Be the Change - Gratitude

A guest blog post by Bridget Gengler @BridgetGengler

Back in the beginning of October I joined the #BeKindEDU chat. That particular evening the chat’s focus was gratitude. Meredith Johnson from #BookCampPD posted the following quote from William Arthur Ward – “Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgiving , turn routine jobs into joy and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” I decided to begin my gratitude movement in my class with this quote during our morning meetings that week.

On Monday morning as we sat down for our morning meeting, I introduced the whole concept of gratitude. I asked my students what gratitude meant to them. We had to begin the discussion with the meaning of gratitude as many did not know.  I shared with them my daily routine of gratitude and how I always send a message to someone different each morning and express my gratitude towards them.  I wanted them to understand how important it is to express how thankful you are for what you have and also how giving and expressing gratitude can also create joy in you, the giver.

Then I asked them to share what they thought the quote by Ward meant. This is what one girl said- “Gratitude changes an ordinary day into a great day and then it makes you feel happy because you can make someone’s day.” My hope was that they would start to understand the intrinsic feeling one gets from expressing goodness and thankfulness to others. With those thoughts in mind, I had them share something or someone they were grateful for and why. I had them write it down. I collected all the notes of gratitude and every morning meeting for the rest of the week I read some of the notes. Every morning the students looked forward to hearing what their classmates were thankful for.  They looked forward to this new routine of gratitude notes. We continued this practice for the next couple of weeks.  Gradually the notes turned into letters. I asked them to write letters to anyone with whom they felt compelled to share their gratitude. I also had them write a letter of gratitude to a Veteran for Veterans Day. All of those letters were handed out to Veterans.

Finally came the week before Thanksgiving. At the beginning of the week I told them that we were going to have a gratitude celebration on Friday with pumpkin pie and a gratitude circle. Each student randomly picked a name of another student in the class. Once they had the name of that person, I told them that their challenge and task was to spread gratitude to this person by making them a gift and card or letter. The next morning I put out a whole bunch of supplies and gave them time to make their gifts and cards. I stressed how much more rewarding it would be to try to keep it a secret until Friday and  also really create something from the heart.  As I walked around, observed and listened to them talk I could feel the excitement and genuine care that each student was taking in creating something for their classmate. They wanted to make something special and they showed that in their actions and words. The pride I felt on that day was like no other. When I thought about this activity I was not sure how serious that they would take it. But as I watched, they did not let me down. As they finished their creations, they kept them hidden in decorated gift bags that we put away until Friday. The rest of the week was a buzz of enthusiasm in anticipation for our Gratitude Circle on Friday.

When Friday afternoon came the students sat in the same circle that we sit in for morning meeting but this time it was our Gratitude Circle. I started the circle by placing a an empty wreath in the middle. I told them we were going to fill this wreath with leaves of gratitude. We went around the circle and I had everyone share one thing with which they were grateful. We wrote it down and they each got a chance to add their leaf to the wreath. They loved listening to all the things that everyone was grateful for.

After that, I passed out the bags that they were going to give out. Excitement filled the room! I told them that they would share who they picked and as they give the gift to that person share one reason why they are grateful for him/her.  Everyone was instructed to hold off on opening their bags until the end so we could give hear and see everyone share their gratitude. I started with a volunteer and he stood up, shared who he picked, walked over to that person and as he gave the bag to her, he told her why he was grateful for her. This routine was followed until all children had a bag. You could have heard a pin drop as each child shared. They all listened intently to each other and enjoyed what everyone had to share. There was genuine gratitude and joy shown to each other. Each student loved being appreciated and each student enjoyed expressing gratitude.

My heart was exploding with joy as I observed with  a huge smile on my face and tears in my eyes. They got it! All the time and talk about gratitude was worth it!  They understood! They understood the joy and the blessing that gratitude brings.

They saw my happiness and  even questioned why I was happy.

I told them ” because now you all see what I have been talking about. All the times I share how I am so thankful and how important it is to verbalize it. Once we do that, not only does it brings joy to others, but it ignites the fire inside of us – it leads to smiles, joy and positivity.

It did not end there- after they were done, I told them that I had something for them. I gave them each a card with a short personalized letter. I realized that some of them had never received a card before- they did not even know how to open it. With the help of each other, they found their letter inside the card and  they all began to read their letters.

I could hear some of the conversations- ” I am going to hang this in my room.”

“What does your letter say?” “Mine says this.”

One little girl who tends to be difficult to reach sometimes and doesn’t always express herself, said to her friend, ” I love mine!” Then she looked at me and said ” Thank you, Mrs. G. Thanks for being a great teacher.”

I do not need affirmation but it is great to feel the gratitude. Exactly what I had been teaching them and trying to get them to understand came back to me. Oh, how my heart was full that day!

This day was by far one of the best days in my 23 years of teaching. There was so many times in previous years when I wanted to do this but didn’t know if I should take the time. YES! Take the time!

The year has started out difficult for me with a grade change and all the demands for academics and testing .

But as educators we can not forget that we are teaching children. They need to feel the love. They need to feel the gratitude. They need to know that others care. They also need to learn how to give the gratitude, care and love. We have to take the time to allow these moments to happen. These are the moments that they will remember and carry with them.

On this day each child was honored. Each child felt important. Each child knew that he or she mattered. That is what is important!!!

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