The Weight Of Words

A Leave No Girl Behind Discussion: Education and empowerment in the classroom


A contribution to Leave No Girl Behind by LouAnne Johnson

One of the most difficult assignments I gave to my high school sophomores was one that I learned from a psychology professor: Stand in front of a mirror, look at yourself, and say, “I am an intelligent, talented person” without laughing. Most of the girls in my classes were unable to say the words; some were unable to even look at themselves. They blushed and giggled and whispered. It took several days for some, weeks for others, but eventually every one of those girls was able to make eye contact and repeat the affirmation. And the seeds planted by those simple words blossomed. Those girls, labeled “at-risk” and “unteachable” by the school system, went on to graduate. Today, their professions include stock broker, artist, lactation coach, systems analyst, artist, social worker, mortgage loan officer.

LouAnne Johnson is a writer, teacher, former United States Navy journalist and Marine Corps Officer. Her teaching methods have had a profound impact on her students. She is the author of several books, including Dangerous Minds (which was made into a 1995 box office hit movie), Muchacho, and Teaching Outside the Box. She has also appeared on several TV shows such as Oprah and CNN, and has presented keynote and commencement address to numerous organizations.

Steps teachers can take to empower their students:

  1. Make your classroom a “positive only” zone where you and every student are only allowed to contribute in a positive and constructive way and no negative talk about anyone is permitted.
  2. Every day, let one of your students read a self-talk, with the class repeating their words, eg. “I am a winner. I am special. I am worthy. I believe in myself.”
  3. Read something inspiring to your students every day or have them watch an inspiring video clip that they can relate to.
  4. Ask “real-life heroes” to speak to your students – people in the community who are making a difference or who overcame the odds to contribute to their world. Allow your students to ask them questions.
  5. Start an LNGB Power Circle where you are able to foster discussions about issues pertinent to your students, give them an opportunity to explore new activities, increase their confidence, develop leadership skills and connect with mentors worldwide.