Schools can strengthen students’ connections to teachers, schools and communities. Research done since 2006 suggests there is a free, simple, effective practice that can be placed into existing curriculum across subjects and grade levels: teaching gratitude. Here are some ideas for first steps:
- Class meetings. Positive Discipline class meetings start with compliments. Often the compliments are a form of appreciation and gratitude. They build connection and empathy, too.
- A gratitude journal. Have students keep a daily gratitude journal. Studies have shown that this single activity is connected to more optimism and life satisfaction, fewer physical complaints and fewer negative emotions. Journaling ideas might include:
- Write 3 or 4 things and/or people they are grateful for and why.
- Write a specific letter of gratitude to a person they have not thanked or appreciated. They could read or send the letter to the person.
- Respond to prompts, for example, “My day/life is better because __________” or even “I am grateful for chores because ____________”, to encourage them to think more deeply.
- Share how their family practices gratitude.
- A gratitude wall. Invite students to share thing that they are grateful for in a designated space on a wall of the classroom. Join them in writing things you are grateful for.
In the past decade, several long-term research studies have shown a strong connection between gratitude and greater social support and protection from stress and depression over time. It helps people stay happier and healthier. The studies suggest that gratitude in children helps them form, maintain and strengthen relationships as well as helping them feel connected to their community. Here are some ideas for growing “gratitude muscles” in your family. Children learn from our example.
- Talk about being grateful out loud. It might sound like, “Thank you for” or “I’m grateful for.”
- Include gratitude in your routines. You may be a family that shares gratitude before meals, gratitude for joys of the day before bedtime or a family that regularly reflects on things you are grateful for including friends and each other.
- Keep a family gratitude journal or jar. Your family can write down things you are grateful for and then on special occasions take time to read what you have been grateful for together.
- Model and encourage helping others and nurturing relationships. When children see us helping others, they are more likely to follow suit. When children lend a hand to another – especially if they are using their own strengths, they feel more connected to those they are helping. They learn that tending to relationships should be a priority.
- Plant the seeds of gratitude early. Gratitude thrives in an environment of connection and belonging. When infants’ and toddlers’ needs are satisfied with love and patience, we are planting the seeds of gratitude.
- Teach your children how to contribute. Help your child discover his or her passion and then to use that passion to make a difference by giving back. The strongest sense of gratitude comes from connecting to a ‘bigger picture’.
No one likes to make mistakes. Making mistakes can invite uncomfortable feelings of guilt and shame. Those feelings result in students (and most of us) thinking about mistakes in ways that aren’t helpful. Students may think that mistakes are “bad” or that others will laugh at them if they do something wrong. They may work really hard to try not to make any mistakes – to be perfect. These thoughts and feelings invite students to feel discouraged or to give up.
As an educator you know that learning requires making some mistakes. Can you imagine learning math or how to spell if you couldn’t make mistakes? It also requires taking one more step: learning from our mistakes. Creating a classroom where mistakes are opportunities to learn helps students take responsibility and develop a growth mindset conducive to learning. Here are some ideas:
- Be transparent about your own mistakes and invite students to help you find the repair. “Whoops, I made a mistake. How can I fix it?”
- Teach and model the process of repairing a mistake.
- Regather: Make sure both of you are calm.
- Recognize: Own your part of the problem.
- Reconcile: Briefly express regret. Don’t make excuses.
- Resolve: Share with the other person what you will do to prevent the problem in the future.
- Celebrate instructional mistakes (yours and theirs). Create a community where it is safe to learn from the mistakes made in math and reading.
- When students make a mistake, focus on how they can fix it instead of the mistake itself.
- Remind students that anytime we learn, we will make mistakes and that is different than being a mistake (being stupid, lazy, careless).
- Have a class discussion about what mistakes mean to your students and what kind of self-talk they use when they make a mistake. Help them find new words so that they can learn from their mistakes.
Traditional discipline often focuses on what not to do – often blaming, shaming or humiliating children when they make a mistake, in an attempt to “teach” them to behave. Isn’t it interesting that we think we have to make children feel worse before they can do better? Positive Discipline focuses instead on teaching children what to do. They don’t always get it right the first time, but they do learn. We can start by modeling the courage to be imperfect ourselves– acknowledging and repairing our own mistakes. We can also:
- Ask curiosity questions when children have an issue: What happened? How did it happen? What were you trying to accomplish? I wonder what you try next time?
