By Laura Bickle
Photo: Amanda Smith
When Sara Westbrook was grappling with her parents’ divorce at age 11, her mother enrolled her in a support group, as well as a character development course. “It was comforting to discover that I was not alone and that other people were feeling similar emotions,” says the author, singer and motivational speaker who struggled with low self-esteem. “It made a huge difference in how I felt about myself and how I saw my world, not to mention my ability to bounce back.” That experience — along with several years of being a camp counsellor, and taking leadership and education courses — led her to create UPower, a program that promotes resilience, confidence and mental well-being. Through personal stories and uplifting songs, she has presented to more than 225,000 students, teachers and parents across Ontario since 2008. Here, Westbrook shares the philosophy behind UPower (sarawestbrook.com) and how to apply it in the classroom.
What is UPower’s core message?
U have the Power to choose your actions, reactions and beliefs. We’re not always in control of circumstances but we are in control of our choices. We need to teach our young people how to move through tough emotions in healthy ways, so they can make decisions from a more reliable place.
How can we apply this?
I share a decision-making formula that encourages students to learn the skill of thinking and acting beyond their emotions, to help them make character-based choices. Teachers can easily integrate the formula into their classroom. Not only does it help individuals bounce back from challenges, it allows them to identify and release emotions — so they’re better able to focus on their school work. We’ve also created classroom posters that have five simple questions specifically designed to teach, remind and guide students on how to make character-based choices.
What role do teachers play?
I’m a believer in the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Teachers are a huge part of that village. I have spoken with many educators who believe that teaching is not just about the curriculum — it’s about developing character skills and mental well-being. Teaching these skills results in happier, more receptive students. This makes the task of learning much easier and the job of teaching more rewarding.
Discuss the UPower journal.
The journal helps students express themselves — building their confidence, resilience and mental well-being through the stories, exercises and quotes found inside. For teachers, it helps to foster a personal relationship with their students, allowing them to better understand them and support their personal growth in writing, critical thinking, problem solving and independent thinking.