and belongs here.

I firmly believe that if we—as teachers, community members, families, peers—really look at each other and ask ourselves, “How can I affirm them today?” we will find we have a lot more positivity to share and room to grow together.