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Transforming The Classroom Through The Practice Of Radical Gratitude

03/27/2015 09:00 am ET | Updated May 27, 2015

Of all the things I have done in my life, the one activity that I am most grateful for is being a teacher. In one regard or another, we are all teachers. But I have had the tremendous pleasure of being a 4th grade classroom teacher for 10 years and have learned more about myself, others and this world from this remarkable experience.

As a teacher, two of the greatest joys are learning from my students and integrating the practice of gratitude in our lives. Daily, I am given the opportunity to interact and connect with my students as we teach each other. When I realized that I could learn from my students, I had my first "A-ha" moment and that changed everything in my classroom. This awareness brought wonder and passion into my teaching. The paradigm of teacher/students is still constantly being flipped.

In my classroom, I have been incorporating writing "gratitudes" as an activity with the students. We start each day with a list of five things we are grateful for. By the end of the year, we have 1,000 gratitudes in our journals. Many students keep this habit up past their year with me. Attitudes are contagious and we encourage an "attitude of gratitude" in our classroom. Recently, I ran into a mom whose son was in my class six years ago and is now in high school. She told me that he was so excited about writing a gratitude list that he came home and wrote a list of 100 gratitudes after his first day in my class.

However, gratitude does not make every day perfect in our classroom. I still have bad days, where gratitude is hard to find and everything irritates me. But gratitude does help me to become a better teacher. Even on those challenging days, when I write a gratitude list, I feel a little better. One day in my classroom, a student asked, "Mr. Griffith, can we do a gratitude list together?" I was so pleased that I asked her what motivated her to ask this. She said, "You just looked so stressed today, I thought you could use some gratitude." That made me laugh but she was right, I was stressed and it did help.

One year, I had an inspirational student who saved her allowance and brought gratitude journals for her whole family. Her mom was in nursing school and overwhelmed. At the dinner table, they would share their gratitudes for the day and grow as a family. The mom came to me and thanked me for teaching gratitude to her daughter and helping her family. She said it helped her get through nursing school. From this student, I learned that the ripple effects of gratitude can spread to those around us.

Here is another lesson that I learned from a persistent student. In class, she would diligently complete her work and then ask for extra math work. I would give her math drills, word problems and math enrichment exercises. Taking these extra assignments, she would happily smile.

Then, one day I looked at her and said, "It is so good to see how much you love math." She looked surprised and said, "On no, math is my hardest subject. After I heard you say that we should be grateful for the things that challenge us in life, I told myself I would work really hard on my hardest subject, math. Maybe with some extra work, I can turn it into my best subject." She succeeded and it did not take long. She was soon one of the best math students in the class.

This lesson was instantly applicable in my life and classroom. At times, I tend to shy away from activities that I do not think I am good at. But this student demonstrated that diving in and putting some extra effort into a challenging area will bring success. I still need to remind myself of this when I am confronted, almost daily, with areas in life that I might avoid instead of embracing.

Yesterday, my son said, "Daddy, come draw with me." I almost said, "I am not a good artist." But, I have said this repeatedly. In fact, I have said it so much, it had become automatic. Thankfully, I caught myself that time. Instead, I sat down, grabbed a crayon and completed a self-portrait, enjoying every second.

Finally, teaching allows me to practice gratitude in my work and continue growing as I learn from my students. They challenge me to practice "radical gratitude," as expressed in the following quote:

"People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we do not even recognize: a blue sky, green leaves, the black curious eyes of a child -- our own two eyes. All is a miracle." - Thich Nhat Hanh

This blog post is part of a series for HuffPost Gratitude, entitled 'The One Thing I'm Most Thankful For.' To see all the other posts in the series, click here To contribute, submit your 500 - 800 word blogpost to gratitude@huffingtonpost.com.

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