With Thanksgiving right around the corner, now’s the time for principals like me to take a moment to be grateful. It’s also a time to inspire an attitude of gratitude among teachers and students.
At my school, Brookwood Elementary, our mindset of the year is “Live to Give,” so our social-emotional learning (SEL) lessons this fall have been focused on serving each other and the community. One of the many benefits of sharing our skills with others is that it makes us grateful for what we have and, more importantly, who we are. Here’s how we’re putting four tenets of the 7 Mindsets’ “Attitude of Gratitude” into action.
1) Treasure yourself. Learning to value yourself starts with asking, “What am I good at?” Whether they are quirky, dry, or introverted, we want our students and teachers to see that they are wonderfully made. As part of our SEL lessons, we spend a week finding what students are good at and what’s important to them.
We start this conversation by asking, “What’s your favorite body part?” This leads them to highlight what is unique about them. A student might mention their ears because they’re a good listener. Others might point out their hands because they’re skilled at playing piano or writing—and they want to share those skills with the people around them. Valuing themselves gives them the confidence to connect with the people around them, which makes them more open to learning.
At the teacher level, we’re always looking to tap into their passions and strengths. I have teachers who are talented musicians, and we’ll ask them to sing for the school or share their talents in a special way. Our athletic teachers lead kickball games. Finding and sharing these tiny superpowers helps teachers tap into what they enjoy outside of the classroom.
2) Be more grateful. Throughout the year, we do “gratitude challenges” with both students and staff by simply asking them to list everything they’re thankful for that day. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy: they could be grateful for their comfy shoes, for the alarm clock that woke them up, or that today is Muffin Top Day at school. A variation on this is the “gratitude walk,” where they spend a few minutes walking and talking out loud about what they’re grateful for. Teachers can do it alone during their drive to work or with kids in class. We incorporate these all year in different ways, but November and December are the perfect months to get this started.
For example, I had a powerful personal experience of gratitude when I broke my foot recently. I had to get around using a scooter, which really made me grateful for my ability to walk, and even more for my ability to take a shower.
3) Elevate your perspective. This mindset means taking a situation like breaking your foot that feels negative and, instead of looking at it as a bad thing, looking at it as an opportunity to grow. As a principal, I sometimes find myself saying to students or teachers, “I’m so glad you made this mistake. You can see how your actions affect others. You can be such a leader.”
In our Lunch Bunch and Counseling groups, we remind kids who have lost parents or siblings to treasure what they had and celebrate the legacy of the people they’ve lost. For students who have gone through trauma, we acknowledge that it hurts but also look at what things will be like when they come out of the storm. Like any school, we have kids who are going through divorce and other home issues. We let them know that they don’t have to make the same choices their parents did, and we give them strategies to break the cycle.
4) Thank it forward. World Kindness Day is November 13, so we’ll all be committing random acts of kindness all day long. Having a day where you thank it forward isn’t just a nice idea. We’ve documented how it changes the atmosphere of the school and what we can accomplish together. It makes the staff happier. We have fewer discipline problems. Kids make new friends.
I remember talking to a teacher whose class included a student with Down syndrome. She said that watching the kids in that class grow into the perspective of always taking care of each other was the most inspiring experience she has ever had as a teacher. When we watch kids be kind to each other, it fulfills educators’ need to know that we’re not just teaching academics—we’re making a difference. And for that, I’m deeply grateful.
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