Gaggle Speaks

Ideas, news, and advice for K-12 educators and administrators to help create safe learning environments.

Written by Niknesha Hairston
on August 7, 2023

As a teacher of eight years, I noticed the classroom has changed since the pandemic. The lack of “school connectedness” is extremely detrimental. According to the CDC, “Youth who felt connected to adults and peers at school were significantly less likely than those who did not to report persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness (35% vs. 53%); that they seriously considered attempting suicide (14% vs. 26%); or attempted suicide (6% vs. 12%).” These statistics show that there is a direct correlation between students feeling connected at school and their mental health. 

As an educator, I found ways to support students post-pandemic and one way that made a tremendous impact was through the integration of social-emotional learning (SEL). This may have become a buzzword in the educational space, but really is extremely important. According to the Committee for Children, “Social-emotional learning (SEL) is the process of developing the self-awareness, self-control, and interpersonal skills that are vital for school, work, and life success.” I believe students need to be provided SEL opportunities to engage in their community as well as their education. 

Over the years, I included various SEL activities in my lessons such as Paired/Group seating, Think/Pair/Share, Greeting students at the door, Socratic Seminars, Student Self-evaluations, Student Choice, Brain Breaks, Restorative Circles, and Exit tickets. These activities seemed to provide an increase in student’s emotional banks before the pandemic but after the pandemic, these activities just didn’t seem to be enough. I wanted to do more not just for my students but for all students. Thus, this goal led me to create a new curriculum entitled Who Am I: The Discovery of the Self Through Poetry

When I was 12 years old my parents divorced. My mom decided she wanted to make a new start for our family so she moved me and my siblings to a new town. With one quick sweep, I lost my dad, house, friends, and school. I didn’t know how to handle all of these changes. I began to act out at my new school and I was quickly sent to the school psychologist who gave me a small notebook and suggested I write down my feelings. This notebook allowed me to write down all of my emotions in different formats. Poetry was the format I liked the most, the one that allowed me to express all my feelings. It was an excellent outlet for me, one that I still use today. This journey inspired me to write my own poetry book with the hope of helping students. 

While this is my own personal journey with poetry, research also shows that writing or reading poetry can be beneficial to adolescents dealing with an illness or some sort of adversity. A 2021 study done by doctors at the Rhode Island Hospital/Hasbro Children’s Hospital found “that providing opportunities for them (hospitalized children) to read and write poetry reduced their fear, sadness, anger, worry, and fatigue.” (Chung, Delamerced, Monteiro, and Panicker, 2021) 

Another study was done by Brillantes-Evangelista who “investigated the effectiveness of visual arts and poetry as interventions in alleviating symptoms of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among adolescents with a history of abuse. This study showed that the visual arts and poetry interventions helped the adolescents address their issues, make sense of their lives, and create positive alternative stories for themselves.” (Brillantes-Evangelista, 2013). 

Through this curriculum, students are given the opportunity to express their own emotional lives, especially at a time when they may suffer from alienation and loneliness. 

The 18 poetry lessons in Who Am I: The Discovery of the Self Through Poetry contain carefully selected target questions where students dive deeper into discovering who they are by expressing themselves in different forms of poetry such as Nonet, Contronym, and Blackout. For example, in the Blackout poem lesson, students must write a blackout poem answering the target question: “What do you like to do for fun?” Students write a poem about something they like to do for fun such as a poem about video games, basketball, or soccer. They then use that poem to create their own poem about how they feel about this activity. Through this lesson, students not only learn how to create a blackout poem but also learn about tone and how that can be used to express their feelings in writing. 

My hope in creating this curriculum is that it gives students another outlet to express their emotions and leads them to a healthier mental health status, all while improving their writing skills.



Delamerced, Anna, et al. “Effects of a Poetry Intervention on Emotional Wellbeing in Hospitalized Pediatric Patients.” Publications.Aap.Org, 1 Mar. 2021 

Brillantes-Evangelista, Grace. “An Evaluation of Visual Arts and Poetry as Therapeutic Interventions with Abused Adolescents.” The Arts in Psychotherapy, 7 Dec. 2012


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