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Small Acts of Gratitude

hen I was teaching, I always appreciated the month of November. It was the first month that offered any real respite, and I needed it. Thanksgiving gave the school one big sigh of relief; it allowed everyone the opportunity to take it slower for a few days and get away from the business (and busy-ness) of the school day. Thanksgiving also happens to be my favorite holiday (the food is amazing, and I love a good parade), so while November ushers in the additional craziness of the holiday season, I can’t help but feel deep gratitude toward it—even though there’s snow.

I try to spend this month thinking about and expressing my gratitude, mostly in small ways,

and it makes me feel happier even as the daylight hours get shorter and shorter. Research

backs the importance of expressing gratitude (read here and here for some concrete examples of the links between gratitude and happiness). But it can be hard to figure out how to fit this into a school day that is scheduled tightly, so I’d like to offer some ideas for how to try. -If you have an advisory, write short letters to each of them about something they’ve done that you’re genuinely grateful for. -Recognize students who have specifically done something helpful or kind. Don’t lay it on too thick, but let them know that you see what they’ve done. -Offer your class(es) a treat for their good work up until that point. Maybe it’s a night (of their choosing) where you don’t check their homework or a baked good that you made. Small gestures can make a big difference. -Ask a group of students (an advisory or class) to write short notes of thanks to someone else in the building (Note: It shouldn’t be you). Deliver them on behalf of your kids, adding in your own appreciations to those folks as you do. -Identify a colleague who has been doing good work and offer to cover their lunch duty (or other obligation). -Tell a couple of your closer colleagues why you’re thankful that they’re there. -Leave a short note of thanks (a post-it works just as well as anything else!) letting a colleague know that you noticed something helpful they did. -Do an anonymously kind thing for one of your colleagues, whether it’s leaving them a cup of coffee, paying for their next lunch, grabbing their mail, or making sure they have new markers or chalk by their board. -Notice and verbally appreciate the small things that get done for you by administrative or health staff. Is someone laminating a new sign for you? Did the school nurse listen to your lungs to make sure you didn’t need to go to the doctor? -Write a kind note of appreciation to the custodial or cafeteria staff. Much of their work can go unnoticed, but they keep the rhythm of a school going in critical ways. -Write one e-mail a week to a parent or family member who has helped you better understand a kid or has contributed to your classroom. Go the extra step and pinpoint families who might be more used to receiving negative attention from the school. -Better yet, call home instead of writing an e-mail to a family about something good that their child did. Let that family hear your sincerity. Try to do it with the student there. -Reach out to a community organization that’s making a difference in your school or in the life of one of your students and let them know that you see their efforts. -Be grateful in front of others. It’s not about being performative so much as trying to gently encourage others to make their own expressions of gratitude. -Be appreciative of your own efforts. Recognize that you’re working hard, and it’s okay that not everything goes to plan. While I appreciate that it would be way too simple to say that just adjusting your mindset will make your November definitively great, I would like to offer that our orientation toward a situation is important. Being able to focus on how others are doing good, working hard, or helping might be enough of a shift that instead of fixating on how dark it is both when you arrive at and depart from school (or is that just me?), you’re able to focus on the actions of many folks and help brighten their month, too. Did you try any of these suggestions? Do you have others? We’d love to hear about it/them! Image courtesy of


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