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The Season for Gratitude

Our scholars (really, all high school kids) need intense academic preparation to be college-ready. From phonics and pre-Algebra to AP Literature and Calculus, the intellectual work of moving from middle school to dorm room is immense, and you can see it happening all over Collegiate Academies schools every day. You can test for it and measure a kid’s growth, watching them blast through the entire Harry Potter series and then, a couple years later, explain to you the physics behind the movie Interstellar. It’s thrilling and inspiring. But, it’s not enough.

Our mission is college success, and the research is clear: Non-cognitive skills are the key to college persistence. At CA, we devote significant time to teaching character and social skills. For this post, I’d like to focus on the skill of expressing gratitude.

Gratitude, defined in Psychology Today as “an emotion expressing appreciation for what one has,” is something that you can build within yourself through practice. Researchers in the burgeoning field of positive psychology found that after engaging in gratitude practices (activities or protocols designed to guide people through the practice of gratitude or grateful thinking), people feel better about their lives. Expressing gratitude helps us be more optimistic, improve our health, and increase our happiness. Gratitude can also help us improve our relationships with others (fast-forward to minute 16:50), giving us tools to build a stronger support system.

The side effects of expressing gratitude—increased optimism and happiness, improved health, and stronger support systems—are compelling outcomes for us all, but they are especially powerful for college freshmen!

How We Teach and Model Gratitude

At Collegiate Academies, we start teaching gratitude at the very beginning of the school year, as soon as scholars arrive for orientation.

Teach scholars to say thank you for small and large things. Our scholars are encouraged to thank adults and each other throughout the day: in the lunch line when you pick up or choose not to pick up lunch, when your teacher brings you a pencil because your pencil broke, when you receive an award or recognition, or when you have a conversation about something you can do better.
Give shout-outs every morning. Staff members and scholars at Collegiate Academies give shout-outs every day to recognize successes (like completing a really challenging book) and actions that reflect their school’s core values (like talking a teammate through a conflict with a friend).
Develop a weekly gratitude practice. Every week in our network team morning meeting, we talk about one staff member at one of our schools for whom we are grateful. After we celebrate these staff members, we follow up with them to let them know why we are grateful for them.
Expressions of gratitude happen every day at Collegiate Academies, but the holidays and New Year provided a special time for our scholars and staff to reflect. Leading up to Thanksgiving, our whole school community wrote and sent a ton of thank you cards. Scholars wrote notes to each other and to their teachers, and teachers wrote notes to each one of their scholars. Just imagine the huge impact of getting a stack of thank you notes from your teachers for your contributions to the school community, both inside and outside of class!

A Personal Note

In preparing to go on our holiday break, I received a performance evaluation and delivered one for the first time. I walked away from the week feeling celebrated, pushed, and supported. I’ve never worked in a place where people care so deeply about my ability to perform at the highest level while simultaneously loving me as a person.

It’s a difficult balance to strike: to push someone hard and with incredible urgency while truly demonstrating how much you love and care for them as a person. Our work isn’t about us as individuals or adults. It’s about our scholars. Yet at CA, our leaders still find the time and energy to fill our teams with joy and love each day and week. Most teachers look to their students for their sole source of fulfillment. I feel lucky to have two sources—our scholars and our team—and for that, I’m grateful.

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