Teacher Talk: Modeling Gratitude
Teaching is hard. Of this there is no doubt. And as teachers, we are often challenged to present an infallible face, a superhuman wisdom, a goodness and competence and expertise that, in our hearts, we know to be impossible to achieve. And while we are often the first to encourage self-care and balance to our colleagues, we are just as likely to be the last to offer the same to ourselves. While a regular, lasting, inspired commitment to yoga, massage, prayer, solitude, or walks in the park should stay on your list of things to do, in the meantime a daily practice of gratitude might provide the first step it takes to get there.
We know to model this for children. We present beautiful, elegant lessons in how to say thank you, and we prioritize grace and courtesy in the training of new teachers. We know to be grateful when someone is watching. But in our own interactions with the other adults on whom we rely, too often we leave the expression of thankfulness unspoken. We presume, that they know we are thankful, just as we forgive in them the time constraints, stressors, and other obstacles that keep them from saying thank you to us.
We don't anymore. And the absence of the connection, reliance, and support becomes one more burden in what are already stressful lives. While we may not need the emotional insulation that is woven by gratitude eery day, prioritizing it nonetheless on the days when everything is going well helps to prepare a soft landing for the days when nothing goes right.
Model gratitude not just for the children, but because we know that the same benefits it brings to them, the social resilience, the stress reduction, the better sleep, the greater satisfaction in our lives, comes to us as well. Start small. Make a conscious effort to finish the rest of the sentence when you know habitually to say thank you. Someone offers to make copies for you? Thank them, not just in passing, but by saying out loud what that little bit of time helped you to accomplish instead. Someone fills up your coffee? You already know how to toss off a simple, "Thanks," but don't leave it at that. Articulate, "Thanks for that. I really needed it today." By the time we're adults, we know how to say thank you by rote. Adding the rest of the message, and specifying what it is that we are actually saying thank you for slows us down. It makes the expression of thankfulness meaningful, rather than pedantic.
A simple, daily, gratitude practice can also provide the kind of structured self-reflection that strengthens our ability to notice what's good more often than the things that burden us. If, like me, you have high hopes but maybe get distracted by how many things to do everyday, you might chose to make this practice public. At the end of each day, write down two or three things... It doesn't have to be more complicated than that... for which you are thankful for that day. You might put these on a post-it note that you can stick someplace to be reminded of later. You might list them in a journal, and flip through it every few days or weeks to notice how abundant your life really is. When I began this practice, I posted them on social media. Knowing that I lacked the discipline to list my gratitudes every day, I posted them publicly to keep me honest. It's nothing grand. But every day, I can find two or three things that happened that day that I'm thankful for, even if one of them is the fact that some days only have twenty-four hours in them. You can to.
At school, propose the same for your colleagues. We are all on the same team. Even when we disagree about a policy, or a procedure, or where to put your left hand during carrot-cutting, we are all on the same team. When we, individually and collectively, chose to express the ways in which we rely on each other, we do more than just express our thankfulness. We weave those connections more tightly. We provide a shared space for emotional support and vulnerability, and it's within that space that the day-to-day disagreements can be resolved. When we chose to say out loud that most of the time, most of us are trying to do the right thing, and that we are better off for it, we prepared the climate to be able to engage more earnestly and more authentically. The differences in perspective, practices, and values that we might otherwise characterize as adversarial. Gratitude, in it's regular expression, not only helps us to lead more joyful, more satisfied, and more abundant lives, it helps to create and securer relationships with others. That's a good thing, and it's something for which to be very grateful.