HomeVolume 7December 2022 U matter

NICOLE CARTER is Michigan’s “High School Principal of the Year, 2022.” Nicole and two of her students, LINA IYER and PRIYA IYER, share how they have been ensuring that Novi High School is a place where students feel they belong.

“Keep your face to the sunshine, and you cannot see a shadow.”
Helen Keller

NC: Fostering positivity and creating opportunity for self-care in schools can help the school community rise above challenges. As the principal of Novi High School, Michigan, I have the responsibility of setting a positive tone, and developing a school culture where students feel seen, heard, and valued.  

I use intentionality to inspire students, staff, and the community. We begin every day with “It’s another great day to be a Novi Wildcat.” This simple phrase reminds everyone how special it is to be a member of this incredible learning community.

We strive to make our large, comprehensive high school feel small by incorporating an advisory circle practice every Tuesday. Developing a safe, secure learning environment lends to the social and emotional well-being of our students. We prioritize it at the same level as academics. Studies show that students who feel they belong achieve a higher level of success. 

Fostering positivity has significant and impactful benefits on the mind. It creates a sense of optimism and self-encouragement. MRI scans of the brain show evidence of increased neural pathways and brain usage where neural activity has increased as a benefit of practicing positive affirmations to foster happiness.

The results from a research study conducted by the Palo Alto Research Center and the Computer Science Department of the University of California at Santa Cruz, on fostering positivity, concluded that individuals who were initially self-affirmative completed a larger percentage of their goals compared with those who had no initial self-affirmation.

Fostering positivity has significant and
impactful benefits on the mind.
It creates a sense of optimism
and self-encouragement.

How can we foster positivity in our lives?

LI and PI: One way is through positive affirmations – statements and phrases that empower and support us. By practicing self-affirmation, we can look at our different aspects in a positive way. We also become better at adjusting to new situations.

Positive affirmations can be used to motivate yourself, encourage positive changes in your life, and boost your self-esteem by describing how you want to be, or how you want your circumstances to be. 

For instance, heartful affirmations can be used to strengthen the positive traits of the heart. These affirmations help you become centered, relaxed, and open. When you connect internally, you are better able to connect externally to everyone and everything around you. 

Keep a Gratitude Journal to write about things or people that you are grateful for. You will focus more on the positive aspects of your life. There is no wrong way to do it! Writing for just 15 minutes a few times a week and being consistent about it will have a significant impact on your life.

When you connect internally,
you are better able to connect externally
to everyone and everything around you.

U matter

At our school, we try to foster positivity and self-care through the Student Mental Health Committee, which began in 2016 with the support of our principal, Ms. Nicole Carter. It spreads awareness about mental health among our student community, and increases a sense of compassion among students, to reduce the social stigma surrounding mental illness, and to help the students maintain physical, mental, and emotional balance.

One of the main events we hold every year is the “U Matter Week.” It is a week filled with activities so that the staff and students feel like they are the priority. Throughout the week, each day has a theme that represents an idea about mental wellness. This, in turn, serves to raise awareness.

Mental health

We conduct a multitude of activities, at lunchtime and after school, to help students relieve stress and maintain physical, emotional, and mental well-being. These activities include tying friendship bracelets, playing with puppies, and listening to motivational speakers.   

This year, we ended our week with the “Crush the Stigma” event. Students wrote down their stressors, challenges, and things that were weighing on them on three cars. Eventually, they saw the cars crushed at the end of the week. The purpose of this event was to help students anonymously vent things that were bothering them.

After the Oxford shooting last year(at a neighboring school), many students had difficulty managing the new level of anxiety. They felt uneasy coming to school. We wanted to do something, so we held a Self-care Week, which gave students the time and opportunity to try out different mental health activities. We also encouraged them to try out Heartfulness tools. 

Earlier this year, we conducted an Institutional Review Board approved study at our school to explore the impact of self-care programs on students and staff; to see the effects of these programs on anxiety, life satisfaction, and loneliness, using widely accepted scales. A total of 44 individuals participated.

The study showed a significant decrease in levels of anxiety and loneliness, as well as increased life satisfaction scores in those trying the Heartfulness tools from weeks 0 to 4,and this was maintained through weeks 4 to 8. In the control group, there were no significant changes from weeks 0 to 4, but a significant decrease in the levels of anxiety and loneliness and increase in life satisfaction scores from weeks 4 to 8. 

Looking ahead

We are looking forward to working with our school community, and inspiring other schools to enhance the learning experience of every student, while giving them a safe, positive, and caring environment in which to grow.


Cascio, C.N., M.B. O’Donnell, F.J. Tinney, M.D. Lieberman, S.E. Taylor, V.J. Strecher, E.B. Falk, 2016. Self-affirmation activates brain systems associated with self-related processing and reward and is reinforced by future orientation. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci.Apr, 11(4):621-9. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsv136. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4814782/

Springer, A., A. Venkatakrishnan, S. Mohan, L. Nelson, M. Silva, P. Pirolli, 2018.
Leveraging Self-Affirmation to Improve Behavior Change: A Mobile Health App Experiment. JMIR Mhealth Uhealth, 6(7):e157. doi: 10.2196/mhealth.9151 


Nicole Carter, Lina Iyer, and Priya Iyer

Nicole Carter, Lina Iyer, and Priya Iyer

Nicole has 23 years of experience in education. Her drive comes from her commitment to providing the best quality education for all students at Novi High School and beyond. She was honored as the Michigan Secondary Principal of the Year in ... Read More