I ended each of my three classes with a story: Every night, my husband, daughter, and I take turns sharing gratitude before dinner. Linnea, my two year old, always begins and will remind us if we forget to hold hands in the first place.
“Thank you, God, for”… [insert rambling response here]. She is grateful for everything from our neighbors’ dogs to her imaginary friends, Faddy and Dotty. In the rare event she gives a one word response, I begin prepping her plate for seconds because it is a clear indicator she is starving. Regardless of what each of us share–from a cozy home to thoughtful neighbors to family, near and far–it sets a positive perspective for us to end our day.
I explained to my students that this nightly ritual got me thinking about them. Why not start a similar routine in the classroom? I scanned the room, looking into the eyes that met my own and explained that I am grateful for each of them; I am just afraid I do not always show it. “Perhaps it is cheesy”, I mentioned, “But it means a lot to me and I hope it will to you too.” My story and comments met silence and I was beginning to second guess myself.
On the wall next to the door was the phrase “Thank You” written in a blue sharpie on a white, chart-paper, post-it. I prepared to share a few observations I had jotted down and stuck them to the paper. I realized it was difficult for me to read what I had wrote. Would they think I had favorites? What if they made fun of the kids I named? Would this even catch on?
As the class decided how to react, I was thinking about the other ways in which I had aimed to practice gratitude in the classroom: The letters written by students during the Thanksgiving season that I mailed to a person of his of her choice. One went to a prison, several to Mexico, and many to their very own homes. I received two in the mail and keep them under my keyboard at school. Other instructional choices are minor, but seem to have a positive impact on the culture of the classroom. How can I can continue to incorporate more gratitude so that we all feel a little more inspired. A little more motivated (especially during this difficult time in the school year). And a lot more loved.
The silence in the class dissipated, students eagerly walked to the paper and stuck their post-it notes to the wall. I could have dismissed class that day pointing out the eraser that flew across the room or the distracting chatter during our writers workshop. Instead I shared my gratitude for Maria’s laughter, Jovanny’s work ethic, and Marisol’s brilliantly written introduction, and chose to focus my attention on the positive. I stood at the door and matched their smiles with my own.
I went back into my classroom from the hallway, turned off all the lights except one, and walked to my desk. A lone, post-it note stuck to my computer screen caught my attention and caused a slight flutter in my stomach. The note ended with, “I don’t think we have had a teacher like you”, and in her authentic voice, I knew the exercise was worthwhile. With that one sticky note, my student did more for me than any observation or evaluation ever could: it restored my faith. I need to remember that in encouraging and uplifting my students, I can help them find their own way. More listening, less talking.
Here’s to hoping the cycle continues.