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Monthly Archives: September 2016

Make a Teacher Feel Appreciated Tips

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week! That must be magnificent for instructors, correct? To discover, I solicited some from them.

“A few years I get nothing,” says Mindy Geminder, who has educated at Washington Elementary in Berkeley, California, for over two decades. “It frequently depends how much the families can pool together, whether the PTA parent contact is sorted out or thinks about this.”

Alright, so perhaps it’s not the national week of festivity it should be. Also, however the National PTA surely implied well by making it, making Teacher Appreciation Week the main week of May won’t not have been the best decision, as per Heather Henderson, a secondary school proficiency mentor in Central Florida. She clarifies:

Given these working conditions, is a Starbucks gift card really going to make teachers feel better about their jobs and themselves?

Actually, many teachers told me they like the gift cards. “I once got $15 for a bakery and was happy every time I got to get a scone for free,” says Liz Scarboro, who also works at Washington (where my son attends fifth grade). Of course, gift cards can go horribly wrong. One Oakland teacher, for example, questions the wisdom of giving her something from Victoria’s Secret. “Like, why are you thinking of me there?” she says. “I don’t want to think of that kid and lingerie.”

Done right, though, even a little appreciation and gratitude can go a long way.

Robert Emmons, a psychologist at UC Davis, has conducted a series of studies that find exchanging gratitude and appreciation can help people to thrive during stressful periods. A 2013 surveyby the John Templeton Foundation shows that hearing “thank you” at work increased employee motivation—but it also found that the workplace is the domain of American life where people are least likely to hear and express appreciation. That’s too bad, because “thanks” is a word thatbonds people together and helps generate meaning in their lives.

Of course, people actually feel and express quite a lot of gratitude toward teachers, given the reminder and the opportunity. When the Greater Good Science Center partnered with the nonprofit GreatSchools to build a Gratitude Gallery, where people could express thanks to a teacher, principal, or another member of their school’s community, we witnessed an outpouring of appreciation. Nearly half of the households in the United States use GreatSchools to post or read reviews of their school, and when we prompted parents to add some gratitude to those reviews, we saw thousands of appreciative posts come in from around the country.

“I want to say thank you to the upper school teachers for mentoring and supporting my student during his young adult years,” wrote one parent from South Carolina, “giving him the ability to grow, take risks, and build confidence while developing a strong academic background to move on to college.”

So how can parents and students inject those feelings of gratitude into Teacher Appreciation Week—and every other week during the school year? Gift cards are nice, but what else can a community do to let teachers know we recognize their sacrifices and strengths? Here are three suggestions.

# Appreciate the person, not the position

The GGSC’s coverage of gratitude is sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation as part of ourExpanding Gratitude project.

“After feeling ill-used and beaten up, it’s so disheartening to receive a roll of Life Savers telling me I’m ‘worth a Mint!’” says Henderson. “The apple key chain emblazoned with ‘Teachers Touch the Future,’ or worse, ‘We Appreciate Our Teachers!’ doesn’t cut it. Saying it doesn’t make it true.”

The trick, it seems, is to pay attention. Teachers must give a lot of themselves on the job, providing superhuman levels of patience and understanding to students and parents alike. They are also expected and encouraged to bring their own personal strengths and passions to the job—and most do, above and beyond the call of duty.

Thus the greatest appreciations a teacher can receive are ones that recognize their individual motivations, assets, or even just hobbies and tastes.

“One of my doctoral students got me a big bowl of oranges when she graduated,” says Cindy Pury Sandstrom, who teaches psychology at Clemson University. “I love oranges and eat two, sometimes three, during the work day. It was the most thoughtful gift from a student, because she had taken the time to notice what I do and what I like.”

Teachers also seem to like gifts that reflect appreciation for what teachers put up with—which often provides an opportunity for humor. An anonymous teacher received a bottle of wine with the kid’s picture on the label, with a note that said, “My child might be the reason you drink.” One mentions that a parent used that line “before buying me a drink at a school fundraiser.”

# Write a letter or make a speech

Many teachers say the sweetest gifts they’ve received came in the form of letters.

