After each MGBL or Yavneh Youth League game, my kids know that I am going to whisper in their ears, “Go say, ‘Thank you,’ to the Coach.” They then walk over sheepishly and say, “Thank you.” And, when I pick up carpool and bump into my child’s teacher I say to my son, “Say, ‘Thank you’ to the Morah.” And, each Shabbat morning, when we cross the street at the crossing guard, I again say to my children under my breath, “Say, ‘Thank you’.” And, of course, I am still one of those old-fashioned moms who makes her children write hand-written thank you notes.
We know that being thankful or having gratitude is “menschlach,” but research from Dr. Jeffery Froh and Dr. Giacomo Bono indicates that children who are taught to have gratitude have improved mood, mental health, life satisfaction- all especially during adolescence when their identity is taking shape. Teens who have high levels of gratitude have less negative emotions and depression, and more positive emotions and happiness four years later. Feeling grateful also motivates teens to help others.
There are ways that educators and parents can teach gratitude. Gratitude is a skill that can be fostered and strengthened. One primary way is through Gratitude Journals. In one study, by Dr. Froh and Dr. Bono, middle school students were asked to list five things for which they were grateful. The other group were writing about things that were bothering them or basic daily events. The ones with the gratitude journals felt more optimistic and even felt healthier physically. They also reported being happier with their school experience.
Another technique is what Froh and Bono call a “gratitude visit” where students write a letter to someone to whom they are grateful whom they never properly thanked. This letter is read in person to the benefactor.
Froh and Bono also taught the following skills to their students:
a. Notice intentions- Don’t only notice what they did for you, but the thoughts behind the act, i.e. the times when someone noticed what you needed, remembered something you liked…
b. Appreciate costs- Realize the time and effort that was needed to do something for you. What did the person sacrifice to help you?
c. Recognize the value of benefits- When others help us, it is a “gift.”
Aside from the above benefits to the children, gratitude in schools particularly, spreads to the teachers, staff and brings people together. It creates connections between teachers and students. That is why a “thank you” to “Morah” is always wonderful. Children being grateful to their teachers is good for everyone all around- the children, the teachers and the school at large.
After yesterday’s parent-teacher conferences and with the holiday of Thanksgiving approaching, I gave some thought to the gratitude that we as parents owe the teachers’ of our children. As a parent, I make sure to thank my children’s teachers for all they have done for my children, and all the hours they put into preparing for class. I may not always see eye to eye with each one of them, but I know the hours upon hours they put into their work, and the thought they put into my child’s progress. If my child comes home with a wonderful Dvar Torah or an incredible piece of knowledge, I try to send a quick e-mail to the teacher thanking him/her. When I think about it, I know that my parents used to do the same. I still recall a letter that my parents wrote to my high school after one Pesach, thanking them for all the knowledge we shared at the seder. That letter was hung at the school Open House for many years. I definitely make it a point to have my children- even middle school ones who are “departmentalized”- write a personal thank you note to each teacher at the end of the year.
How about gratitude that teachers owe parents? As a teacher, I thank the parents of my students for partnering with me, and for assisting the students at home when needed. I thank them for communicating with me about issues or concerns they might have, or simply giving me a “heads up” that their child is having a bad day, and letting me know how I can help. I thank them for not rushing to panic when their child comes home upset about something that happened in class, and rather reach out to me to see what can be done. I also thank them for reinforcing a love for learning, and a serious attitude about respect and Kavod for fellow students and their teachers.
And, then there’s the gratitude that we as parents and teachers owe our children. We need to be grateful for the days that they aren’t too challenging and make our jobs easy. But, we also have to thank them for the way they do challenge us to be better at our jobs- as parents or teachers. And, of course, we thank them for the Nachat they give us, and the pride we feel when they internalize that which we taught them- even if they, as teenagers, will never give us the satisfaction of saying, “Thank you.”
6th Grade- Finished their organization unit by focusing on organizing backpacks, lockers and the workspace at home.
7th Grade- Students focused on the concept of Resiliency and what skills are needed to achieve resiliency.
8th Grade- Eighth graders discussed some test taking tips.