Being mindful about gratitude, affirming there is goodness in the world and acknowledging that it comes from others, can make you feel better, happier and more satisfied. In the fall of 2019, four Finger Lake Area School Health Consortium districts initiated activities to help staff recognize their gratitude and find better health and appreciation in their everyday lives.
“Gratitude is a buzzword,” says Monica Bays, wellness coordinator and middle school music teacher at Wayne CSD. “It’s nice to sit down and reflect upon the things you do have instead of focusing on the negative.”
To kick off a month dedicated to acknowledging thankfulness, Bays emailed a gratitude challenge in her Health and Wellness newsletter. The challenge provided a gratitude list worksheet where staff members would write down what they were thankful for in their lives. The list included:
Three things I would not change.
One positive thing about my health.
Four relationships I’m thankful for.
One thing that makes me smile every day.
For the challenge, staff members filled out their gratitude list for the Wellness Committee. As an incentive, the first 30 participants who completed the sheet and returned it received a $10 gift card to Amazon. Bays received 45 completed gratitude lists.
“I’ve never had so much participation!” says Bays. “I enjoyed reading the responses and was surprised to see how much of our work culture was reflected in the answers. A lot of people wrote about the students. They also talked about family, relationships, and colleagues.”
When Kristen Seyfried, wellness coordinator and health teacher for the middle and high school, found a thank you made with a pack of Extra® gum on Pinterest she knew it was perfect for Clyde-Savannah staff members.
The District Wellness Committee gave every staff member of the Clyde-Savannah CSD a pack of Extra® gum with an attached note (seasonally decorated as a turkey) that read, “I’m EXTRA thankful for you.”
“It was a small way to say you’re appreciated. You’re seen,” says Seyfried. “It’s showing people and helping people feel part of the school community. Jobs can sometimes feel thankless. I hoped these notes provided a small boost, especially if they were having a bad day.”
A gratitude list worksheet underscored the Extra® message and kept thankfulness on the forefront of everyone’s mind. The list was identical to the one Wayne CSD staff members received.
“It’s important to go beyond thinking about what you’re grateful for in your life,”says Seyfried. “Writing it down makes it concrete and in front of you. Keeping you focused on the good keeps you grounded and honest with what you have.”
The theme of gratitude and appreciation did not end with Thanksgiving. In December, the Wellness Committee arranged for a massage therapist to give staff members a 15-minute chair massage as a thank you gesture to everyone for their efforts and contributions to the district.
At Keshequa CSD, Todd Isaman, wellness coordinator and 4-8 grade physical education teacher, emphasized the idea of mindfulness with gratitude.
“It’s about identifying what’s going on in your life and how you react to it. When you’re thankful you feel better inside and you can express that in small actions,” says Isaman.
Mindfulness and gratitude came together in November for a 10-day challenge Isaman arranged called Planks and Expothanks. Staff members were given 10 different ways to do a plank and were challenged to complete one each day. Doing so acknowledged their physical health going into a traditionally indulgent season.
The Expothanks portion of the challenge came from Isaman, whose daughter surprised him with a nice message written on his bathroom mirror with a dry erase Expo® marker. The challenge asked staff members to do something similar for their friends and family members.
“The idea is for you to sneak in and write something nice,” says Isaman. “We did not track this or offer any incentives. We wanted people to show gratitude with no expectations of getting anything back.”
Larene Long, teacher assistant at Keshequa Intermediate School, didn’t need a challenge to do something nice unconditionally. For November, she surprised the faculty with a “Fill Your Bucket” board. Colleagues wrote short, anonymous notes on what they appreciated about that person and left it in that person’s “bucket,” which was a cup stapled to the wall.
“Larene totally did this on her own. It’s another example of how people at Keshequa understand that gratitude is important,” says Isaman.
Manchester-Shortsville CSD / Red Jacket Schools
Each month wellness coordinators receive a “Happiness Calendar” from the Greater Good Science Center. Wellness Coordinator and Health and Family Consumer Science Teacher Tracey Snieszko, decided to change it up a little. Combining the Happiness Calendar with other calendar ideas she found online, she created a Gratitude Calendar challenge.
The Gratitude Calendar offered various stress reduction and mindfulness activities and ran from Nov. 12 through Dec. 13. Activity examples included sitting in silence for five minutes, drinking water, tidying up your workspace, finding a new place to visit, and doing something nice for someone.
Participants checked off each day they completed the activity and then turned in their calendars to the Wellness Committee. If the calendar was 75 % complete, they earned a $10 Wegmans gift card.
“Hopefully, they also earned less stress in their lives!” exclaims Snieszko.
For Snieszko doing nice things for others, being mindful, and taking care of your physical and mental health all support the idea of gratitude.
“You can be thankful for what you have and for others. Be thankful for your body. Giving it what it needs is a way of telling it, ‘thank you and please continue to work for me,’” says Snieszko.
Snieszko’s personal favorite was to sit peacefully for five minutes without technology or music. It gave her the opportunity to connect to her gratitude. Regarding the challenge, she says participation was good and the committee definitely wants to do something similar next year.
For the calendar, visit: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1MLyjLCMQMnLaUUhELwgpYRqGsEbjbfhRwWGEWwGUWlQ/edit#gid=554940819