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For Math Teachers by Math Teachers

Archive for November, 2013

Choose Gratitude

November 25th, 2013 by Alice Fisher

“Tapping into the Power of Attitude” is an article in the recent issue of ASCD’s Education Update.  It’s a timely topic with Thanksgiving around the corner.

Robert Emmons, scientific expert on gratitude, posits that gratitude has two key components:  “First it’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received.”  In the second part of gratitude, “we recognize that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves.” Read more of what Emmons wrote about gratitude here.

Teacher educator Dr. Kerry Howells writes that “many frown upon the use of the words gratitude and education together. It seems like a strange combination.”  Gratitude is common in conversations about spiritual transformation or wisdom, but to see how it relates to teaching math content knowledge and problem-solving skills seems to require “a greater leap than many are willing to make.”

However, research points to gratitude “as a potential bridge between students’ academic and social well-being…Studies show that grateful youth have higher GPAs, experience more positive emotions, and ultimately, go on to live more meaningful lives.”  (from ASCD)

Recently, RUSMP Summer Campus Program teacher participant, Dahirou Ndiaye was featured in a recent HISD new article for a connection exercise he begins class with called “Good Things.”  Students are asked to share something positive going on in their lives such as a birthday celebration or achieving a personal goal.  He received this idea  from Macie Schroeder, another teacher who attended the Summer Campus Program.  Macie says that “Good Things” came from her training in Capturing Kids’ Hearts founded by Flip Flippen who believes that If you have a child’s heart, you have his head. The idea behind “Good Things” is that students are going to talk during class so “why not give them a brief, designated time to share their news with the entire class? ‘Good Things’ also allows me to learn more about who my students are outside of class and I can also share a little bit about who I am outside of teaching. Students know that I genuinely care about their lives and that our classroom is a safe place to share those positive things.”

This activity of expressing gratitude with one’s classmates “totally changes the atmosphere of the class right from the beginning to a very positive climate,” according to Dahirou.  Thus, gratitude does seem to have a natural place within the classroom.

Dr. Howells gave a talk about gratitude and education at the 2012 Mind and Its Potential conference.  View the recording here.

In her talk, Dr. Howells argues that gratitude exerts its full power when gratitude is an expression towards someone instead of for something.  She states that especially for teachers, gratitude is more effective if conceptualized as a practice rather than as an emotion.  She then tells a story about a teacher who inadvertently stopped cyber-bullying among three students in his class through the practice of gratitude with his students. The teacher shared very specific and personal statements of gratitude with each of his students.  After this practice, the cyber-bullying stopped.  She states that perhaps we have missed the core of why people bully in school and in the workplace – because they don’t feel appreciated nor feel connected to the people around them.  The French word for gratitude is “reconnaissance” which contains the word recognition. So what the teacher from her story was doing was recognizing the students in a way that nobody else had.

She then draws our attention to the etymological link between thinking and thanking: both words come from the same root word!  Thus, she hypothesizes that when students thank when they think, they think better.  And when students thank while they think, they think in a deeper way.  This is what her research demonstrates as well.

Teachers have seen this in immigrant students who are so appreciative of the education that is being provided that they excel in class despite having limited English proficiency.  Faculty see this in mature students who go back to school after raising a family and are thirsty for intellectual growth.

We end with Dr. Howell’s powerful statement: If students think about what they have been given rather than looking only for what they can receive,  their learning transforms and they are able to be more present in their learning.