Practicing Gratitude

This past Saturday, I wrote a blog post for the St. Oscar Romero Catholic Secondary School website, where I proudly serve as a Vice Principal.

In the post, a Thanksgiving message to the school community, I wrote about the importance of gratitude and the positive role reflection and sharing thanks can play in our lives. As an educator, let alone Vice Principal, I’m continuously grateful for the opportunity to engage with young people. Whether it was my time in the classroom, at the system level and now in the capacity of a school administrator, I’m deeply aware that the young people I work to serve come to me as the most precious gifts others (parents and caring adults) can share. Even when I’m fulfilling the most stereotypical tasks of the Vice Principal (discipline and expectations aren’t bad words), the interactions are a gift as I work to support students in being their very best, even if they don’t see my intentions at any particular moment.

In writing the post, it dawned on me that intentionally practicing gratitude is to lean into one’s emotional vulnerability and sense of self-regulation. In looking at our students and their practice of embracing gratitude, creating a culture of high expectation grounded in goal setting and self regulation is of critical importance.

Through the work of academics like Stuart Shanker, we know that self-regulation must be embedded within a culture of goal setting and social/emotional wellness. As students establish Distal and Proximal goals, their ability to self-regulate allows them to remap their emotional and learning journeys. It’s within this process that emotional awareness becomes a critical tool in avoiding “ego depletion.”

As shared by Psychology Campus, “ego-depletion suggests that your willpower failings are inevitable and, ironically, beyond your control” (Psychological Campus). This idea of “ego depletion” derives from clinical research and the hypothesis presented by Mark Muraven and Roy F. Baumeister from Case Western Reserve University who in their paper titled Self-Regulation and Depletion of Limited Resources: Does Self-Control Resemble a Muscle? share that “ controlling one’s own behaviour requires the expenditure of some inner, limited resource that is depleted afterward. We propose that people have a limited quantity of resources available for self-control and that various acts of self-control draw on this limited stock” (Muraven and Baumeister, 247).

It’s with a focus on the “inner limited resource,” that fuels the self-regulation required to meet goals that gratitude can help replenish. In fact, Psychology Campus’ compassion, gratitude and pride framework looks to emotional rewards needed to energize self-regulation and the pursuit of one’s goals. This is to say that during remapping, the pause that comes with reflecting on gratitude can be a vital tool as individuals look at successes and next steps.

Specifically, gratitude, “helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack. And, although it may feel contrived at first, this mental state grows stronger with use and practice” (Harvard Health Publishing). As such, when looking to support all students to become their very best, practicing gratitude is essential. Whether it’s students having a behavioural lapse or encountering an academic roadblock, gratitude can allow for reframing, changed behaviour, cultivate a growth mindset, nurture positive relationships and ultimately lead to individual success.

With all of this, it is important for school communities to continuously cultivate a culture of high expectation where goal-setting and self-regulation guide thinking and doing. All students can find their personal success while feeling grateful for what they have in both tangible and intangible ways.

As shared by Laura Elliot in the Toronto Star, “gratitude is a powerful strategy to help get us through an unpredictable school year.”

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