Can it really be done?  Can a teacher in public schools really teach diverse students from diverse home lives to be thankful?  Should we do it?  Does it cross some kind of line?

I say, yes it can be done.  I say, if we don’t, we may never make a dent in the prevailing attitude of entitlement.  I say, if we do, we can teach character lessons that don’t seem like lessons.  I say, teaching character is an essential part of the job despite all the other demands on your teaching day.  I say, you will see changes in the way your students treat each other.  Isn’t that important?  Isn’t finding ways to cope with student conflicts a way to solve problems before they arise?

Teaching gratitude is being pro-active.  Just today, in Ann Voscamp’s blog she lists five reasons backed up by research for kids to keep a list of gratitude.  Check out her list. Developing this little habit of gratitude can make a big difference.  In case you aren’t convinced this is important, recall the last time you gave a student something – a pencil, a piece of paper, a treat.  Did you hear a “thank you”?  If you regularly hear “thanks” from your students, count yourself blessed.  I seldom heard “thanks” from my 8th graders.  We were a high poverty school and had been adopted by several businesses and a church.  Students regularly received gifts from these resources – a belt, a missing piece of a school uniform, Christmas bags, school supplies, etc.  Appreciation for these gifts was often not evident.  I can give you lots of reasons why my students did not say “thank you”, but I’d rather tell you how to turn that around.

We used to call this gratitude habit as being polite and using good manners.  It’s just one of the missing pieces in our students’ lives, and it’s never too late to change it.  My suggestions will relate to the language arts, reading, and writing subject areas, but I think they could easily transfer to history.  Most teachers require some kind of journal writing, even in math.  It could become a routine part of the daily entry in a journal:  list three things you are grateful for.  You will need to make some kind of requirement so that students don’t repeat the same things every day.  They need to see your model be as specific as you can.  Draw on your own experiences.

From my trip to Africa many years ago, I could easily name just the basics of an American classroom:

  1. Maps and globe
  2. Ink pens
  3. Less than 50 students in a classroom
  4. Technology for teaching (the teachers I saw had a blackboard and chalk.)
  5. Plenty of clean, white notebook paper
  6. Textbooks
  7. Library books

If you have traveled to any underdeveloped country, you can draw on those experiences.  You may have recently taught in an older school building in which the heat or air conditioning did not work on a regular basis.  Be thankful for what you have!

When students are forming a new habit, expect superficial items in their list.  Encourage them to go deeper, to be thoughtful in their list.

Another approach that provides practice and modeling focuses on characters in a book you are reading as a class.  A great example to use would be the novel, Hatchet.  At the end of each chapter you could make a list as a class of the things Brian would be thankful for.  Since he is stranded on an island with only a hatchet, each day brings a new challenge.  What does he have or what did he learn that would help him survive the next day?

When I taught The Hunger Games to my 8th graders, the point I wanted them to feel was how hopeless life seemed to the main characters.  Yet, there were small things they could appreciate:  Katniss’ ability to use a bow and arrow, Gale’s friendship, etc.

Think of ways you can integrate this habit into your daily teaching.  Math and science lend themselves to an application of subject – how can students use what they learn in their everyday life?

The law of gravity makes it possible for . . .

Basic shapes in math are used to . . .

Is this easy?  No, but if you guide students, model, give them practice, you will be encouraging the thinking process.  That was always my goal in teaching.  I had a huge sign in every classroom in which I taught middle school students:   THINK!  If I taught them to think, I felt successful.  We need thinkers today –  students who reach past short-term memory to Evaluate, Analyze, Make Inferences, Interpret, and Synthesize.

Are you counting joy each day?  Have you made that a personal habit at the end of each school day?  Have you tried teaching your students to be grateful?  If you try this idea, I’d love to hear how it’s working.

Counting joy!

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