'I know how much they help': Teacher to continue motivational sessions

Affirmation sessions still going strong at Ilford County High School

Naz Akhtar gave pupils at Ilford County High feedback sheets to help him tailor the sessions moving forward. - Credit: Cash Boyle

A teacher has vowed to continue morning affirmation sessions that he is hosting to boost pupils' self-esteem.

Launched in February, Naz Akhtar hosts AM Hustle, a 30-minute booster every weekday morning, which aims to maximise the day ahead at Ilford County High School.

Mr Akhtar invited the Recorder down to an in-person session to show how much AM Hustle is impacting pupils.

Affirmation sessions still going strong at Ilford County High School

Through AM Hustle, teacher Naz Akhtar aims to help the boys develop a growth mindset - namely, one which embraces challenge. - Credit: Naz Akhtar

As many as 100 have turned up for some sessions since they began on February 9. 

Affirmation sessions still going strong at Ilford County High School

The art teacher is joined on the sessions by colleague Aishah Nekiwala, who has been really impressed with how they continue to positively impact pupils. - Credit: Cash Boyle

The sessions aim to build resilience and boost self-esteem through a routine of breathing exercises and meditation, combined with recording gratitude and affirmations.

Two groups of pupils - one year seven, the other year eight - took part. 

Art teacher Mr Akhtar was unable to mix year group bubbles due to Covid restrictions, meaning the session had to be kept smaller than normal.

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The boys were first asked to draw what a growth and fixed mindset means to them.

Developing a growth mindset - one which embraces challenge - is at the heart of the morning sessions, with Mr Akhtar keen to see what the boys have learned.

Affirmation sessions still going strong at Ilford County High School

The Year 8 group at Ilford County High School completing a session as part of Mr Akhtar's AM Hustle. - Credit: Cash Boyle

They were also invited to create vision boards displaying their hopes and dreams for the future.

Year eight pupil Yash Bhatt explained his board to the group: "Here you can see a picture of a nuclear reactor, and this represents that I want to work at The European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), which is an organisation that works with antimatter.

"This is a person running, which shows that I want to be fit and healthy when I grow up. This shows a lot of books; I want to read a lot when I get older, and not lose my love of reading.

"This shows Cambridge University, and it's one of the universities I hope to go to. This represents my religion, and it shows I never want to lose sight of my religious vows, and always stay strong in them.

Affirmation sessions thriving at Ilford County High School

Year 8 pupil Yash Bhatt shared his vision board with the group, and outlined his hopes and dreams for the future. - Credit: Cash Boyle

"This shows a map of the world; I want to travel to lots of countries. And this is a picture of a family, which shows that I never want to lose happiness with my family, and maybe even start a family of my own.

"This is for my friends. It shows that I want to have some good friends who can give me a positive mindset and positive thoughts."

The 13-year-old has been an ever-present at the sessions and said he has found the meditation exercises especially helpful.

Affirmation sessions still going strong at Ilford County High School

The Year 7 group which take part at Mr Akhtar's AM Hustle. - Credit: Cash Boyle

Classmate Moazzan Imran agreed, saying that meditation really helps him "connect with himself".

The final exercise asked pupils to write letters to themselves.

Mr Akhtar hopes these letters - not to be opened until next year - will help the boys "become better versions of themselves by cultivating gratitude and processing life experiences".

Before the bell rang, he steered pupils towards a number of motivational books which have personally inspired him.

Affirmation sessions still going strong at Ilford County High School

Mr Akhtar finished the session by sharing copies of particular books which motivate him with both the Year 7 and Year 8 groups. - Credit: Cash Boyle

With pupils finished for the day, Mr Akhtar had a chance to reflect: "All I want in future is to reach out to as much of our school community as possible as I know how much it’s helping the regulars that have attended 100+ sessions now.

"This is something I never had at school and I want these boys to know that they can put their ego and pride to one side.

"We all become vulnerable from time to time, and emotions are completely valid - it’s just part of life. 

"Our attitude in how we deal with setback and failure is key to shaping futures."

Sessions will continue as long as there is an appetite for them, Mr Akhtar said, adding that he is excited to welcome a new cohort of pupils come September.

Speaking to the Recorder in March, he explained what inspired the initiative: "I think Redbridge kids are special, talented, intelligent. While academics are very important, they also need to have support to promote emotional wellbeing."

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