How to Change your Classroom and Yourself with GratitudeBy Owen M. Griffith
Would you like to improve the culture in your classroom and your life? Try gratitude. Based on my nine years of teaching experience, this is the most powerful tool that I know.
Gratitude has empowered me to teach more effectively, appreciate my individual students, grow in my profession, and enjoy life. I am able to model one of the most important lessons in life, having a positive attitude, especially about the aspects of life that challenge me. In fact, last year I was voted Teacher of the year at my school, a direct result of practicing gratitude in my life and in my classroom.
The average adult has over 50,000 separate thoughts on a daily basis, according to estimates. In itself, that is amazing. But, more interesting, these may be the same thoughts as yesterday and tomorrow. Thus, many trudge through life thinking similar thoughts every day. Now, if you feel satisfied, this is acceptable. However, if you want to change your life and your classroom, you need to make room for some change. Gratitude can help change some of those thoughts and lead to changing your life and in turn, the lives of your students.
I recommend actually writing a list instead of just being aware of gratitude. Gratitude seems to work like a muscle, and the physical action of writing a gratitude list helps develop “gratitude muscles.” However, keeping a gratitude journal on your iphone as an app or your computer is also powerful. In a recent study by Professor Phillip Watkins from Eastern Washington University, published recently in School Psychology review, those who are the least grateful seem to gain the most from making this effort. This should be good news for people whose “gratitude muscles” feel weak. As teachers and as parents, we know that we can only teach behavior that we practice. As the saying goes, “Virtues are caught, not taught.” As we grow stronger with an attitude of gratitude, it will be easier to share this virtue with our students.
As a 4th grade school teacher, my students and I start a gratitude journal the first day of the school year, listing 5 gratitudes every day. By the end of the year, we each have 1,000 gratitudes. We try to think of five new items to be grateful for every day, like feeling the abundance of love, or being healthy, or being thankful for friends, both old and new friends. One girl said, “Thank you for all the bad stuff that happens to me.” We can be grateful for things that seem to be bad at the time, seeing the lessons we lean and new opportunities that come from them. There are lessons in courage, wisdom, persistence, and fortitude.
I can really challenge the students by asking if they can be thankful for homework or chores. This challenge enables the students to see what is good about homework, that it helps them learn and prepares them for school. In addition, I suggest that they be specific. For example, instead of writing “ Thank you for lunch,” I can write, “Thank you for the tomatoes and lettuce in my salad and for the cool, sweet iced tea with friends,” or ”Thank you for the nutritious lunch made by loving hands.”
To introduce the importance of gratitude, I ask the students, “Are there things in life that we do not control?” Creative students come up with answers beyond the weather and the behavior of others. We stop the list after twenty-five items. Then I ask, “What do we have control over?” This is a little harder for some, but eventually they all get it – they only thing we can control is ourselves. More specifically, we control our actions, our attitude, and our awareness. This exercise in gratitude will help us with all three areas. When I am grateful for everything given me in life, I will have a good attitude and my actions will be more positive. When I focus on the positive, my awareness of the positive grows also.
You might start your gratitude journal with being thankful for being alive, for having food to eat and clothes to wear. Then think of what you get to do today and include that on your list. The important word in the last sentence is “get.” When I am grateful, I “get” to do things instead of having to do them. I used to hate waiting in line. In our fast-paced, technological society, with everything at our fingertips, many of us are impatient, as I was, with even a one minute wait. But now, I “get” to wait in line and take that time to make a quick gratitude list.
Recent research supports the idea that gratitude improves our lives and the lives of students. Keeping a gratitude journal on a daily basis helps students achieve the following:
• higher grades
• higher goals
• more satisfaction with life and school
• less materialism
• more willing to give back.
For adults, keeping a gratitude journal enables people to:
• be more optimistic
• have less envy and depression
• have fewer physical complaints
• sleep better.
I see these positive changes in my students. One student saved her allowance and brought gratitude journals for her family. Her mom was in nursing school and very stressed. At the dinner table, they would share their gratitudes for the day and grow as a family. The mom came to me and thanked me for teaching gratitude to her daughter and helping her family. She said it helped her get through nursing school.
If you are interested in other resources to explore gratitude, please visit the following website: www.gratefulness.org
About the author
Owen Griffith is a 4th Grade Teacher and Guitar Instructor in Northern Georgia, where he lives with his wife and son. He enjoys bicycling, reading, yoga and the outdoors. Visit his blog at: spirituallyteaching.blogspot.com.