Sunday, 17 February 2013

Teaching Gratitude

As a semester ending activity my Honours English 11 students were asked to consider legacy projects. Students were asked considered how they wanted to to be remembered, how they would remember others in the class and how they could express their thanks and gratitude to those people who had helped them along the way. The projects had to be substantial and carefully considered, but their form could be as individual and varied as the students themselves. Past examples from students were shared as samples and guidelines. These included letters, models, scrapbooks and representative crafts and sculptures. If a student elected to honour or thank another person the criteria required that they actually present their creation to the person selected.

The results of these projects are always phenomenal. As one student put it "Being asked to consider how we want to be remembered, or how we will remember others is not something your average teen does every day!" Following through with projects energized both the students creating the work and those they presented thanks to. Many of the students selected significant adults in their lives as persons they wanted to thank. Parents, teachers and coaches quickly came to mind. As the instigator of the assignment, I was privileged to both see the projects in production and to hear from both recipients and creators after acts of gratitude were completed. Students always feel good about thanking the adults who helped them, and the adults are often amazed and enormously grateful for the powerful messages of thanks that they receive.

Gratitude is a powerful and transformative emotion. Author Robert Emmons in his article "Pay it Forward suggests that it inspires kindness, connection, and life changes. Gratitude serves as a key link between receiving and giving: It moves recipients to share and increase the very good they have received. Because so much of human life is about giving, receiving, and repaying, gratitude is a pivotal concept for our social interactions. The famed sociologist Georg Simmel declared that gratitude is “the moral memory of mankind.” Overtly teaching students to express their gratitude is a force multiplier for good. Both the person expressing thanks and the receiver benefit and studies show that as a result of the exchange both parties are more likely to "pay it forward": to spread the good feeling by doing good things for others.

Social responsibility is our school district's number one goal. We said that we want our students to not only be amongst the best in the world but to act in a manner that is best for the world as well. Learning to express gratitude to those who have helped us and to spread the good feelings and positive emotions that such expressions generate can only serve to help make that desire more of a reality.

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