Thank You.

Thursday is Thanksgiving. It’s been a very full week already. We buried my Dad on Monday, in New Jersey. This afternoon, we will drive three and a half hours to my friend’s house near Woodstock, New York, to celebrate the holiday.

 

I am lucky. For the last forty-two years or so, my wife and I have joined with my friends from College, the University of Michigan, to share the holiday together. When we were younger, we all stayed in one house, like a small community. Now, we need to rent an additional place to sleep. This was always one of the most important events of the year for me, the time I could let go of demands and just be with people without the need for any pretense. They were part of my family.

 

My Mom and Dad had a similar relationship with some friends. I had an Aunt Matilda and Uncle Murray, and Beatrice and Jack. They weren’t blood relatives but our families would celebrate holidays and go on trips together, along with my actual aunt and uncle, Sylvia and Jonas. They would all support each other. Jack, who owned a gas station, would help with the car. Murray and Mat, who sold blinds, would help with covering windows. My real uncle, Jonas, would help if there were electrical problems. My Dad, the accountant, would help with financial and tax matters. My Mom, the historian, would fill in the historical context. Etc.

 

And on this past Monday, representatives of all these families and more came or called. After a death, it is truly helpful to realize all that you are grateful for. Mostly, I am grateful for the love, support, companionship, advice—the central presence of my Dad in my life. I am grateful for all the people who were touched by my Dad’s life and who helped us say goodbye to him. I am grateful to my brother and sister-in-law who were so reliable and caring, who had to deal with so many of the arrangements, for the funeral, for my Dad’s hospice care, and all the times they had to rush to his side when I was too far away. I am thankful for my wife, Linda, for her steady wisdom and love and that look she gives me to remind me to focus on what’s most important in life. Thank you to the Rabbi and others who helped with the funeral and the hotel staff who helped with our Celebration of Life afterwards.

 

I could go on and on. I could thank other relatives, friends and neighbors from New York, Virginia, Atlantic City and other parts of New Jersey, California, and Colorado.

 

And for people I know and don’t know, who take the time to care for other people and our world. Who, despite fear of retribution, speak out, take action to oppose the abuse of powerful men, or the greediness and stupidity of this political administration. Without thousands, millions of people speaking up, the economic and other resources of this country will be ripped off by the powerful and the lives of most of us made more difficult, if not oppressive. My Dad opposed such rip offs and so all those who join together to speak out are, in some way, also family.

 

So, thank you. Enjoy the holidays.

A Guest Blog: Gratitude Can Change Your Classroom and Your Life, by Owen Griffith

Gratitude Can Change your Classroom and your Life:

Guest Blog by Owen M. Griffith

 

Teaching is a challenging endeavor. With all the demands on a teacher’s time and energy, it is easy to lose the enthusiasm that brought us into the classroom. In addition, teachers have recently had new requirements added to their load, including standardized testing and dealing with changing curriculums.

However, there is good news. Recent research and personal experience have shown that gratitude, a simple yet powerful tool, may be applied in our classrooms to improve the culture, as well as to raise students’ grades and goals.

The Challenges and the Miracles of the First Year

Of all the things I have done in my life, getting through my first year of teaching was by far my most challenging undertaking. During that first year, I am thankful that I would occasionally reach those transcendent moments where I did connect with the students and felt the magic that happens when the classroom unites in learning.

Many nights, I would wake up at 3 AM, haunted by all the things going wrong with my teaching. This is when I would do a personal gratitude list and still find the good things happening among all the apparent problems. This kept me going through those darkest hours. Just when I thought of quitting and going back to my old career, a major miracle happened.

 

Robert

Robert was a tough 7th grader who didn’t seem to care about school or anything else. By his own admission, he was on the brink of joining a gang and failing every subject. When I would pass out the science assignment for the day, he would say, “Mr. G., science doesn’t mean anything in my life.”

Then, he would ceremoniously crumple up the assignment and throw it in the trash saying, “I’ll take an ‘F’ for the day.” This bothered me tremendously, and I tried different things to reach him, but nothing seemed to get through.

After Winter Break, one day I handed out a new assignment about the scientific method. Surprisingly, Robert looked intently at the page and said, “Will you help me with this Mr. G?”

After what he said registered in my brain, I quickly went to his desk and guided him through the scientific method. On the way home that night, I found myself smiling and wondering what happened to Robert. The next thing that ran through my mind was, “Will this change last, or was it a one day anomaly?”