- Remember that your children are children. They are not mini adults. Just as toddlers have to fall down repeatedly before they can walk, our children need to make lots of mistakes as they learn.
- Model and teach the 4 R’s of recovering from mistakes:
- Re-gather – Make sure everyone is calm.
- Recognize – “Wow, I made a mistake.”
- Reconcile – “I apologize.”
- Resolve – “Next time I will…” or “Let’s work on a solution.”
More on learning from mistakes:Modeling how to handle adversity Creating protection from shame Making amends and more on fixing mistakes
Letting go of summer and gearing up for the new school year ahead can be many things for children. This transition brings up the feelings of excitement, anticipation, anxiousness and nervousness. Creating structures and routines helps the whole family deal with the change.
Here are some ideas to encourage children transition into the new school year:
- Routines If you haven’t already made a morning routine, sit down with your child and draw it out. You are looking for progress not perfection. Each day you can ask, “How did the routine work today? What can we do tomorrow to make it even better?”.
- Thinking through the day Have a discussion with your child, encouraging him or her to think about how to prioritize now that school has started. What happens after school? Are there days with special activities like sports teams or art classes?
- Calendar Are there days or times that your child spends with another parent or caregiver? Make a calendar for that so that the child can predict what is happening.
- Homework What is the plan for getting homework done?
- Family time What is the plan for spending time as a family? Will you have family dinners? Will you read, go on a walk or play games in the evening?
The most important thing that happens in the school and classroom community during the first few weeks is encouraging children to get to know each other and to begin to see their class as a team.
Here are some activities for creating connections with your community of learners.
- Ball of Yarn Have students join you in a circle. Hold a ball of yarn, share your name and something about yourself. Holding the end of the yarn, toss the yarn ball to a student. That student shares his or her name something about him or herself. The student holds on to the string and then tosses the ball to a third student. When all the students have had a chance, the ball is tossed back to the teacher. It now looks like a spider web. It is an opportunity to discuss with students cooperation, interdependence. Instead of names you (and they) could share a hope of what will make this a great school year.
- People poems Students write their name vertically on a piece of paper, and write things about themselves that begin with each letter of their name.
- Time Capsule Collect empty Pringles cans or paper towel rolls. Have students write a handwriting sample, draw an outline of their hand, list some favorites (TV show, food, color, etc.). Place in the can/roll and seal. Open on the last day of the school year.
- Sticker Partners to get to know each other better. Give a sticker or specially shaped paper to each child as they enter your classroom. Make sure there are 2 of each item so that students can match up. Have the students find their matching partner, interview him or her (name, favorite color, something they are good at) and then take turns introducing their partners to the class.
Other ideas for starting the school year:
Starting the school year: https://sounddiscipline.wordpress.com/2015/08/07/getting-started-on-the-almost-perfect-school-year/
August can be a time of big transitions. The days are getting shorter and in many families, the first preparations for school are beginning. It can be really busy! Sometimes when there is a lot to be accomplished, adults in the family take their responsibilities seriously and focus on getting things done. Many of us show up as “human doings” instead of “human beings”. This is an invitation to make sure there is time each day to pause and connect with your children and what is really important. You can fit connection into your day pretty easily – but it requires paying attention. Here are some ideas:
- Be in the moment. When you hug your child be there. Really. Not on the way to something else.
- Let some spontaneity in to your schedule. Are you listening to the radio while you are getting ready for dinner and hear a song that makes you want to stop and dance? Do it. Invite your children to do it with you.
- Share some of your story. Our children love to hear stories about how life was like back when we were little. What was your favorite summer memory from then? What is theirs?
- Share gratitude. “I feel really grateful that I had time to snuggle with you this morning before we started our day.” “I feel joyful when our family is outside playing together”.
- Have fun. What is fun for your family? Playing catch? Shooting hoops? Charades? Card games? I spy while you are on a car trip?
Play is good for the human brain. Play can:
- Relieve stress. Play can stimulate the release of the bodies natural “feel good” hormones, endorphins.
- Improve brain function. Solving puzzles or doing fun activities that challenge the brain improves brain function.
- Boost creativity and mental flexibility. We all learn a new tasks better when we are safe, relaxed and the activity is fun. Play can also stimulate imagination and problem solving.
Enjoy the last days of summer!