I am thankful for…

This was the prompt put out in the Common Space this morning, asking children or adults to draw or write what they are thankful for. As the Common Space quieted down after morning drop off, one particular drawing struck me.  A child had scribble-scrabbled in the “drawing” portion of the page, and scribbled small lines on the “writing” section of the page. I’ll never know what content the child was expressing. But I know they are grateful for something, and they wanted to share it.

As you’ve seen in some of your daily reflections, and in person as many of you have come in to volunteer in your classrooms recently, our students have been talking a lot about what they are grateful for.  While giving thanks and gratitude is an elevated topic for all of us around this time of year, it is a muscle that we are constantly practicing here at the nursery school. Being grateful is a core value of ours that leads to so much of what we stand for: social responsibility; civil rights; tikkun olam; sacred and holy experiences; moments of wonder.  All of these require being grateful for the lives we lead.

For me, gratitude always brings along its partner, optimism. Being grateful reminds me that not only is the world a good place, but that it can be an even better place.  I recently had the privilege of hearing Elie Wiesel speak, and he touched on what has kept him going all these years. He said he has always believed in the power of a smile – to do good, and to evoke good in those around us. Gratitude is contagious, and it is a powerful motivator.

As you’ve heard from me before, a sentiment that I hold closely is Vivian Paley’s words about a nursery classroom: “Maybe the classroom can be a nicer place than the outside world” (In one of her seminal books and a very enjoyable read). In our classrooms, we model and practice gratitude because our hope is that our young children grow up spreading this value (quick video on teachers complimenting their students) out into the world as it becomes theirs.

And it works; this is not a platitude. When we practice gratitude (WNYC piece on gratitude), as a classroom, family, and community, it sticks and it spreads, and the world is enriched because of it.  A nursery mother told me recently that after reading a book with her daughter about “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, her daughter supplied a clear and simple answer: “Someone who helps people.”  A few days ago, an alum parent of our school emailed me a photo of a drawing her daughter had done at home that morning. It portrayed the JCC lobby, a Jewish star, and the words, “JCC Go Go!!!! Love Peace in The World.” 

We make our classrooms “nicer than” the outside world because our children are then equipped to go out into the world and make it as nice as their classroom. And it all starts with the faith that gratitude (NYT piece on gratitude), optimism, and hope win out.

Martin Luther King, Jr., famously preached that "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”  Expressions of gratitude are not a trivial matter. They are at the core of our responsibility to ourselves, to each other, to our community, and to the world. Gratitude is a simple, easy, and powerful way to make the world a better place. And it starts with us and our children.

Express gratitude. Be kind. Smile.

Happy Thanksgiving,