Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Grateful Heart in the Classroom

My colleague and friend, Sheila Monger and I talk a lot about gratitude. After a particularly rough couple of years teaching, she and I would daily remind each other of our mantra to Choose Gratitude. When teachers get caught up in the problems it is easy to become negative and grumpy. No one sets out to be 'that teacher' but we all know them, and at times, may have been them. There really is so much to be grateful for. And lest you think I am a Pollyanna, rest assured, I am not. I was laid off every year for my first 6 years of teaching. I have had great and not so great colleagues and administrators (I liken a principal to an appendix, you don't notice them until they are bad) My husband was diagnosed with cancer in the middle of year 8 of teaching and died the following winter. So I have had a lot of reason to be grumpy and not grateful, yet still, I choose gratitude.

So imagine my great joy to meet +Scott Meile. Scott is a 8th grade English teacher in New Jersey.  His district is in an area with one of the highest teen suicide rates in the country. He saw a need for connection in his classroom and community, and he created it with the Door of Thanks. With all the bad in the world, Mr. Meile encourages his students to stop, think and appreciate what they have.  Throughout the year, students place note of the wall that state what they are thankful for. Notice I said wall. The door of thanks became the wall of thanks, and that became a virtual wall of gratitude!

I met Scott when he traveled to San Mateo, California to participate in a panel discussion at Edmodocon16. I was honored to facilitate the discussion on Supporting the Whole Student with Edmodo. This panel included short presentations from speakers on how they use Edmodo to meet the unique needs of their students for more than just academics—building community, supporting a school Gay-Straight Alliance, reaching out to students who struggle to get to school, and encouraging gratitude.

Although I've begged Scott to blog about his gratitude journey, Being a busy dad, husband, teacher and coach hasn't allowed him much time to write. So I asked his permission to share his story. in his own words.
It’s our job in education to show them that our school, our community, our families aren’t just about what we’re teaching but the people that are involved and the relationships that are created and the people we meet. The issues in New Jersey aren’t uncommon everywhere else, There is that many young kids don’t know where to turn. There’s peer pressure, bullying, and self image awareness which often leads to students not knowing who to turn to or who they can trust. Peers are left with unanswered questions, they often don’t understand or realize that some kids need help and aren’t being taught compassion or understanding and the ability to find the right people to talk to. 
In our class we try to recognize the importance of our team and our goals, in addition we take time to recognize our lives outside of the classroom. We push ourselves to complete tasks, but more importantly we learn about each other. We take 6-10 minutes everyday and give thanks. Edmodo is the key because it unlocks a level of communication and acceptance that isn’t always easy for students to receive or acknowledge. We each and everyday make it a point to reach out to one another, and comment on some of the things that are going on in our lives outside of school (or within our school community) and that allows for interpersonal growth that sometimes is lacking in today’s students busy schedules and culture. Edmodo creates a connectedness that allows for something easy, reachable, and creative. It takes a snapshot of our class, the highs, the lows and everything in between and we document these moments and get to see the growth throughout the year.
Emotional intelligence is something we try to grow throughout the year, taking time to talk about gratitude leads to more interesting conversations regarding citizenship and compassion.  As I have become more and more experienced in the classroom I have found I have less and less to say to my students regarding their learning.  I often find them discovering new things and showing me more about their learning then I ever imagined was possible.  But, what I have found myself talking more and more with the kids is their responsibility to each other, how we as a class can make a difference, and more importantly, every person should act with respect, integrity, and empathy.  
Even more importantly it has made me a better teacher, dad, and coach because I have come to realize just how much of a struggle the kids go through on a daily basis.

I am grateful for teachers, and friends, like Scott.

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