One could be forgiven for feeling nothing short of despair upon reading current news headlines. Terrorism. Corruption. Political polarization. A climate in crisis. It is easy to get caught up in the collective negativity which has almost become de rigueur, and especially so for our young people who are preparing to head out into the world.
Add to the mix factors such as school stress, pressures to succeed and increased competition for university places, and it is no wonder that more youth around the globe are reporting feelings of distress. Parents and educators are presented with a conundrum here. How do we support our young people in being aware and knowledgeable about the world they are set to inherit, while also keeping the negativity bias inherent in news media and modern society in perspective? How do we encourage them to grow both a shrewd mind as well as a healthy sense of hope? There isn’t an easy solution surely, but perhaps there are tools with which we can equip young people to navigate a complex future with both intelligence and realistic optimism.
The expression of gratitude as an intentional conscious practice is a concept I first encountered about five years ago through the emerging (and rapidly growing) research on wellbeing in schools. The evidence base suggests, quite clearly, that the regular and deliberate act of recognizing what is going well in our lives and then expressing thanks can help build strong psychological resources. People who take time to feel appreciation for the good things tend to be happier.
As part of our work to develop a strong Positive Education programme in the British Secondary and High School (BSHS), we began to weave gratitude practice into our regular routines at school. We started with teachers first, knowing that in order for them to one day teach our students this wellbeing tool they had to experience it first themselves. It didn’t take long for gratitude to become a regular feature of our professional lives and the positive impact was even greater than we’d hoped.
Gratitude is now something we do. Our weekly staff briefings always start with giving thanks to the people who are doing something particularly special for our students and community. Meetings are started with Three Good Things, an evidenced gratitude practice that requires us all to challenge our own negativity bias and think of what is going well. Teachers are regularly asked, during their weekly professional reflection, to express gratitude for the daily blessings, many of which could otherwise be overlooked.
We are now talking about the power of gratitude with our students. We are more intentional in how we express our own gratitude for their efforts and the contributions they make to our school. In Core lessons we are teaching them about how regular gratitude practice can help them build their psychological capital and serve as one of their supports when things get tough.
Three Good Things has become a ritual of the Papps Family dinner table. Mr Papps and I start by each sharing our Three Good Things for the day, and then our seven year old and five year old do the same (our toddler doesn’t speak yet!). I’m seeing with my own children how talking about what we’re thankful for, and carving out time to focus on the good is making a difference. What’s improving is their understanding that in spite of what may have happened that day, or whatever difficulty they’ve encountered, a truly bad day for them is rare.
Today, I felt a huge swell of gratitude watching the processional as the whole school came together to wish our H2 and H4 students well in their examinations. And so, on this final day before the IGCSE and IB examination period I want to share my Three Good Things about our H2 and H4 students:
- They work hard. They understand that in life there are few rewards that don’t require commitment, focus and grit. Each and every day teachers see students striving to do their best.
- They think and reflect. Learning takes time and we make mistakes along the way. We make poor choices. We do things we regret. This year especially I’ve been struck by, and sometimes caught off guard in moments where students have bravely owned their missteps and worked to learn from them.
- They care about each other. Both of these year groups are known for working together. They don’t always get along, and there have definitely been bumps along the way, but they come together when it really matters. The friendships run deep.
H2 and H4 students, thank you for everything you have given to our school this year. Each day we see you understand what it means to be TES students in how you live out our school values: participation, responsibility, creativity, perseverance and respect. It has been our privilege to work with you and, on behalf of all BSHS teachers, we wish you all the best for your examinations! You are ready and we are right here, cheering you on.
Further reading on gratitude practice:
- Functions of Positive Emotions: Gratitude as a Motivator of Self-Improvement and Positive Change (article)
- How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain (article)
- Gratitude and Wellbeing (website)
For more on our Positive Education programme see this week’s post from Head of Positive Education, Mrs. Bracken: Why Does Social Intelligence Matter?
Ms Sonya Papps
Head of British Secondary and High School