Each November, we attend a community breakfast of thanks and giving. Last year when I attended the breakfast, a speaker talked about the value of practicing gratitude. His message hit home for me. I have always been thankful for the advantages in my life and have always been big on saying thank you. His message had me thinking about true gratitude. Do I notice enough when people come into my life who help challenge my thinking or add something to my life that I had no idea was missing? Do I do enough to show my appreciation when someone goes out of their way for me? Do I show my gratitude for the work I am able to do, or am I too focused on the wrong things? Do I take time to be grateful for the small things instead of always looking for the big ones? Do I think about gratitude more often than one week of the year in November?
I started doing some research about gratitude and found many articles and great blogs on how it can actually make you happier and is a pretty simple thing to do. As a special education teacher for many years, I learned to live in a world of small miracles. My learners and I spent a lot of our time together talking about where each individual skill was growing, measuring progress in small steps, and taking time each day to recognize and celebrate the small wins along with the big ones. As adults, we don’t do that enough for and with ourselves and each other. We tend to measure our progress in major milestones instead of taking time each day to reflect on a few things we did well and be grateful for who and what we have in our lives. A year ago, I started spending time thinking about and writing down things for which I am grateful. It was not hard to find them when I started to look and most of them ended up being small things that helped my day take a slight shift for the better, even when it was a good day.
My job is intense, I teach part-time at a local college, and I try my best to be a good wife and mother who volunteers at the school events and helps when I can with all the extra-curricular activities. People often say things to me like, “I don’t know how you do it all.” To be really honest, I never have any idea how to respond to that statement as I do not think I am actually trying to do more than anyone else nor could I do it all if I want to do any of it well. I just do the best I can each day and wake up the next day and try to do it all a little better than the day before. On my drive home, I spend some time appreciating what I could and did get done. Many others do some of the things I attempt to do way better than I can, which I try to celebrate with them. I forget to turn in permission slips and sometimes we are late to school because that was just the morning we were having, and that is okay. Practicing gratitude helped me let go of the things that didn’t go well and value the ones that did more. The one answer I often give to that statement that is very genuine is that I have amazing people around me who work with me to get things done and remind me how to worry about being my best self instead of what anyone else may expect of me. At the end of each day, my husband and my kids always come to mind first, but it is also often my work family that ends up in my thoughts.
Recently, I had a tough couple of weeks between some big things happening at home and work. Whenever I hit a rough patch, I try to slow down and take inventory of all the positives I have in my life. I usually spend a couple of hours at the Hallmark store choosing just the right card and write notes to people that I am grateful are a part of my journey. In the midst of my tough weeks, we needed to interview for a new member of our team as we have a support staff member who is going to retire soon. Our interview questions were interesting, to say the least. We asked how you respond when there are seven of us who all have different needs and communicate in different ways (some of which are only through GIFs and emojis) and who may all need something done at once. We asked how much structure you need in your day as ours rarely starts and ends the same way. We asked how the person will balance multiple projects at one time and shift course quickly if a school has an immediate situation that needs all of our support. We asked what brings you joy and how we can support you when you get stuck. We laughed at some of the questions as we asked them and the stories we told to explain the work we do. At the end of all the interviews, we had several people who were excited to take on the job. They each shared how they felt a really positive vibe from our team and talked about how amazing it must be to support great work in schools so children get the best opportunities in life.
It was just the moment I needed to remind me how incredible my job is and how lucky I am to get to do it with each of my teams. I really don’t see my job as one I “have” to do. Don’t get me wrong, there are parts of it I do not love that are things I “have” to do. However, my primary job is to support teachers and leaders to ensure they have what they need to create equitable opportunities for all learners that go well beyond high school. That’s the job I get to do each day on behalf of many learners, especially those who need school the most as poverty and trauma have denied them some opportunities outside of school. I am grateful each day for parts of my job. The day of the interviews, it hit me exactly how grateful I am that I get to do the whole thing. It is not the easiest job out there, but it is one that gives me a sense of purpose and reminds me each day what matters most.
At the breakfast this year, the speaker again talked about gratitude. He said, “It should not be Happy Thanksgiving, but instead I am happy from giving thanks.” I am happier when I give thanks for what I have and what I get to do each day at work and at home. What I am most grateful for each day is always the people I have in my life and the relationships I have with them as they matter and make all the difference.