“I had a dad sit down and write a heartfelt email about what I meant to his family and the impact I had on his child’s life,” says Renee Perez, who teaches first grade in San Jose. “Sounds corny, but it totally brought me to tears!”

Of course, you don’t need to restrict this kind of appreciation to one week out of the year. A father emailed Minnesota teacher Abbie Kaufenberg throughout the year to say “when his kid was particularly excited about something that happened in school.” This was especially important to her because most parents only send emails when they are upset about something. “Getting a positive email from time to time really helped me get through my year,” she says.

And parents and kids alike can express their appreciation in a way that is more public than letters.

“Best year was when I had three room parents who got almost all the parents to come in on the last day and surprise me, with gifts and flowers, with very kind speeches and notes, all in front of the kids,” remembers Mindy Geminder. “That, I won’t forget.”

# Volunteer in the classroom

As Henderson’s comment suggests, May can actually be a tough month for teachers—and it turns out they’re grateful for some help in the classroom.

“Seriously, Teacher Appreciation Week comes at a hectic and stressful time,” says Perez. She adds :

Our school does a brunch where they allow us 20 minutes of yard duty free time to eat together, which is actually an extension of the regular recess. Parents volunteer to do yard duty for that time. Even better is helping me with projects that need to be done in the classroom, whether they help at school or they take things home.

Volunteering also builds community at the school—and spreads gratitude and happiness like beneficent versions of the cold and flu bugs that sweep classrooms every year.

“I was and am most moved by parents who give time or other resources (books, school supplies) for kids who are not their own,” says Liz Scarboro. “There is nothing like a parent who observes kids who could use adult attention and moves toward them. I’m grateful for that every time I see it.”


Know the Reason Why Should Teach Empathy to Preschoolers

Various studies show that the more empathy a child displays, the less likely they are to engage in bullying, online and in real life. Empathic children and adolescents are more likely to engage in positive social behaviors, like sharing or helping others. They’re also less likely to be antisocial and exhibit uncontrolled aggressive behaviors. That’s a big reason why educators have been devoting more attention to empathy in recent years, integrating it more deeply into schools and curricula. And as Golestan illustrates, some of these efforts are focusing on early childhood education.

Indeed, research suggests the sooner we learn to empathize, the better off we are in the long run. People exposed to empathy earlier in life have greater and longer-lasting emotional benefits than those exposed to it later, or not at all. One recent study suggests that children who are taught social and emotional skills (as opposed to purely cognitive skills) in preschool and kindergarten have better social skills and fewer behavior problems in both kindergarten and first grade, compared with kids who don’t experience that holistic classroom setting.

Should we teach empathy to even the very youngest students? Can we? The answer to both questions seems to be yes—but it’s not easy.

# Born for empathy

Our capacity for feeling empathy starts very early in life. Yes, my toddler pulls our cat’s tail and thinks it’s funny, but I also see his capacity to sense the emotions of others. If I’m having a bad day, he pulls me and his papa in for a group hug with his tiny little arms. And it’s not just toddlers: Infants as young as eight to 14 months old can show precursors to empathy, signs like displaying concern for a parent if they’re hurt or upset. The older we get, the more we can empathize. A recent study from the University of Munich in Germany found that children between the ages of five and seven increasingly anticipate feelings of concern for other people.

Teaching empathy doesn’t just make kids more emotionally and socially competent; it can also help them be more successful and functioning citizens in the future. A recent study from Duke and Penn State followed over 750 people for 20 years and found those who were able to share and help other children in kindergarten were more likely to graduate from high school and have full-time jobs. Students who weren’t as socially competent were more likely to drop out of school, go to juvenile hall, or need government assistance. Empathetic people are also more likely to help those they don’t even know—to pay it forward.

Autumn Williams works with Ashoka, an international network of social entrepreneurs that has recently devoted considerable attention to building empathy in education. As part of its work, it has identified more than 200 schools internationally that actively nurture empathy—including Golestan, the first preschool in the network. Williams says empathy plays a crucial role in creating positive change and solving deep-rooted systemic problems—a fact the organization recognized when it looked more closely at the social entrepreneurs whose work it had been supporting over the past 30 years.

