Updated: Oct 12
In June 2019, I was at a pre-K graduation ceremony in a buzzing elementary school auditorium in Brownsville, Brooklyn, standing awkwardly in the back to avoid taking a seat from a proud parent or family member. This year, emoji-shaped balloons – smiley emojis, crying laughing emojis, cat face emojis – could be seen bobbing up and down in the sea of graduation caps. I watched the pre-K class walk on stage and chant (or more accurately, yell at the top of their little lungs) ParentCorps’ “I Am” Poster from memory. By the end, my face looked like the heart eyes emoji, and the whole audience erupted.
I recently sat down with Lisa Ellrodt, a ParentCorps Educator who helped develop the “I Am” Poster for use in ParentCorps’ social-emotional learning program, to peek behind the curtain at the story behind the poster, and why affirmations can be so powerful for children – and adults.
What inspired you to create an affirmation tool for ParentCorps classrooms?
A few years ago, I stumbled across a video of a Black man and his daughter, and he was doing her hair to get her ready to go to preschool. Once they finished, they started to do a back and forth recitation of an affirmation, and it was clear that this was their routine. It covered everything from how cute her hair was to how smart she was to what a good friend she was, basically affirming the whole person that is this kid. By the end, she was bouncing in her seat, ready to take on the day. It really stuck with me.
How is the poster used in ParentCorps’ social-emotional learning program, Friends School?
There's a lesson in Friends School titled “I am beautiful and special,” which focuses on helping kids to feel beautiful and special on the inside and the outside. This is especially important for Black and brown children who might not see images of themselves in the media, or ones that consistently portray them as beautiful.
We want to send a clear message to children that it’s not just our outsides that make us beautiful, it's what's on the inside and how we interact with our friends and people that we love.
How does that concept of affirmations fit into ParentCorps’ philosophy of building strong adult-child relationships?
Two things stand out to me. At ParentCorps, we strongly believe in the power of relationships. The stronger your relationship is with the child you're working with, the more they're going to be able to hear and internalize not only praise and affirmations you give them, but constructive feedback as well.
It also reminds me of some data we share in our professional development with teachers. Kids around age four are bombarded with up to 400 instructions a day! We think that it's really important to create a balanced environment where the interactions between adults and kids are not solely based on telling kids what to do. In order to build and maintain relationships, children need to feel seen and appreciated. So when adults are in a position to affirm kids – verbally and out loud – it's really impactful.
“In order to build and maintain relationships, children need to feel seen and appreciated. So when adults are in a position to affirm kids – verbally and out loud – it's really impactful.”
I especially love the poster line “When my friends fall, I help them get up!” What inspired that line?
It's really important that we make the idea of community come alive. We start out in Friends School talking a lot about children's individual strengths and helping them build a positive identity, and then we move into what a community is and how we’re stronger together.
This line was inspired by a teacher I met in a Brooklyn school who did a fantastic job of building community in her classroom. She practiced collaboratively coming up with classroom jobs with her students. One child suggested having one of the jobs be bringing tissues to any kid who got hurt or upset and was crying. She took this idea and grew it into probably the most important classroom job, which she deemed “class comforter.” I always keep the idea of community front-of-mind in developing and introducing tools to educators.
During the pandemic, we all needed extra comfort and uplifting. How did ParentCorps adapt this particular tool to meet the needs of families?
Rather than adapt, we tried to make it more accessible and encouraged its use in remote teaching. We were really interested in the ways in which teachers and families could remotely connect in mutually engaged and energized ways.
To build connections remotely, we thought it would be really fun to start the day with a group affirmation for teachers, children, and their parents and caregivers. We encouraged teachers to make that a joint activity, signifying that classrooms were still a community even though they were not sharing physical space.
I think a lot of parents needed some affirmation themselves during the pandemic. Some teachers even said that they would keep a copy of their “I Am” Poster in their car and say it to themselves before they walked in the building. During the pandemic, this was just one small way that I realized the power of affirmations both for kids and adults.
“I think a lot of parents needed some affirmation themselves during the pandemic. Some teachers even said that they would keep a copy of their “I Am” Poster in their car and say it to themselves before they walked in the building.”
So a tool that was originally designed for kids can be used by adults, too?
Absolutely. I think about the “I Am” Poster as a jumping off point for kids and adults. Lately, one of my cultural icons is Lizzo because she brings such positivity to the world. Not only about her body but about how we move through our world, engage in relationships, work with other people, and feel about ourselves inside and out.
The “I Am” Poster is kind of like an invitation to either use these affirmations or make up your own. Parents can do this with their kids or for themselves to get pumped up before going out into the world.
What's your favorite line from the poster?
The last two lines are “I am the only me and I am perfect just the way I am.” I think there are so many things that you can affirm about yourself and about a child that are universal. We all want to be beautiful. We all want to be strong. We all want to be kind. But I like the idea of affirming yourself just because you are the only person who is you, and you bring something special to the world every day.
Head over to the Tools page of the ParentCorps website to check out the “I Am” Poster, and start a daily affirmation for yourself and the children in your life.
Cindy Gray is a ParentCorps Educator.