The next day, we delved further into the scientific method and Robert asked more questions. Even more shocking, he started helping some of his fellow students who used to throw the papers away right along with Robert.

Robert’s turnaround came at my darkest hour in the classroom. I don’t know if I would have kept going if it hadn’t been for this minor miracle. But I realized it wasn’t just a minor miracle. When a student who was thinking about joining a gang and failing every subject turned around and not only got an A in my science class, but also got straight As in every subject by the end of the year, helped other students in academics, and stayed out of trouble, I realized I was a small part of a major miracle.

When I asked Robert what had happened, he said, “You never gave up on me and kept trying with me Mr. G.” I was reminded of a saying from a pedagogy professor who would gently remind us, “All it takes to change a student’s life is the appropriate adult at the appropriate time.”

 

Gratitude – The Missing Element in the Classroom

To start the new year of teaching, I knew I needed to interject something powerful and positive into my classroom. One day as we were planning for the first day of school, I had the inspiration of trying gratitude in the classroom. I realized that this could be a breakthrough. If it worked for me and others, it would work for the students.

So, when the students arrived, we started a gratitude journal from the first day of class. That was over ten years ago, and as those original students enter college now, many of them still keep their gratitude logs, but some have updated them to their computers or iPhone.

Gratitude was one of the missing elements for me in the classroom, bringing about a positive and optimistic culture that only seemed to improve as the year went on. Furthermore, gratitude had a cascading effect that gave me more energy to devote to every aspect of teaching, from planning lessons to dealing with conflict between students, to keeping the students interested in school as the year dragged on.

 

The Gifts of Gratitude

Teaching gratitude promotes a positive classroom culture, as well as enables schools to elevate students’ engagement and academic achievement. In addition, an attitude of gratitude allows teachers to improve their own lives, as well as their students’ lives.

The many benefits of gratitude include:

  • Challenging the culture of complaining and replacing it with gratitude
  • Combatting materialism and entitlement with gratitude and altruism
  • Understanding the barriers to implementing gratitude and dispelling them
  • Healing losses in life with gratitude for students and educators
  • Balancing our busy lives with mindfulness in conjunction with gratitude
  • Helping teenagers utilize gratitude successfully and overcoming their resistance
  • Encouraging the entire families of our students to embrace gratitude and a variety of activities to help it become a permanent part of their lives

Owen M. Griffith is an educator and author living in Northern Georgia. His work has appeared on Edutopia and Huffington Post. This article is taken from his book, Gratitude: A Way of Teaching. Grounded in scientific research, this book delves into numerous integral aspects of gratitude as it relates to education. Success stories and step-by-step instructions are also included in order to implement gratitude in the classroom and schools.

Order Owen’s book directly from Rowman and Littlefield Publishers through 12/31/17 and save 20% with discount code RLEGEN17.

Owen’s book is also available on Amazon, and be sure to check out Owen’s blog at http://spirituallyteaching.blogspot.com/.

 

Compassionate Critical Thinking and the Teaching And Living Using Spirituality Blogspot

This week, I was invited to write a blog on my book for the Teaching and Living Using Spirituality blogspot.

 

When I first discussed my book with friends, many said that compassion and critical thinking seemed contradictory to them. They thought ‘compassion’ necessitated taking in or opening to people, and ‘critical’ meant being judgmental, questioning or pushing them away. I then asked What happens inside a person when they’re compassionate? And then, after listening to their responses, What does critical thinking mean to you? If compassion leads to openness, taking in information, improved perception and understanding; and if critical thinking requires understanding a person or situation better, then wouldn’t compassion aid such thinking? …

 

To read the whole piece, please use this link. Thank you to Owen Griffith, author of Gratitude: A Way of Teaching, for engineering this guest blog and creating his website.

Anger, Resentment, and Gratitude

I think some of us can remember hearing the following: “I didn’t choose to be here. My parents chose to have sex; I didn’t choose to be born. I am forced to go to school; I didn’t choose to go to school.” We either said this ourselves or heard some of our students or children saying it. There are many ways to argue with these statements, but for now, let’s just listen to them and take them in. What is going on in us or in any person who has similar thoughts or feelings? What is our response to such statements? They’re not unusual but they are powerful. It’s not just a teenager being a teenager. There is real confusion, anger and/or pain being expressed.

