The most important vocabulary word in this past school year’s curriculum? Gratitude. Gratitude will change your life and it certainly transformed my teaching experience. This year I had a student give me the most meaningful note I have ever received from a student. In her letter she wrote to me that I had taught her things that will, “walk alongside me for the rest of my life”. Although it could be the grammer rules, persuasive techniques, or new transition words she was referring to, my perception is her experience is rooted in our classroom gratitude practice. She has been practicing weekly gratitude for over a year.
Over a year and a half ago I picked up a book called Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar and spark occurred. I was intimately familiar with the miraculous power of gratitude as I had journals filled with gratitude lists. However, Ben-Shahar began to interweave education and happiness in a way that I had never thought of before. What if we found a way to teach gratitude to students? Would they be happier? Would we? The spark became a flame that changed everything.
Immediately I started gratitude practice with my students. In February of 2012 I began randomly giving students a warm-up journal prompt to list their gratitude. Over those few short months I saw the social-emotional benefits of gratitude. Tense moods became lighter, community was built and students were exploring their personal experiences and identities in way I had never before seen. Students started with gratitude for Mom, Dad, friends, and food and with time explored deep expressions of gratitude for their heritage, privileges, hardships and accomplishments. Self-awareness seeds were planted.
I believe this practice is essential to lowering my students affective filters, or their mood towards learning, so that we can actually learn. My own experience with gratitude is always an automatic sense of relief, calm and happiness. If you haven’t recently, or ever, created a gratitude list, try it. Get a notebook, write it in your phone notes, say it out loud…whatever you do, try and make it a daily practice to find something to be thankful for. If its been a while, start back up. Share it as your facebook status, tweet it, or share a moment with a loved one saying your thanks. My favorite yogi tea quote says, ”An attitude of gratitude brings an abundance of opportunities”. No matter your position or profession, if you practice gratitude routinely you will feel the miraculous impact on many aspects of your daily life. If you are an educator or parent, pay special attention to practicing with your youth to make a significant impact in their lives as well as your own.
Check out The Happiness Advantage Video, a great Ted Talks video about happiness in the work place, the power of positivity, and five practices to boost your happiness (gratitude is one of them!). How could a few simple acts of happiness and gratitude affect your family, your relationships, your work, or your experience with life?
Please share something you are grateful for or tips for a gratitude practice in the comments below!