“Most had an experience that made them desire to make a change before they were 20 years old,” says Williams. “We’ve recognized empathy as integral to their change-making. That’s why empathy must be as essential as math and literacy. We need a world full of individuals that have the ability to cultivate change where it’s needed, and to recognize they have the ability to do so.”

Tina Malti, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto and author of a 2016 report looking at school-based interventions to promote empathy in children, says it’s never too late to learn to empathize. Though our perspective-taking develops dramatically in the early stages of life—it helps mold who we are as adults—we’re always malleable.

“It’s not just children,” says Malti. “It’s a life issue. I think a holistic view emphasizes living a more balanced life. If you only focus on academic outcomes, or work outcomes, you are going to miss the whole being of a person. It needs to be balanced in a healthful and meaningful way. And the word ‘meaningful’ always entails the whole being.”

Malti says our education system is at a turning point: More and more experts understand and agree that our social and emotional health is important for our academic learning, our psychological well-being, and our overall success in life.

“If you keep them apart in the classroom, you are not going to reach psychological or mental functioning,” says Malti. “It goes hand in hand: a person can’t thrive academically if he or she is depressed, and in order to be a better learner, those depressive issues need to be addressed. I think any other approach—like focusing on particular groups of children, or prioritizing academics or health outcomes—is more likely to be exclusive.”

# Who let the dogs out?

At Golestan Education, Yalda Modabber tries to foster empathy in her students by bringing her dog Nika to work. They feed her, groom her, and give her water.

Research suggests people who have an attachment to a pet are more empathetic. Onerecent study by the American Humane Association shows having an animal in the classroom, even a small fish, ups students’ feelings of compassion and empathy towards one another. The report also indicates empathy is linked to improved social interactions, class participation, and less behavioral issues in the classroom.

Malti says there’s no one right way to teach empathy, but there are some wrong ways.

Take Nika. “It’s not about bringing in a dog,” says Malti. “It’s about teaching a student how to care for another. You can have a good teacher or a horrible teacher. If a student just watches a teacher taking care of the animal, and doesn’t participate, she doesn’t learn as well. But research shows if you have the child care for the animal, or even an infant, herself, it’s different. How you learn how to care for something is important.”

Malti says another way to build empathy in the classroom is to focus on the individual. She says teachers shouldn’t have a rigid ‘empathy curriculum’ for each grade level, because students won’t thrive in that environment.

“Every single classroom is a microcosm,” Malti says. “And each child in that classroom has varying capacities of mental needs. If you don’t look at the varying needs, you miss the opportunity to promote empathy in the best way possible.”

In addition to bringing her dog to school, Golestan Education’s Modabber has the students do gardening as part of their daily routine. Every Monday, they pick flowers and put them in vases around their classrooms.

“They’re nurturing seeds to grow,” Modabber says. “They’re giving it water and sunlight, they take care of it every day. Then they plant it. They don’t just pick them. They are really appreciating these plants. They see them. They’re present. They’re aware of these plants and how they’re growing.

They also grow food. Every day before lunch, they sing a song and chant and thank the earth for the food they’re about to eat. And after lunch, they sing a song thanking the chef. Modabber says empathy and gratitude go hand and hand. Research backs her up: More gratitude is linked to higher empathy and less aggression.

Empathy is also about connecting with other cultures. Modabber says she’s still affected by those two years of intense bullying she received as an Iranian immigrant in the U.S. during the Iranian Hostage Crisis. She doesn’t want her students to act like this. So every Friday the children learn about a different country or culture, so they can better relate to people with context.

“Golestan makes a big emphasis that we are a small part of this very diverse world and we’re here to respect it,” Modabber says. “It’s threaded in everything we do. It’s our foundation. It’s our benchmark.”

Teach Happiness Tips

Wellbeing is a piece of each state funded school training. Be that as it may, what is wellbeing? It’s more than just sustenance and exercise center class.

As ahead of schedule as 1947, the World Health Organization characterized wellbeing as a condition of mental and social—not simply physical—prosperity. Today, more schools worldwide are incorporating social-passionate learning into their educational modules, showing abilities, for example, mindfulness, compassion, and dynamic tuning in.