 

So, what do you do when you hear these thoughts in your own mind or when your students voice them? Here are a few suggestions. You could re-direct attention. The thoughts arise from something repeating itself over and over again in your mind.  You can’t tell anyone to stop thinking something. But you can give yourself or your students something else to do or think about. You could read something inspiring, a story of courage or achievement or social justice, or a poem that reaches deep into the heart. Or you could organize an activity together, something physical or in nature.

 

If you have practiced mindfulness, you could lead the class in a meditation to quiet the mind, recognize the sensations that go with the thoughts, and let them go.

 

Another approach is to understand the emotion behind the thoughts by going directly into it and explore all of its components. What emotion are you feeling? What triggered the feeling? What sensations do you feel, where? What images arise? What actions do you feel driven to take?  For many people, the emotion arises from not wanting to go along with the status quo, the present reality, political, social or otherwise. It is pushing back against the world. It is a feeling of rebellion. And there is much to rebel against. I wish more of us were rebelling, or fighting to change elements of our human world.

 

It can be disappointment or anger. The anger might be at a hurt you have suffered. Or you might not realize it, but the anger might be from feeling that your life is not meaningful enough. Especially teenagers, whose brains are growing at such a pace that they want a challenge, they want to save the world and make grand discoveries. Anger or resentment can be a cry for depth and meaning.

 

However, when the thought, “I don’t want to be here,” is rampaging through your mind, it can block out anything positive. It can make the world itself a threat that you must guard against. You need some clarity to determine how much of your thinking that the world is awful or needs changing is based on a real understanding of the situation. And, how much is based on your attitude or not being able to let go of something in the past?

 

So, if students can’t find clarity, you can help them explore their own mind with an inquiry practice. First, they need some calm or quiet. You can start off with a meditative technique like focusing attention on the breath. Or you could just have them close their eyes and take 3 slow, full, deep breaths. Then try one of the following practices. If the sun is shining, you could ask them to: focus on the feeling of the warmth of the sun on your face. If it’s cold, you could say: imagine being wrapped in a beautiful quilt. Imagine the warmth and how comforting that could be, how safe it can feel. (Pause.)

 

Then: Legally, you have to be educated in a manner approved by the state. But you can ask: “What do I want from my schooling? How can I participate in that education so it best serves my deepest needs? What are those deep needs?”  Imagine participating in your education so it serves your needs. What would you do differently? What initial steps would you take?

 

Or: What would it be like to transform resentment or anger by changing your life or the world for the better? How would it feel to have a sense of purpose or meaning? Right now, what instance of suffering or injustice would you like to lessen, what situation would you like to change? What first step can you take to make that improvement and make your life more meaningful or purposeful through your actions?

 

Or, you could explore a mind-state very different from anger or resentment, like gratitude. In school, I sometimes ask students: What does gratitude mean to you? What would happen if you felt gratitude for what you’re learning? How does that differ, emotionally, from being bored, indifferent, resentful, or angry? Which attitude helps you learn better? Which gives you more of a sense of power?

 

I teach Karate to middle and high school students. One part of class is learning Katas, which are prearranged series of movements, each of which has a meaning in self-defense. Before each practice of a Kata, you bow. Some students have trouble seeing the meaning in this bow or understand why they must repeat the movements so many times. I then explain that each of the Katas we learn were created by real people, masters of the art, and can go back a hundred years or more. They are like books of great depth that can be read again and again to find new meaning. We bow in respect and gratitude not just to the teacher leading the class, but to the teacher in the Kata or to the teachings embedded in the Kata. I ask them: How does it change your attitude when you think of the master creating the Kata? When you think of its depth and age? When you think that practicing it might somehow give you the ability to save your life or the life of someone you cared about? What is that worth? What is it like to feel that you are learning something that can save lives?

 

When you feel resentful, you can feel your life is not worthwhile. You are saying “no” to a moment. We all want our lives to have a sense of worth and meaning and deserve the chance to create such a life. Anger wants a target to attack. It can point you towards something that needs changing or it can set you against yourself. Gratitude can take you directly into your own experience. It opens you up to the world. What you feel gratitude for, you value. You feel that your life in this very moment is valuable. So, what is it that you feel gratitude for? For your ability to be aware of your own thoughts and sensations? For the clarity of your breath? For the fact that there is something meaningful that you could work on? What is that worth to you?