So often we hear how we must fill one another’s buckets, to be kind to each other, to treat others like we would want to be treated….but rarely, if ever, do we think to do the same for ourselves.

At the start of the year, I asked my students to apply for classroom jobs. Along with their application, they were required to provide me with a resume and a cover letter detailing their strengths and accomplishments. The cover letter proved to be the single most difficult task my students were ever asked to complete and not because of format, but because they couldn’t provide even one thing they thought was a strength was about themselves. I gave them suggestions from what I knew of them over the past two years, had parents weigh in and even had their peers discuss, yet I quickly realized that it didn’t matter if the whole world told them they were amazing, it meant nothing if they themselves didn’t believe it.

Over the past few years, I have been doing my own research on self-esteem, self-confidence and self-love because its something that I even in adulthood still struggle with. I grew up believing that in order to be loved, I needed the approval and the love of others. I didn’t know that I could be capable of providing myself with the same love I provided others. I was so focused on ensuring everyone else around me was always lifted and loved, that when I experienced one of the most devastating life experiences, my bucket was empty, there was no one to fill it and I realized I had to learn to fill it myself.

With all of this in mind, I wanted to start 2016 with a focus on filling our own bucket. I looked through our Health curriculum and created a unit on self-affirmations which targets the following outcomes:

  • examine how health habits/behaviours influence body image and feelings of self-worth
  • recognize that individuals can choose their own emotional reactions to events and thoughts
  • expand strategies for effective personal management; e.g., develop and implement a personal budget, assess the power of positive thinking
  • evaluate the impact of personal behaviour on the safety of self and others

I started my class off by gathering in a small circle and having a discussion on perception. We talked about the difference between real life and life portrayed on social media, we looked at before and after photos of photoshopped celebrities, we talked about societal expectations and how we can continue to be our true self.

As a middle years teacher, these discussions are crucial and I quickly realized the severe importance when we started talking about the inner negative voices we hear day in and day out that tell us we can’t do something, that we need to be this or that, or that we will never be what we want to be. I passed around the same colour sticky notes and had them take some time and anonymously write down some of the things they say to themselves on a daily basis.

What followed next was beyond what I ever expected. I asked them if they wanted me to read them out loud so they can know they aren’t alone and they all said yes. As I started to unfold the papers and read what they had written, I was heartbroken. At 11 years of age, they had already absorbed society’s expectations on how their bodies should be, how unworthy they are of love, how not good enough they think they are at everything, and the most reoccurring theme : Where can I go where everything is perfect? PERFECT….I read this word over and over.

I was so taken aback that I started to cry mid-reading which led some of my students to cry with me. To me, they are “perfect” in every way possible because they are all unique and bring so much of who they are to our classroom. I told them that the reason I am crying is because to me they are none of what they wrote about themselves, that I value each and every one of them and I wouldn’t want a single thing about them to change.

They were shocked to know that everyone else has these negative thoughts too and yet they would never think that way about one another. My reminders of to always be kind to one another really hit home because now they knew that their peers were also carrying these negative self-images of themselves around and they didn’t need to add to it.

Now that we know these thoughts are there, the next step is to challenge them with questioning their validity and logic, to put them into perspective, create goals and to start countering them with positive self-affirmations daily. We will brainstorm and each student will create their own meaningful personal self-affirmation every week. We will focus on these during our meditation time every day and save them in our own buckets (mason jars).

I don’t have the solutions, but I am hoping that by providing them with the strategies and awareness that they can and should love themselves before relying on the love of others, that they may have a head start as they get closer to those even harder teenage years. I want for them to value themselves for the amazing human beings that they are and for the joy they bring their families and our classroom community.