Affirmations: 30 Years Of Exponential Growth

Affirmations: Yes, my 7th grade Creative Writing/News Letter class was worried when they walked into the classroom. The tables had been moved into a Last Supper formation, and I was especially excited to see them. “I am so excited to see you today! Have a seat around the table.” Four refused. Seated at outlier seats to the right and to the left, they were leery of anything I might consider fun and exciting.  But, as the core team of students began the process of affirmation, the outliers began moving closer, trying to edge into the conversation.

First, I told them about my high school friends and all the notes we had passed during classes– humorous notes, cheering-up notes, dramatic notes, sorry notes, I-heard-you-sneezing-from-down-the-hall-notes, and never-ever-dying-love-for-each-other-notes, all which I had come to believe were the basics of highschool teenage-hood in my time–those crumpled notes, cried over notes, over creased notes. And, a note by a very dear friend of mine who wrote that she was going to write a Love Letter to everybody in the school starting with me.  I am quite certain that before the age of hidden cell phones up the sleeves and tucked in books, passing notes was the core of student communication. The proof is that thirty years after graduation, I still have them tucked away for rainy days, and so do other people I know.

       “So, are we going to pass notes today?” asked one of my more brilliant students.

       “Not yet, first I want to tell you about one of the most interesting teachers I ever had– Bill Taber! Do you know what he used to make us do? We had to meditate on bricks, and crumpled up balls of wire.  Sometimes he would stand on the desks, and once he even made us run around the Main Building in the snow with our socks on! But, one of the most memorable things he made us do was  to make Affirmations.”

     “Miss, was he a hippy? Are you going to make us stare at bricks? Will you make us run around the building in our socks? What’s an Affirmation?”

“Hmmm…no, not a hippy. A Quaker. You only wish I had a brick for you to stare at, and I might just make you run around the building bare-foot next time you can’t settle down.  But, Affirmation…THAT is the key word today!”

I proceeded to tell them that we would go around the table saying a positive thing about someone else at the table.  At first, they didn’t know what to say. One girl asked permission to say something nice about herself.  Then, they were saying, “She’s Nice” “She’s nice” “She’s nice” “She’s nice” and I reminded them that there were also other positive adjectives we could say about each other.  The affirmations got longer, and the outliers moved in to hear better.

 One girl crawled out from under her desk so she could participate.  “What about me, Miss? Can’t I say something?  Can I tell Jasmine that she has nice, long, silky hair?” And she laughed, and Jasmine laughed, and pretty soon everyone had something better than the last to say, until pretty soon one student was pledging her undying friendship to another student, and they were holding their hearts and saying “aaawwww!”

Okay, I thought, this is going over well.  Then, I introduced the next step.  We got a list of all the 7th and 8th graders in our school–154.  We were to divide the list into four parts, and our writing class would break up into groups of 4 and 5.  Each group has a Name Reader and a Note Taker.   The Name Reader reads the name to the small group, and the group discusses this person until they find the best Affirmation.  The Note Taker writes down the Affirmation. In this way, we will come up with a couple of pages of Affirmations for our April Student News Paper.  They will be called the Affirmation Pages. The students were totally excited by it all.  The period was over before we knew it, and they were planning the next period as they walked out of the door.

30 years ago.  30 years ago I went to Olney, a Quaker boarding school in Ohio–a place surrounded by apple trees, farm animals, forests and rolling hills.  It was a place where friendships made, and love found would last a lifetime.  And though, as in all high school back drops, there were dramas, and teenage anti-authoritarian moments, anger, and tears, there was, most clearly, a connection to the most basic human needs–a culture of love, respect, understanding, creativity, and spirit.  There have been times when I have forgotten those gifts in some of the darkest days.  But now, today, after sharing pictures, notes, and laughing, I remember these gifts with such joy–gifts that I have the fortune of sharing with my own students, and they with their friends.  Exponential force.  For these gifts, I want to say thank you.  

Karen K.L. Espaniola

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© Karen K.L.Espaniola and 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Karen K.L. Espaniola and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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