I don’t know about you, but I have been more reflective this year than ever before. Perhaps my pandemic reflections explain why I am appreciative of my health and that of my loved ones. Perhaps it’s the loneliness of teaching remotely in front of a laptop to online students that I am thankful for teaching great students at a wonderful school. Or perhaps it was my recent birthday and the many messages from friends and family that has made me express gratitude more frequently than at any other time that I can remember.
Expressing gratitude will make you happy. Don’t believe me, check out this short video from Soul Pancake and their ‘Experiment in Gratitude’. For this week’s #slowchathealth blog post I reached out to some friends in my PLN and asked them for what are they most thankful? Oh, and stick around to the end as there is another themed Spotify playlist, curated by yours truly.
According to Greater Good, based at UC Berkeley, “Researchers studying gratitude have found that being thankful and expressing it to others is good for our health and happiness. Not only does it feel good, it also helps us build trust and closer bonds with the people around us.” For that reason, I include SEL activities into my weekly schedule in order to keep my students motivated, increase their sense of connection, and to take the focus away from academia and direct it towards their own well-being.
Some of my favorite go-to SEL activities come from the book SuperBetter by Jane McGonigal, in which there are nearly 100, easy to complete, ‘quests’ that you, or your students, can take in order to live life gamefully and ‘level up’ in life. In a recent lesson we all took the ‘Love Spree’ quest as a warm up, getting us thinking about others, and flooding our brains with those feel-good hormones.
Love Spree: Love spree! Check the clock or start a timer. You’ve got three minutes to like, favorite, or leave a positive comment on as many social media posts from friends and family as you can. If you’re not on social media, use your three minutes to send quick “you’re awesome” or “thinking of you” emails and text messages to as many people as you can. You’ve only got three minutes, so don’t think—just spread the love! (McGonigal, Pg. 175)
Before the ‘Love Spree’ quest we watched this powerful video from Soul Pancake because I wanted my students to consider the impact of giving, and correctly receiving, compliments. This video always has me tearing up in front of my students!
Brains primed with Oxytocin, I then move on to talking to students about a more effective way to say thank you. With Thanksgiving just around the corner at the time of writing, I know that my students will be asked to express their thanks to others. Knowing that there is power in a carefully crafted thank you I show my students this video and model to them what a 3-part thank you might look like.
I work with many wonderful teachers, and one such co-worker promotes all things joyful. She has an email group that she calls the ‘positivity posse’ in which teachers are encouraged to share things that have gone well in school, or simply joyful moments. This also expanded into a regular online meeting for teachers called The Gathering Place, again with the purpose of sharing “what’s good”. Recently this particular teacher shared a 20 second video of a sunset over a lake that she thought we would all appreciate. Typically, I rarely acknowledge a group email, or might stretch to a courteous (and abrupt?) ‘thank you’ reply. This time I took the time to say thank you properly!
Modeling my thank you in front of my students made me feel better, happier, and more connected. Students then took 10 minutes to craft a thank you to someone, with an opportunity to share with the class afterwards.
For the last 5 minutes of the lesson students were given permission to leave, or stick around (for bonus content!) and join me in a 5 minute gratitude meditation. I kept my camera on, closed my eyes, and meditated….and was filled with gratitude when I opened my eyes to see many students still on the zoom call!
I have previously blogged about gratitude and included the voices of fellow teachers, and this time I’ve done the same, but spun things differently. I reached out to teachers who hail from America but find themselves teaching overseas. I was interested to see how they approached a time of giving thanks while being away from ‘home’.
Emily Zien who recently moved from teaching in Singpore to now being in Italy in the middle of a pandemic lockdown(!) shared her thoughts, which will resonate with many.
Moving internationally and being far away from home almost year round has allowed me to step back and look more closely at annual traditions.
Thanksgiving is a prime example of a holiday that I have spent the last handful of years unpacking. This is the fifth year being at an American international school and having the four day weekend off.
A celebration with a controversial history, my goal has been to use the holiday to reflect on my privilege, relearn the truth about America’s stories, and practice gratitude. In fact, over the past three years I have worked on building a daily gratitude practice. I started with making a list in a journal each morning and have since added an end of month gratitude reflection as well. Currently, I am grateful to be sharing this practice with my students as part of our SEL check ins at the start or end of our online PE lessons.
I also received a wonderfully warm reflection from educator Sherri Spelic, author of Care At The Core, a collection of essays which explore the intersections and overlap of identity, education and power.
I don’t formally celebrate Thanksgiving here but I do have fond memories of how we celebrated when I was growing up in Cleveland. For many years my cousin, Charlie Mae hosted our family of near and distant relations. The food was always rich and worth waiting all day for. My mother sometimes made stuffing or brought vegetables. She and my dad were expert at grilling a whole turkey on the spit which they typically did for Christmas and Easter, but on the actual ‘Turkey Day’ someone else was in charge of preparing the bird.
When my grandmother was still alive, she would preside over the whole affair, calling us to say grace together. I remember these solemn moments before the release of adults digging into the piles of food on the table: heads bowed, eyes closed, the wobbly sound of my grandmother’s voice asking the Lord to bless this food and those about to receive it. I always peeked, I was so curious about how this all looked. How we all looked: Mom, Dad, Carlton, Carol, Grandmother, Willie Mae, Charlie Mae, Willie B., Gale, Larry, Cousin Maude, Jeanette, Shelley… All these different shades of brown that never failed to fascinate me. I was thankful in those moments. Grateful to be among my own without having a name for it.
Grace finished, then my Dad: “Good bread, good meat, good God, let’s eat!” A huge exhale of laughter around the table and the feast could commence.
The clarity of the memory fills me with a remarkable degree of warmth and gratitude. I’m glad Andy invited me to share.
In addition to the ideas shared above, you might also be interested in my latest ‘Choice Board’ which can be shared as an interactive PDF document with your students. There’s something in here for everyone from articles to videos, from podcasts to a playlist, a meditation and even an origami activity. Access my Choice Board folder here.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you. I am grateful for to you for reading (and sharing?) this blog. I have one final ‘quest’ for you to complete before you leave this page. I challenge you to write a 3-part thank you postcard to someone, perhaps even one of your students. Check out the Spotify playlist below, set aside ten minutes, and let someone know that their efforts haven’t gone unnoticed.
Here is the perfect book to accompany this blog post. From the Greater Good team, they’ve taken the science of gratitude and shared in easy to access short essays. There really is something in here for everyone and it would make a great gift. I’m enjoying it so much that I will make it a #slowchathealth Book of the Month.
Do Thank-You Notes Still Matter? from the New York Times