The school year is drawing to a close. Kids are taking final exams, cleaning out their lockers, and heading off with another grade under their belts. Those of us who work in schools are busy finalizing grades, planning graduations and organizing awards assemblies. These last few weeks are packed with activity and it can be tough to build in time for reflection. But, it’s also the perfect time to practice some gratitude.
According to Amy Morin, psychotherapist and author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, gratitude is associated with a ton of health benefits. Gratitude improves physical and psychological health. Grateful people exercise more often and see their doctors more regularly, and they benefit from a reduction in toxic emotions like resentment, frustration, and regret. Grateful people have enhanced empathy and reduced aggression. They sleep better and have better self-esteem. Gratitude even increases resiliency to trauma. War vets with higher levels of gratitude were less likely to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, for instance.
With benefits like those, it’s a no-brainer. Here are a few end-of-the-school-year rituals to consider adopting:
#1: Take the time to write letters to your students telling them what you appreciate about them. I have done this for all the high school seniors I’ve taught for the past five years or so. I recount a fond memory of them, or describe the qualities I admire in them, or explain how I’ve seen them change and grow. They are always incredibly grateful and touched by the gesture.
#2: Add a question to your final exam that asks students what they appreciate about their peers, the class, or what they’ve learned. It can be tough to get kids to sit still long enough to reflect deeply, but the ritual of test-taking seems to do the trick. Consider compiling their thoughts anonymously under the heading “We are grateful for…” and sharing them with the entire class.
#3: Buy a package of 10 thank you notes and write one each day for the last two weeks of the school year. When I set out to write thank you’s in big batches, I’m always daunted by the task. And by the 6th note my gratitude is less sincere — I’m just trying to finish all my cards. Writing one per day is manageable and gives you the chance to really think about the gratitude you’re extending.
#4: A former principal of mine would send an all-school email with a sentence or two expressing her appreciation of every single employee. They ranged from “I appreciate Tom for greeting me so warmly each morning – it brightens my day,” to “I appreciate Karen for putting so much effort into the hallway bulletin boards.” She kept it short, sweet, and personal to show that she noticed and cared for each person’s contribution. Consider doing the same for your department or grade level team. Sharing your gratitude more publicly can multiply its effects!