Mary Mason Boaz
September 30, 2021
If you’ve spoken to an educator in your life recently, you may have heard the same sentiment that I have: “This year is harder than last year”. Among other things, they’ve noted the lack of stability, the ever changing list of quarantines, and the overwhelming risk assessments they have to make nonstop every day. We can’t wait until teacher appreciation week to show the educators in our lives that we care, that we see them, and that we value them. How are we, as a community, supporting them through this incredibly challenging time? How are we showing them how grateful we are? How are we connecting to their humanity? One small way we can do this is through individual and collective gratitude.
HOW GRATITUDE KEEPS ME GROUNDED
Gratitude has been a tool that therapists have suggested to me since I was 10, when I first started seeking treatment for my anxiety and is something that I have loosely kept up with over the years. About 9 months ago, upon recommendation by my therapist, I recommitted to incorporating a daily practice of gratitude after many discussions about the severe levels of stress I was navigating in this pandemic-era with a toddler, a newborn, a full time job, and a parent in the high risk category for severe COVID complications. The constant daily risk analysis was overwhelming and paralyzing. So I’ve been trying it out. At home around the dinner table, we try to each share one thing we are grateful for. My one year old usually just throws food on the floor and babbles, but my partner, my 4 year old, and I each often take the opportunity to share. Does it happen every night? Certainly not. But over the past 9 months I have been reminded that these types of practices, while small, have always shown me the power of gratitude in lifting my mood, bringing joy to others, and alleviating stress.
Brene Brown often shares an excellent quote from a Jesuit priest that says, “It’s not joy that makes us grateful, it’s gratitude that makes us joyful.” A lot of research exists about the positive benefits of gratitude, including improved mental and emotional health, physical health, relationships with others, and optimism. While there is less research focused explicitly on gratitude in the workplace, “studies suggest that gratitude may help employees perform their jobs more effectively, feel more satisfied at work, and act more helpfully and respectfully toward their coworkers.”1 In summary, practicing gratitude can be extremely beneficial for both the giving and the receiving party.
EDUCATORS NEED GRATITUDE NOW MORE THAN EVER
We need to show gratitude now more than ever, not just for ourselves, but for the educators in our lives. Last year, school leaders and teachers had to learn an entirely new way of doing their jobs (virtually), many with their own children at home or caring for dependents. And yet, this year feels even harder to them. In addition, there are often added layers of challenge for BIPOC staff members who may be faced with structural and/or interpersonal racism within their school buildings on top of the layers of pandemic-related stress and trauma (which at a societal level have disproportionately impacted people of color).
As a parent, organizational leader, former teacher, and active community member, I am constantly thinking about large-scale structural changes that need to be made in this sector. Many of them keep me up at night: How can we pay teachers more? How can we create safe working environments for BIPOC staff members? How can we reimagine the structure of K-12 education so that teachers have flexibility in their work days and students can learn at the highest levels? The list goes on and the work on systemic issues continues. But we are also in an urgent moment where the educators in our lives need us to take quick and concrete action.
SO THE QUESTION BECOMES: THIS FALL, HOW WILL YOU SHOW GRATITUDE TO THE EDUCATORS IN YOUR LIFE?
With the help of the EdFuel team, I’ve outlined some actions that you can take immediately to embrace and support the whole beings that are the educators in your lives. It can feel overwhelming with where to start. As a full-time, working parent during this pandemic, I know how depleted I tend to feel at the end of each day. But I’ve learned that it is ok to start small and think about what you can take on in this current moment. September and October mean back-to-school season and parent-teacher conferences. This fall, I plan to write thank you notes to each of my childrens’ teachers and their school director, while also asking them what they need to feel supported. As a white, cis, straight, 2w3 on the enneagram, woman (along with many other identities), I don’t share the same identity markers as all of my childrens’ teachers and so I want to ask rather than assume what they might want, need, or appreciate. I also commit to reaching out to the parent community through our school listserv to brainstorm ways to show our gratitude to our incredible teachers and school leaders.
It is important to note that there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to gratitude. One of our priorities at EdFuel is supporting schools to operate with anti-racist talent practices. Part of this work involves creating “a sense of restored community and mutual caring”2. This involves truly listening to and understanding what each individual needs, as opposed to making assumptions, and coming together as a community to meet those needs wherever we can. Especially for educators who have identity markers that are different from your own, reach out and ask, don’t just assume.
I certainly don’t mean to suggest that this is enough. There are absolutely structural changes that need to be made to value teachers more, pay them more, create safe spaces, offer them flexibility and the chance to rest, have manageable class sizes, and be allowed some creative license to meet the needs of their unique students. This is a “yes, and” situation. That is all true, yes. AND each of us also needs to take a few minutes, wherever we can, and practice gratitude for the educators in our lives.
Check out the list below if you don’t know where to start:
If you are an organizational or school leader:
- Schedule school leader and teacher well-being touch points into your talent calendar (EdFuel)
- Give time back wherever you can (cancel meetings, give workdays as days off)
- Have a human moment in each of your meetings with school leaders and/or teachers and ask them what they need (and task for instructional coaches and VPs to do the same)
- Incorporate aspects of the PERMA model (daily gratitude, music, walks outside, practicing being present in the moment)
- Write thank you notes to each of your school leaders and/or teachers
- Ask the parent association to organize ongoing celebrations for school staff. This could be things like coffee and donuts, but also non-monetary actions like thank you notes or video messages from parents and students.
- Bring humor, joy, and music whenever you can (Elena Aguilar, Onward: Resilient Educators, Thriving Schools)
- Create a daily practice of gratitude for yourself, your school, or the organization as a whole
- Work with the team to create a plan for class coverage when teachers need to be out for their own childrens’ quarantines
- Consider creating an ’“emergency staff fund” for any unexpected expenses that arise as a result of the pandemic (e.g., hiring babysitters, caring for aging parents, car repairs, etc.)’ (Chastity Lord, Jeremiah Program)
If you are a parent and/or community member:
- Organize with the parent association to bring teachers coffee, bagels, and other types of food or non-monetary actions like thank you notes or video messages from parents and students. (This does not need to wait until teacher appreciation week)
- Write a thank you note to a teacher and a principal
- Go to your local school board meeting and bring up the issue of teacher well-being
- Ask your local principal how you can help support during this time
- If you have children in your life, ask their teachers how they want to be supported (ask rather than assume)
Please share how you’re practicing care and gratitude for yourself, your families, your colleagues, and your educators this back-to-school season and tag us on Instagram @EdFuel or on Twitter @EdFuelOrg.
1 Allen, Summer. “The Science of Gratitude”. Greater Good Science Center. May, 2018. https://ggsc.berkeley.edu/images/uploads/GGSC-JTF_White_Paper-Gratitude-FINAL.pdf
2Crossroads Ministry, Chicago, IL: Adapted from original concept by Bailey Jackson and Rita Hardiman, and further developed by Andrea Avazian and Ronice Branding; further adapted by Melia LaCour, PSESD. https://philanos.org/resources/Documents/Conference%202020/Pre-Read%20PDFs/Continuum_AntiRacist.pdf