I have experienced many moments of gratitude that have changed my life. Yet as I reflect on these moments, one stands out: a moment in the classroom that changed the way I look at my "problems."
I am a teacher and I have had the tremendous pleasure of teaching for ten years. Early on in my career, I had one student that challenged me and presented a "problem" in an interesting manner. This student would watch as I wrote on the whiteboard and raise her hand with a little smile on her face. When I called on her, she would correct me saying things like, "Mr. Griffith, you spelled 'millennium' wrong." On that particular day, I was tired and frustrated, and I did not take this statement very well. In fact, you might say I was "ungrateful" that morning for the student noticing my mistake.
On my first break, I stormed into the teachers' lunch room and saw a trusted colleague. I told her what had happened and said that this student was being very disrespectful for pointing this out in front of the class. I said that this problem was ruining my day.
She smiled knowingly, as good friends do at these moments, looked at me and said, "That is one of those situations that you can complain about and build up a resentment or you could change it into something positive. That student had to be paying close attention to find the errors you make. You might think about giving students a reward for finding the errors. Then, if you make an error, you can tell them you were just testing them." We both smiled and my resentment started to soften. My friend went on, "You just started doing a gratitude list with your students. Maybe that student should be at the top of your gratitude list because she is teaching you to turn problems into solutions."
This startled me. I thought this conversation would go a different direction with some commiserating on our problems in the classroom. But this shock melted into a new way to look at this situation and to appreciate this student with gratitude. I realized that any time I am challenged in life, I do have an opportunity to turn around the situation by applying some gratitude and creativity.
I remembered that the Chinese symbol that represents crisis is a combination of danger and opportunity. If I focus on the opportunity, I will see something good that can come out of any "crisis."
After lunch, I went back to my classroom and told the students that every day, I would be hiding at least one mistake on the board for them to find, making it a game. If a student found a mistake, they would get a little reward and could make a suggestion for an error for the next day.
Immediately, all the students starting paying closer attention to everything I wrote. They started noticing when I purposely wrote something wrong on the board, like a misspelled word or a grammar or punctuation error.
At the end of the school year, when this class took a standardized test, the scores for editing and correcting punctuation and grammar were through the roof. That one student, who started this entire change in perspective, scored at the college level in this area, and this was for a 4th grade student. I realized that I could have squashed her talent, but a friend offered the perspective of gratitude and that turned this into a moment we all learned from and enjoyed.
The following year, I had a student who had a wonderful and mischievous sense of humor. This student had a reputation for being a real disruption to classes with his "inappropriate humor." At the beginning of the school year, he tried to disrupt my class by blurting out something that got the entire class laughing but also got us all way off track. Instantly, I thought back to the moment with the other student and tried to think how this challenge and potential year-long battle could be turned into something positive.
Looking through the lens of gratitude, I saw this boy was funny yet he felt like he needed attention. So I told him, "If you can stay quiet all day, I will give you 2 minutes at the end of the day to do a comedy routine." He got excited. He asked if he could work up a 5-minute routine and perform on Friday afternoon, so we would all have something to look forward to.
I agreed and never had a problem with him for the rest of the school year. Friday afternoon comedy routines became something we all looked forward to. He did one routine on the spelling bee and another on cafeteria food. Both were hilarious and stayed within the boundaries of what was appropriate. As I keep these moments of gratitude fresh in my mind, I create a joy that changes those insurmountable problems into challenges that help me grow.