Friday, November 20, 2015

Gratitude in the Classroom

As we near the hustle and bustle of the impending holiday season, it is important to take a moment to appreciate the little things. I know for me that November is a time to reflect and show my gratitude for those people that are important in both my professional and personal life. All too often, I feel we do not take the time to reflect on the details that are all too important, and it has been my goal this November to allow all students (and me) the opportunity to reflect on things we are grateful for and the ability to express these feelings. Throughout the month, I embedded lessons and activities that allowed us to not only get to know the people in the classroom as individuals but allowed for time to reflect on those little things that ultimately mean a lot.



In my classroom, I have two different whiteboards--one features a daily quote, and the other has a daily fun fact (inspired by Sarah at Tales with Teaching with Tech). Starting in November, the focus for our quotes shifted to gratitude (one of my favorites being the one above by Johannes Gaertner). 

The placement of these boards in my room is something that I thought a lot about because I wanted them to be a functional point of interest. Our "Did you know...?" board is placed directly on top of our iPad cart because it provides students an opportunity to see the question and discuss the fun fact while they check out their iPad from our technology leader. I had originally put this board in another location; however, I have noticed since placing this board in another location it has made it a focal point in our classroom and my students are frequently discussing the topic--rather than it going unnoticed. While these facts are more points of discussion, during the month of November, our month of gratefulness, I use the facts surrounding Thanksgiving to round out our thematic approach to the month. During our writing time, students spent 10 minutes responding to the daily fact in their journals. Students were able to express their excitement, questions it spurred, or just their thoughts. I found that this often led to continued discussion, research about our own culture, or a launching point for curious discovery between students more so than previous months. While I compiled a list of Thanksgiving-themed "Did you know...?" facts from a variety of places, my favorite place is from the Lunchbox Love Notes Holiday Edition cards (you can pick them up from Amazon here).

I couldn't resist talking about pie on our "Did you Know..?" board because it is a running joke in math that I always use pie in my application problem examples. Sometimes it is important to keep those running jokes alive to continue to foster a positive classroom community.
 Our quote board is placed directly next to our door. It is one of the last things my students see as they leave our classroom. Every time we leave or enter our classroom, I make a point to greet my students. We start our day with handshakes, leave for lunch with high-fives (we jokingly call them "free high-fives because my students can purchase additional high-fives with our classroom monetary system), or we might shake things up with fist bumps. While students are waiting to leave, I have caught my students reading our quote board. While I initially started using this board for reminders, I switched the purpose of the board this month. My main reason for switching this is that I wanted it to be more meaningful for my students--this is their classroom after all! After the success I've witnessed this month, I am going to continue to use this board for quotes. Does anyone have any ideas for a theme for December?

This is my favorite quote that I used this month. I got it from the LunchBox Love Notes--Holiday Edition has quotes on the back of EVERY card. The best part is they all focus on gratitude or thankfulness. Seriously, go purchase them now! The best part was that several of my students have been reading books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and one of my students was so excited to see this quote that they asked if they could read it out loud to the class (this is a really big deal because it is one of my reluctant readers--yay!)

During the first week of November, I started putting up quotes without really discussing them or saying anything and then something happened--I forgot to write the quote one morning. While doing our daily attendance question, (If you want to learn more about this routine let me know. I've been toying with the idea of writing a post!) one of my students quickly reminded me that I hadn't written the quote. To be honest, I was floored! Without noticing, I had created another routine. I then had several other students quickly chime in that they missed our daily quote. So, as you could imagine, I spent the next few minutes writing our daily quote. (In case you were curious, it was this one: "Let us be grateful to people who make us happy--they are charming gardeners who make our souls blossom"~Marcel Proust). As I was writing, one of my students was confused about the phrase "souls blossom", so our whole class spent a few minutes jotting down our thoughts (in a Me vs. You chart) and then having a conversation about our quote. This process was completely organic in its formation, and my students and I found it so valuable, that we ended up doing this for nearly every quote. 

Now I bring you to our two events today: Our Thankfulness Feast and the Circle of Gratitude. As I sat down to reflect about these past months (AKA: Report Card Time), I really began to think about how much these students have captured my heart and how little time I have spent thanking them for being at school. This is when I decided that I wanted to end November--that being a small gesture of kindness from me to them. As I brainstormed ideas, I decided that cooking a meal would be something that would be appreciated and a simple act of gratitude. This morning I started a tradition that I will likely continue throughout my teaching career--the Thankfulness Feast. As my students participated in a few Thanksgiving-themed activities, I served them pumpkin pancakes. This gave me the opportunity to express my gratitude for them individually. We all just took a moment, looked at each other, and were able to connect in such a meaningful way. I get chills about how powerful this was today.

We ended the day with something that, to be honest, was spur of the moment, and I'm glad that I tried it--the Circle of Gratitude. The concept is simple, sit in a circle and express your gratitude. Prior to coming together, I had students reflect for 5 minutes on things that they were grateful for and why. The level of thought and explanation surpassed my expectations. When we came together, students were engaged, supportive, and genuinely kind to each other. They shared gratefulness for eachother, their family, pets, the fact that I graded their math tests on time (ha!), and a variety of other things.The most surprising response that I heard today was from a student that has had difficulty making friends with other students this year. They said, "I am thankful for all the students in this class because they have helped me feel comfortable being myself." This comment made me tear up and resulted in many hugs being shared in the classroom. I would wholeheartedly recommend trying this in your classroom. My student's answers were so touching and just helped solidify the connections we've made in our classroom this year.

While many of these activities were formed organically in the classroom, my efforts to focus on gratitude in November were intentional. I have learned how powerful words, or simply taking the time to acknowledge gratitude can be on the atmosphere of the classroom. I hope everyone takes a moment to share their own feelings of gratitude and love those around them and know that no matter how small, everyone wants to be loved and know that they matter. I would love to hear how you express your gratitude in the classroom (or otherwise). Let me know!

Happy Thanksgiving & Happy Learning!




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