Today, for the first time in about a week, because of the snow day, I had the chance to write in my gratefulness journal. What was on today’s list? A laugh I had with my mother, the loving hug I got from a coworker, the generosity of a friend in making me a lovely cup of tea, and the bright vivacious personality of a young client I saw recently.
I started keeping a gratefulness journal years ago, when, as a new teacher, I was coming home every night feeling exhausted and depleted. I don’t remember if I was familiar with the book at the time but the recent gratefulness movement in the US was largely inspired by Sarah Ban Breathnach’s 2009 book, Simple Abundance. Reportedly, one of the book’s devoted fans is none other than Oprah Winfrey who cites Ms. Ban Breathnach’s book as the reason that she keeps her own gratefulness journal.
So, how does this apply to teachers?
In my workshops we talk about reversing the “negativity bias”, an evolutionary inclination that we have to look for the ‘negative’ in our environment. Evolutionarily, this bias was useful in keeping us safe by allowing us to notice what was out of place in our environment. By focusing on the negative around us today though, we may unintentionally end up making those around us feel that their positive traits are being ignored. Cutting edge research however, (see New York Times article below) points to gratefulness as the key component in allowing us to see the positive in our environment, essentially by creating more neural pathways that foster positive thinking.
Bringing gratefulness to the classroom may be a formal practice but it may also mean being grateful in that moment, maybe for a shy smile, for a student’s courageousness in daring to put themselves out there during a presentation, or maybe simply for their joyous, exuberant presence (which can sometimes make you nuts!)
When we bring a grateful lens to our classrooms and schools, three things happen
- Despite the actual events of the day, when we take time to be aware of and feel grateful for the positive moments, we cultivate a receptive, optimistic and thankful attitude in ourselves. This is an act of self-care in what can be a very stressful job.
- Because of the nature of paying focused attention to capture each possible moment of joy, gratefulness practice helps with the ability to be more present in each moment. Present teachers are engaged teachers.
- When we take the time to be grateful with students, they transform! As we change the way we orient towards them with an attitude of gratefulness, they begin to respond to this new, more positive image by altering their own attitudes, to mirror back the positive traits that you are recognizing in them.
Here’s some tips on try out these gratefulness techniques in your classrooms/schools
- Experiment with starting out your day by having students write or journal about a few things they are grateful for that day. As we know, so many of our kids come to school without the essentials they need or are coming from broken homes or violent environments. Taking the time to shine a little bit of light on the positive can start their day off right and build inner resilience, a hugely important determinant in their current (and future) success.
- Try keeping a notepad in your desk and at the end of the day, spend a few moments jotting down moments that you were grateful for (i.e. Today I am grateful for Jadin’s excitement over his painting, Carlos’ thank you, a smile from the teacher across the hall). Turning to these little moments will keep you feeling positive, present and vibrant, which will give your students something to feel grateful for!