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An Experiment In Gratitude

I had the most positive student teaching experience I could have ever imagined. I was mentored by phenomenal, passionate, effective, caring educators who graciously answered my questions and modeled by their example what it meant to do what’s in the best interest of students as not just learners of academics but learners of life. I was exceptionally fortunate to student teach under a resource teacher who worked with small groups in interventions and pushed into classrooms of other teachers to support during academic times. This was especially beneficial because I was able to learn from many teachers at one time.
It was November the week of Thanksgiving, just before my student teaching assignment was coming to an end, and I was preparing to graduate in December. A fifth-grade teacher was leading her class in an experiment of gratitude. Students first rated their level of happiness on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best. Then, students were prompted to think of the most influential people in their lives. They selected an influencer and took time to write what made that person influential. The teacher participated in the exercise as well. After writing, the teacher shared Soul Pancakes “Experiment In Gratitude” video.
In the video, participants write to influential people in their lives. What they don’t realize is they will call these people and read what they have written aloud to them. Students slowly began to realize that was where the class exercise was headed for the afternoon. The teacher modeled for students first what it looks like to make a gratitude phone call. She had written to her father. When she called him, she first asked on a scale of 1-10 how happy he was. She then read him the letter and asked him his happiness rating after she shared her note.
Throughout the lesson, students were strengthening their expressive skills through writing, graphing skills through charting happiness levels, and community-building skills through connections they were making encouraging each other as they took the risks to make their calls and extend their gratitude. The timing of the “Experiment of Gratitude” around Thanksgiving was fitting–it provided a productive, engaging, educational activity for students as they anticipated the upcoming week-long Thanksgiving Break.
However, I have yet to discover a “wrong” time to encourage expressions of gratitude in the classroom. Students desire these opportunities to step out of their comfort zones, communicating in new ways. I have facilitated this same activity every year I have taught since it was modeled for me during my student teaching experience. Every group of students brings new light and perspective to the exercise. From parents to siblings to grandparents to foster parents, students consistently bring heart, emotion, and reflection to the exercise. It is great for them to have these opportunities, and it is great for us, as adults, particularly adults in the lives of middle schoolers, to see this vulnerability, humanity, and appreciation in our students. Students, teachers, and receivers of phone calls have expressed their appreciation for the “Experiment in Gratitude,” an exercise that I have vowed not to leave out of any November plans.

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