Look into exhibits that glad individuals are fruitful over numerous life areas, including marriage, connections, wellbeing, life span, pay, and scholastic and work execution. They are better ready to multitask and persevere through exhausting undertakings, and are more imaginative, trusting, supportive and friendly.

So how would we instruct the aptitudes of prosperity to understudies?

A few years ago, working with my colleague Lucy Ryan, we developed a comprehensive Well-Being Curriculum that is now being implemented in many elementary schools and high schools in the UK, France, Japan, and Australia. The Well-Being Curriculum is based on the principles and findings of positive psychology, and can be used with students from about 9-14 years of age. Every other week, for 50 minutes, students learn about the major factors that seem to influence well-being, and they try out happiness-enhancing practices and activities.

A recent study of the program showed that it protected students against the decline in satisfaction with self, satisfaction with friends, and positive emotions—and the increase in negative emotions—that typically occurs in the first years of middle school. Other studies have shown that the schools teaching happiness skills academically outperform the schools teaching a standard health curriculum.

In other words, focusing on well-being can even contribute to the core mission of education. Here are my suggestions for teachers who want to share these lessons with their students.

# Teaching positive emotions

The “broaden-and-build” theory of positive emotions, developed by Barbara Fredrickson, shows that positive emotional experiences have long-lasting effects on our personal growth and development. Specifically, positive emotions broaden our attention and thinking, enhance resilience, and build durable personal resources, which fuel more positive emotions in the future.

During this part of the program, we teach the important adaptive functions of both positive and negative emotions, ways to cope with our tendency to focus on the bad things in life, and how to enhance positive emotions through savoring and reminiscence.

We also talk about the importance of relationships, one of the best predictors of happiness. It is well known that strong social ties are at the very core of our well-being, regardless of whether we are introverts or extraverts. Many of the valued strengths, such as kindness and forgiveness, are of an interpersonal nature. Close friendships (not the mere number, but rather their quality) have far greater influence on our happiness than an increase in income.

This part of the program focuses on the basic relationships skills, such as being able to form and maintain friendships, negotiate, listen, and, even more importantly, hear. Forgiveness, kindness, and gratitude are also included, as the main relationship strengths. The stream finishes with happiness across cultures, a lesson that highlights factors that allow countries to flourish, taking the scope of relationships to the planetary level.

# How to get started

Teachers often feel pressure to concentrate on forthcoming tests and exams, and spend significant amounts of time on “firefighting”—i.e., dealing with discipline and conflicts. These constraints often mean that it might be difficult, if not impossible, to schedule a well-being class every week.

In this situation, we advise teachers to use the Personal Well-Being Lessons (as well as many other available educational volumes) as piecemeal resources, picking up interventions and activities that can be run one at a time.

Here are a few examples of short activities that you could incorporate into a day’s lesson:

  • Create a What Went Well wall (a whiteboard with colorful markers would do just fine) and ask all students to write three things that went well for them during the lesson, school day, or school week.
  • Run the “Can you hear me?” exercise. Ask the class to form pairs. Instruct student A to talk to Student B for one minute about a topic that excites them, such as a holiday, a hobby, or an adventure. B is instructed to deliberately not listen, appearing uninterested and distracted, though they should not leave their seat or walk away. The teacher stops the exercise as soon as 60 seconds is up. In round two, A is instructed to continue talking for a further minute (again about a topic that excites them), and this time, B should listen, acting genuinely interested without going completely over the top. Students are asked to tell the teacher the emotional effect it had on them when they were being ignored vs. when they were being listened to, and the teacher confirms with students how important it is for us to be listened to.
  • Play “Go fish” with cards from the Happiness Box that also encourage your class to participate in evidence-based positive psychology exercises.

As you begin teaching well-being, don’t be surprised if some of your fellow teachers are a bit skeptical. When we brought the Well-Being Curriculum to two schools in London, one teacher talked about facing resistance from other staff. “They think it’s just loads of clap-trap” because, she said, “it’s not real work, you are not writing stuff down, you are not being tested every week…and there is no nice little certificate that you can have at the end of five years.”

Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Given their importance for the future mental health of our nations, happiness and well-being skills deserve to be taken seriously—and teachers can lead the charge, one classroom at a time.