Mr. Meadows emailed me to write a piece for the courier several weeks ago. He suggested that I write about Kindergarten, yet make it relevant to all the grades and possibly include any pertinent anecdotes or insight from the decade I spent teaching abroad. It was shortly after receiving this request that I started avoiding walking past Mr. Meadows’ office. This was difficult because my classroom is ten steps from his open door.
I reflected and avoided for nearly a week before the inevitable happened. While contemplating, my first instincts were to recall an Alvin Toffler quote that was framed in the teacher’s lounge of my previous school. He wrote, “the illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” Every educator knows the importance of teaching mental flexibility and critical thinking. We are reminded of its importance weekly, if not daily, as truth is assaulted and opinions are given the weight of facts. It is a skill introduced in kindergarten. It is practiced and applied throughout elementary and middle school. Many schools and curriculums, including ANCS, give a lot of emphasis to critical thinking.
Eureka! I had my article. I would write about critical thinking and how this skill is essential to make people life-long learners. However, this didn’t seem to differentiate us from many other schools. In the year and a half that I’ve been at ANCS, I have grown to feel that it is a unique community. What makes ANCS special, in my opinion, is the time it affords to students to be active participants in their maturation. It provides students time to think and reflect on the habits they’re forming and the impacts that these habits have on their brain and it’s growth. In short, this school has incorporated the virtue of gratitude into the curriculum and the lives of the students.
Whether it is Ms. Zelski’s weekly themes for the mindful moment, Conscious Discipline’s focus on the brain, or the faculty awareness of the words they use and their attempts to build growth mindsets, we work to help students create patterns of gratitude. There is a plethora of research that shows gratitude is one of the strongest indicators of life-long happiness. Dr. Alex Korb wrote in his book Upward Spiral, “trying to think of things you are grateful for forces you to focus on the positive aspects of your life. This simple act increases serotonin production in the anterior cingulate cortex.” Not only that, but the more you are grateful the easier it gets.
Let me briefly explain how I’ve seen gratitude effect a learning community and why it is so important. The last two schools I taught at were international schools in Tashkent, Uzbekistan and Bucharest, Romania. Tashkent is the capital of a Central Asian country that used to be part of the Soviet Union. It is a police state that is run by a dictator of 20 years and has a strong black market. It is routinely listed as one of the top five most corrupt countries in the world by Forbes magazine along with such stalwart nations as North Korea and South Sudan.
Bucharest, on the other hand, was once known as little Paris. It has had tough times but it is a member of the European Union. They have IKEA and Starbucks. They have a stable economy that, while corrupt, does not have a black market. Anyone in their right mind would look at these two countries and assume that Romania offered a better option for education. However, my experience at the two schools were vastly different. Parents, teachers and even students came to Uzbekistan expecting little. What they found was an open, enthusiastic community that was engaged in growing life-long learners. The community embraced their differences and learned from each other.
Bucharest was a different experience. Parents, teachers and students expected the best from the lavishly endowed school. However, people, myself included, where quick to find fault in others instead of finding solutions. Collaboration wilted at the front gate and students learning suffered because they were not active participants in their growth.
My experience as a teacher has shaped my thinking as a human. My goal as a teacher has always been to give students the skills necessary to be lifelong learners since many of the jobs that they will have in 20 years do not exist today. Undoubtedly, critical thinking is an essential skill for them to develop. I now think that gratitude is as important for students because it creates a more dynamic learning environment and creates independently happy adults. ANCS actively teaches gratitude to the students. It is introduced in kindergarten and practiced throughout elementary and middle school. Gratitude makes our entire learning community more productive and is essential in a well-rounded education. I am thankful that I’ve come to ANCS and learned to include gratitude into the curriculum.