Gratitude and Grace
By MONICA PRINCIPE
As you know, this pandemic has put a strain on the entire world. In our lifetime, we have never experienced such a thing. Everyone has dealt with the ups, downs, highs and lows a bit differently. For some, they have enjoyed the solitude and slower pace. For others, they have struggled to survive and put food on the table. For all, we have had to manage a roller coaster of emotions! Some emotions have been joyous with the ability to attend school and work from home and spending more time with family. Others, may have struggled with feelings of doubt, loneliness, hardship, loss, hopelessness, and uncertainty. One thing is for certain, in difficult times, relationships count and everyone can uses a little gratitude, patience and grace.
At the school where I served as the high school principal, we used a mantra: “Students don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” This is true not only of students, but for people of all ages and walks of life. It does not take much time, effort or energy to share a smile, a well wish or send a card with words of gratitude. Fill peoples buckets! Which brings me to acts of gratitude. What if, just what if, you showered your staff or students with acts of gratitude? What if you granted them patience and grace. What if you allowed them to vent and just be. What if you sent a positive note home to each and every one of them! What if you showered your staff with notes telling people that you appreciate them and that you care about them. What if you acknowledge their struggles and are thankful for their perseverance. What if through these acts that you realize they are giving it their all and that they are good enough. This is exactly what was done. I set my intention to demonstrate words of gratitude and thanks. I engaged in random acts of kindness. I was thankful! We even instituted Thankful Thursdays! We have a principal meeting every Thursday and we start it out by sharing all of the things we are thankful for. Sometimes it is a colleague, sometimes a TV show, sometimes it is as simple as being at work and being able to serve. Regardless, everyone can find something to be thankful for. Building social and emotional capital and investing in the way people feel makes a huge difference in attitude, energy and overall well being!
The result of acts of gratitude were nothing short of amazing. Research is clear in that when gratitude is expressed, the benefits are positive and numerous– increased positivity and increased optimism. When gratitude is exchanged, relationships are strengthened and well-being is increased. Through this conscious and collective effort to elevate and endorse gratitude, staff and students reported that they were thankful for being appreciated and thankful to be on the receiving end of gratitude. Several staff members and families struggled with Covid or other ailments during this last year. Some employees and family members perished. But the generosity and outpouring of donations and support was unprecedented and the impact was gratitude. From Thankful Thursdays to gratitude gifts to food deliveries or food certificates, we elevated gratitude and expressed it regularly and often.
Adopt & Adapt
Research on gratitude is solid. The application of gratitude in school contexts is relatively new but the research that does exist confirms gratitude’s benefits. Gratitude costs noting. Yet, gratitude, as a practice, must be elevated by a school structure and system if it is to become the default as to how we do our work. By ensuring that gratitude was at the forefront of our work, we were able to set gratitude in to motion through weekly rituals, words of gratitude and acts of gratitude. There was no time table to implement nor set standard for how to set gratitude into motion. Gratitude must be authentic and expressed in a way that works for each individual. But one thing is clear, as district leaders, it is our job to take care of the adults in the system. When the adults in the system feel cared for and appreciated, they better care for the students in the system. Gratitude can be expressed through words of appreciation, gifts, the structure of time, visibility of an administrator, donuts in the breakroom, feedback or even evaluation. One way to systematize gratitude is to set out thank you cards at a meeting and have staff fill them out for one another. Another strategy is to have principals write a thank you note to each staff member to share why they are grateful for them. Yet, another way is to public praise and thank employees during a zoom meeting. Taking time to build relationships and then offer support sets gratitude in motion. We all have been the recipients of gratitude and it feels good, but sometimes, during stressful times, our default responses are not based in gratitude. A regular reminder to choose gratitude is just what we all need. And went gratitude is set in motion, it transforms people, schools and cultures.