Dear Blake Families:
As we 'end' a very busy two school days before the Thanksgiving holiday, I hope that this update finds everyone well. Although it is hard to believe the holiday season is now officially here, the wintery weather this past weekend has certainly made it a reality! We had a much-needed relatively low-key weekend, going to the movies as a family and getting some yard work done.
Each year as we approach Thanksgiving, I do my best to take some time to reflect upon what I am thankful for. I feel fortunate that our staff has given me a 'gift' by sharing their 'thankful thoughts' once again this year. From small to large thanks, I do consider myself privileged to read and share their thanks. Holidays and traditions go hand in hand, and this week I am 'recycling' two items that I have shared in the past at this time of year. The first is a quotation from Cynthia Ozick that holds truth for me: "We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude." The second is an article by Paul Barnwell that is well worth a second, or maybe even third, read entitled, Five Reasons Why Teaching is Still Great. With the end of the first term approaching and a 'dip' in enthusiasm/energy perhaps for many of us, Barnwell's reminders for educators are both inspiring and encouraging: "...there is no other job I'd rather have than teaching right now. I'm downright tired of the negative news. There are still countless reasons to celebrate the profession and we as educators are due for a reminder."
Webster's defines gratitude as, "the state of being grateful or thankfulness." When thinking about traits and characteristics we want for our students, children, and one another, this certainly rises to the top of my list. Conveying appreciation and gratitude towards another is one of the greatest gifts that we can give, and as educators we are so fortunate to be given that opportunity on a daily basis. It is not easy, with many of the challenges and frustrations we face, but this mindset of gratitude, coupled with kindness, is quite powerful. Elena Aguilar's post in Edutopia on November 8, Gratitude Can Fuel School Transformation, supports this thinking by presenting an argument that gratitude can drive transformation in our schools: "Our brains are like Teflon for positive experiences and like Velcro with negative experiences. This means the negative comments, interactions, professional development (PD) workshops, and so on, cling to our brains. But if we spend a few minutes in appreciation, recalling those fulfilling moments in a day or encounters with supportive parents, or the segments in workshops when we felt we were learning, our brains create new links between neurons." Aguilar states that these links will allow us to delve deeper into our teaching: "If we feel more positive, we will want to be at work. We will most likely be more patient with our students and with colleagues. We may speak to each other with more kindness. We might listen to each other more deeply. We might take risks in our teaching or leadership. But we can't do any of these when we're perpetually distressed. Expressing gratitude can allow us to engage in teaching and learning in a more positive, open way." This is certainly easier said than done, and as Aguilar points out, it takes practice. I think it is practice worth doing.
In turn, helping our students to learn to practice gratitude is a worthwhile endeavor. With this in mind I am sharing Maurice Elias's post, Habits of Heart: Helping Students Reflect and Act on Gratitude, highlighting activities for our students and presenting a rationale as a conclusion: "When we promote gratitude in our students -- and in our own children -- we are giving them a great gift. What we understand about the effects of gratitude is similar to what we understand about the benefits of giving up grudges and more generally embracing a stance of greater appreciation. Dwelling in negative emotions --including selfish emotions -- is not the optimal state for learning, growth, or well-being. One of the reasons why writing about trauma is so effective is that it helps dispel the negative emotions involved. It does not and cannot change unfortunate and sometimes tragic events. But it can help shift perspective toward greater positive engagement with others and with life. So it is with gratitude."
As many of you know, Thanksgiving time holds a distinct place for me and my family, as it was during that week four years ago that my accident while out for a run took place. Each year Katie and I, along with our nuclear and extended families, are filled with great gratitude for our communities. The Blake community's care for all of us at that particular time was incredibly overwhelming and I am eternally grateful. Thank you. Thank you for the care, support, and encouragement you have given and provided for me - both personally and professionally - and to Katie, Maggie, Owen, and Gray. It may sound trite, but the sentiment is sincere - Blake is a very special place and I feel incredibly fortunate to work with such fine and caring educators in a shared endeavor to provide what is best for our students. Thank you to the community as well. I think that it is critically important that we 'live' our thanks and share the feelings of gratitude that we have with one another - students, parents, colleagues, and community alike. We took appropriate time this week to both remember and honor President Kennedy this week, and many of his words have become mantras, sources of motivation, and simply 'words to live by', such as this: "As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them."
While the holidays can be a wonderful time for many of us, it is equally important to be mindful that this can be a particularly stressful and emotional time for some of the students and adults in our community. Whether it is a personal situation, the loss of a loved one, or perhaps memories from past years, this time of year can bring to light a wide array of emotions, so please take the time to look out for one another over the next few weeks. Lean on one another for support. I know that I am not able to have the opportunity to say it personally to everyone before the end of the day on Tuesday afternoon, so please accept my best wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving. Each day I am thankful to be a part of this community, and I hope that you all enjoy a restful and relaxing time off with family and friends. I believe that we all are making a difference and for that I am grateful.
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