A resonating theme in literature which documents changes imposed on educational settings due to the worldwide pandemic in 2020 has been the importance of expressing gratitude and associated advantages in promoting emotional wellbeing within organisations.
Sara Price (2020) writes that the impact of gratitude is not only good for emotional well-being and mood, but also on the brain. People who exercise gratitude show greater neural sensitivity in the medial prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain associated with learning and decision making. She goes on to say, gratitude costs you nothing and it could improve your brain function – what’s not to love?
Francesca Gino, behavioural scientist, recommends (2013) that we should be more grateful, more often, aligning her feelings of gratitude with the American Thanksgiving season and pointing out that gratitude should be expressed all year round. Gino states that we often miss out on opportunities to express gratitude, especially at work. Feeling grateful she says enables us to savour positive experiences, and expressions of gratitude can have powerful and long lasting effects on those who receive them. She cites a study (John Templeton Foundation, 2013) in which 2000 Americans were surveyed. The feedback was overwhelming – more than 90% of those surveyed agreed that grateful people are more fulfilled, lead richer lives and are more likely to have friends, more than 95% said parents should teach gratitude, 93% said that grateful bosses were more likely to be successful, and only 1% felt that gratitude was unnecessary. When asked what people were thankful for, jobs were ranked last. Gino sees failing to express gratitude as a missed opportunity: Gratitude enables us to savour positive experiences, cope with stressful circumstances, develop resilience and strengthen social relationships. She refers to, Pursuing Happiness: The Architecture of Sustainable Change by Lyubormirsky, Sheldon and Schkade (2005). Their research showed that writing letters of gratitude once per week over a six-week period led to greater life satisfaction compared to simply recording ordinary life events. She also mentions Emmons and McCollough’s (2003) work. They asked participants to keep a weekly journal for ten weeks. Some wrote about five things they were grateful for, each week, some wrote about five hassles and some wrote about five events during the week. Those who listed blessings scored higher on measures of positive emotions, self-reported symptoms of their physical and mental health and felt more connected to others compared to others in the survey.
Gino refers to research she conducted with Adam Grant, A Little Thanks Goes a Long Way: Explaining Why Gratitude Expressions Motivate Prosocial Behaviour (2010) in which they found that expressions of gratitude increase pro-social behaviour, enabling people to feel socially valued and at the same time, motivating them to be more helpful towards others.
The importance of Gratitude is a theme emanating from the challenges of 2020.
Reflecting on 2020, despite the challenges, we have much to be grateful for at Tudor House.
We are grateful for living and working in a place rich in natural beauty, where our students have space to grow, and ‘awe walks’ (New York Times, Oct 1, 2020) are a daily occurrence. In our magnificent School playground students can canoe on a flooded pasture (as well as in the dam), ride their bikes, camp under the stars, cook on a campfire or the new wood fired pizza oven, build bases, swing from the low ropes (and trees), participate in scavenger hunts and tough mudders, play sport against each other (e.g. Tudor House Bledisloe Cup Rugby) when COVID-19 restrictions meant the winter interschools sports season was curtailed, plant seeds and go on expeditions.
We are grateful that the Southern Highlands region is increasingly recognised as a wonderful location for families to grow, without city congestion and noise.
We are grateful for simple pleasures – conversations over meals in the Dining Room, visits to classrooms to share exciting inquiries and projects, greeting and farewelling students at drop-off and pick-up times (and getting to know extended family members and pets!).
We are grateful that we’ve held Poetry Recitations and Public Speaking Competitions finals, staged the Tudor House Talent Show, celebrated French Immersion Day, fundraised for Jeans for Genes day, continued the Blue Bar challenge, enjoyed customised onsite Years 5 and 6 Leadership Days, ‘met’ with parents/carers and organised information meetings via Zoom, announced Colour House winners – and recorded these modified events enabling parents to join in.
We are grateful that we had two days to reflect as a learning community on our journey to become an Authorised International Baccalaureate, Primary Years Programme World School with the Verification Visit. After three years, it was wonderful to hear such positive and personal feedback about Tudor House from the IB delegates and to receive news in October 2020 that we are now an Authorised IB PYP School.
We are grateful that our collective experience with online distance learning led to more effective use of blended learning as we returned to face-to-face teaching. Teachers who didn’t feel tech savvy, now are! Teachers with more experience in educational technology have gone deeper and supported their colleagues. Collaboration between workmates took on another dimension. We were all given the opportunity to develop our understanding and reflect on our practice (and others’) through the Macquarie University Educational Technology modules. Our networking in developing our skills in technology went beyond our own setting – social media, Zoom meetings within various professional bodies and cross-campus provided us with opportunities to learn from and reflect with others. Students too have benefited from having to self-regulate in their interactions with technology – focusing on the tasks set, and not getting side-tracked by the temptations of technology for recreational purposes. We’ve all benefited from meta-learning skills and agency.
We are grateful that we’ve maintained staff professional learning both on campus and off-site through modified platforms.
We are grateful for the support of our parents/carers – usually onsite for many Tudor House functions, respecting the necessity to modify School operations and minimise parental presence at community events.
We are grateful that Tudor House is a campus of The King’s School, benefiting from the broad infrastructure of a large organisation.
Gratitude is such an important virtue, certainly promoted and supported by our School Values which are woven as a thread throughout day-to-day life. Gratitude underpins Humility, Honesty, Respect, Responsibility, Integrity, Compassion and should be emphasised as a focus so that all members of the community are making Tudor House an even better place as a blessing to others, due to their presence, as the most excellent version of themselves.
Gratitude and optimism go hand-in-hand. The Japanese concept of Wabi-sabi reminds us to enjoy the opportunities in the present, wherever we are – and to be grateful for circumstances we find ourselves in. We are reminded to find the beauty in the imperfect, impermanent and incomplete, finding the good in our daily lives, focusing on how things are, rather than how they should be. John Hattie, in a recent podcast (June, 2020), reflected that his optimism during the current pandemic with reference to teachers and schools is due to never underestimating the skills we have to solve a problem.
John Hattie podcast: https://education.nsw.gov.au/news/secretary-update/every-student-podcast-john-hattie