Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Exercises in Gratitude

Throughout the course of the past few days my students and I took advantage of several opportunities to express our "gratitude." With the onset of the Thanksgiving holiday quickly approaching  the timing was particularly appropriate. I expected my students to express gratitude for their family, their friends, their homes and their pets. With each conversation their responses did not fall short of my anticipated expectations. After 20 years of teaching and learning, you develop an understanding of the middle school students mindset. However, what unfolded became an unexpected surprise as the exercise quickly developed into a learning experience. 

For the past couple of weeks we have been investigating the challenges that  the Paleolithic humans had faced in attempting to fullfill their basic needs.  My students are well aware of the struggles that their ancestors faced due to various physiological and environmental factors. I was impressed during the "exercise of gratitude" that my students were grateful for their ability to meet their basic needs and for the efforts of others to provide for them. It was obvious to me that in considering their own gratitude that they were reflecting upon the challenges that were faced by prehistoric cultures. They were expressing gratitude for not having to endure similar circumstances. This was not something that I had expected to learn as the exercise progressed but was thrilled when I realized that this had become one of the outcomes.

The exercise would also teach me a valuable lesson about stretching the thinking of my students. During this exercise my most  "social "group of students revealed themselves as my deepest and reflective thinkers. When asked about what they were grateful for, they provided responses that reflected a great deal of contemplation. Their answers revealed an obvious depth of thinking and the exercise unexpectedly taught me a great deal about their willingness to stretch their thinking. These students were eagerly awaiting the opportunity to stretch their thinking. This question of  "gratitude" had peaked their interest, and their responses  revealed, passionate reflection and genuine enthusiasm. 

However, this exercise did not produce the same result with all of my classes as other groups of students gave one word answers to the question. They seemed reluctant to push the limits of their thinking and their responses seemed to indicate a lack of confidence or a lack of interest. What is clear with the later group is that new strategies need to be implemented in an effort to stretch their thinking, build their confidence and spark their interest.

As I prepare to enjoy Thanksgiving with my family, I am grateful for the love of my family and friends as well as all of the positive influences that have shaped the course of my life within the past eleven months. Additionally I am grateful for the gifts bestowed upon me by my students when they are least expected. It is those gifts that teach me the most valuable lessons and allow for my maximum professional and personal growth.

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