Monday, November 2, 2015

Practicing Gratitude

Help your students learn how to practice gratitude.
Wedged between sugar-coated Halloween insanity and the frenzy of holiday shopping is that quiet holiday:  Thanksgiving.

Younger grades may dress up or bring items to school for a feast to commemorate the first Thanksgiving, but for older students, the holiday is often glossed over as we rush to finish work before an extra -long weekend. 

However, we have the opportunity to create a different, more literal, Thanksgiving.  One that offers life-long benefits … and that is teaching our students the practice of gratitude.

According the Huffington Post’s article The Neuroscience of Why Gratitude Makes Us Healthier by Ocean Robbins, several studies have looked at how expressing gratitude can impact our lives.  The studies conclude that people who practice gratitude are happier and healthier than those who do not.  They have better relationships with others and have improved moods. 

The bottom line:  think about what you are thankful for – and find a way to say “thank you.”

After reading some of those studies on gratitude and then John Kralik’s book 365 Thank Yous:  The Year a Simple Act of Daily Gratitude Changed my Life several years ago, I decided I’d have my eighth graders practice daily gratitude through their journal writing. 

One study had participants write three things they were grateful for each day. 

That sounded easy enough.

After a brief intro, I sat down with my students during journal time and, along with my students, wrote three things I was grateful for. 

But by the end of the week, there was a problem.  My students weren’t really reflecting on what it meant when they created their list.  They wrote vague items like:  1) sports  2) my dog  3) food.  All wonderful things to be grateful for, but repeating the same list day after day (in a variety of versions) wasn’t getting to the heart of gratitude.

We first had to figure out what it means to feel gratitude.  It sounds easy at first – it means to say “thank you.”  But it is more than feeling obligated to say thank you to Aunt Bertha when she offers you a stale oatmeal cookie.  It’s more that automatically saying “thanks” to the person who serves you lunch or holds the door open for you.  Like saying “I’m sorry,” thanking someone needs to be felt.

Help your students learn to practice gratitude.
I then created a series of journal prompts for my students to help them focus and stretch.  True, we are grateful for the circle of wonderful people, places, and things (sports, my dog, food) around us, but we are also grateful for wider circles – such as nature, our earth, cities, countries, the people we never see who provide us with food and clean water…the list goes on and on.  The prompts helped my students think beyond the obvious.  I included inspirational quotes that shared a different point of view about thankfulness.  

And then once we feel that gratitude, can we act on it?  Most of the time, yes!

Do your students know how to write a thank you note?  Students don’t have to be like John Kralik and write a thank you note each day for an entire year (!), but perhaps just one.  

Not only do you have the opportunity to teach your students the forgotten art of writing thank you notes, you are also going to be the catalyst to make someone’s day.  Imagine being on the receiving end of one of those thank you notes!

Of course, we can and should practice gratitude every day.  But November seems like the best time to do this, especially if we can squeeze that practice into the crazy-busy time before the December holidays.

Give your students an opportunity to slow down our frantic October – January by practicing gratitude. 

Thank you for reading!

Ps:  If you would like a free copy of the pocket Gratitude Journal I created, please head over to my TeachersPay Teachers store.  I will be offering it as a freebie for the next 24 hours to say “thank you” to you!

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