Life School News and Notes
Educating from Head-to-Heart, Life School Teacher Creates ‘Thankful Thursday’
Fostering a culture of mindfulness at Life School Mountain Creek Elementary (LSMC), fifth-grade teacher, Sabrina Gonzalez, is making a school-wide impact one sticky-note at a time.
Thankful Thursday is a once-a-week exercise that Gonzalez’s fifth-grade class practices by writing encouraging messages on Post-It notes to peers and staff. Beginning two years ago as a way to bring a disagreeable class together, Gonzalez explains how the act of kindness was not only the answer to a problem but also an unexpected prelude to leadership development.
“They were always mean to each other and didn’t know who each other was,” Gonzalez told of her first class. “The first time they were writing the notes for Thankful Thursday, one of them asked, ‘What do I say? I don’t know this person.’” Gonzalez continued, “It can be as simple as ‘You have nice shoes’ or ‘I like your smile.’”
Gonzalez goes on to describe that when the notes were passed back, the reaction of her students was priceless. “They were like, ‘What? They really think this about me?’” she gasped. “It was the affirmation they needed, and a lot of them kept their ‘thankfuls’ on them throughout the year.”
“It definitely has a positive impact,” added Eva Mease, LSMC Principal, on the importance of the initiative. “Even for myself, I have some sticky notes on my window, and it’s just encouraging. It’s definitely uplifting for teachers and administration because she [Gonzalez] involves everybody.”
Like many teachers who want to see their students thrive beyond the classroom, Gonzalez stresses the importance of caring for the whole student and not compartmentalizing character from education.
“You have to understand the kid and where they’re at,” Gonzalez said. “If you don’t reach the kid, the heart of who they are, you won’t produce anything effective. Being that teacher – being self-aware – makes all the difference.”
According to an article from the Washington Post, the practice of gratitude has a physical impact on the brain. Neuroscientist, Christina Karns, discovered that the neural link between gratitude and giving can be found deep within the front lobe of the brain. In this area, the value of risk and reward is processed, as well as complex reasoning of oneself and social interactions.
The study went on to explain that a group given the task of “gratitude journaling” experienced more support from others, which improved relationships and responses to giving. Gratitude was found to be the key element that determined the value of prioritizing decisions, goals, and relationships.
Gonzalez believes that when educators embrace the whole child, teaching from the head to the heart, great results naturally follow. It’s no surprise that discipline issues decreased at LSMC after the launch of Thankful Thursday. Research affirms that positive learning environments improve academic success and overall engagement.
As stated in a study by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), students who engaged in school-based social and emotional learning attained higher grades and scored 11-17 percentile points higher on academic achievement tests than peers who did not engage in such learning.
On a national level, the National Charter School Research Center adds to this fact in a report on the innovation of student discipline. It notes that relationship building, emotional literacy, and positive behavioral intervention are three of the five ways campuses are improving academic performance while lowering suspension and expulsion rates.
Life School takes the concepts further by combining the nationally recognized Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) program with its LifeLeader curriculum. LifeLeader provides a framework for character education through 15 leadership attributes. Through LifeLeader and PBIS, Life School takes a multi-tiered approach to social, emotional, and behavioral development. Thankful Thursdays is a small glimpse into the ways it is lived out in the day-to-day activities of each campus.
Gonzalez notes how her students are inspired to practice leadership every day. From solving disagreements to collaborative play and acts of helpfulness, Gonzalez credits LifeLeader as an essential teaching tool.
“When problems arise, I’m the mediator. The students will talk it out, and we’ll solve the issue. Sometimes it takes my class time, but it's worth it to teach these skills of solving problems respectfully,” said Gonzalez.
Recalling a moment that impacted her most, Gonzalez told of a student who applied what he learned in the classroom at home. She recalled how the student came to class frustrated one day.
“He would say, ‘He just doesn’t listen to me.’” But Gonzalez told him, “It takes time. Keep working with your little brother.”
The next day, he came back and told Gonzalez, “We actually read for ten minutes together!” When she asked him how it felt, he said, “It feels cool!’”
Gonzalez chuckled. “It’s amazing when big brothers are stepping up for little brothers and showing kindness. It made my heart happy.”
At LSMC, Thankful Thursdays are more than an activity but a mindset. “They [students] know they are the ones who can make a difference. They’ve learned how to lead because we’re teaching them that,” Gonzalez concluded.
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