Because life is a series of edits

Thanksgiving (or “How to Make Upper Schoolers Squirm”)

In Students, Teachers, Veritas on November 21, 2012 at 5:12 am

Tuesday was our last day of school at Veritas before Thanksgiving break, and as I was scheduled to lead our morning assembly called RISE, I thought it might be a good opportunity to do something appropriate to the day. Our students and staff seemed in a pretty good mood (as they usually are on the last day before a break), so what did I have to lose?

I started out by talking about the fact that Thursday was Thanksgiving and that most of us are told to think about what we're thankful for this time of year. Then I told the students and staff that I wanted to turn the tables on the what thinking, and instead offer some thanks for (and to) whom I was thankful. I then proceeded to work my way around the room, calling each of the 80+ 6th-12 grade students and staff by name, and taking 10-20 seconds each to tell them why I was thankful for them.

You've never seen a more quiet group of Upper Schoolers squirm. It was great.

I had some fears in doing this. First, while I know the names of all of our Upper School students and staff, I was a little nervous that my rapid-fire approach would backfire and, for some reason, I might momentarily blank out and forget somebody, embarrassing him/her (and me) along the way. I had a few milli-second lapses, but nothing too huge…until I came to one of my daughter's best friends, whose name I could not for the life of me recall. (I had already gone through about two-thirds of the room with no major snafus so far, but this one was unfortunate; thankfully, she was very gracious – it was my daughter who was later less forgiving).

Second, while I knew this would take a little time, I didn't know it would take as much time as it did (about 20 minutes, which was double what it should have been within our normal parameters for RISE). When I finished the first half of the room and it was 8:30 already, I knew I was in trouble and I internally lamented that I was taking time from our first-hour teachers (particuarly since I still had half a room to go and it wasn't going to be until 8:45 until everyone finally made it to class). Thankfully, our teachers were their normal flexible selves, and several of them came up to me afterward to express appreciation for doing what I did even as they scurried to their classrooms.

Third, I was just afraid that this whole idea would come off as obligatory or trite, as if I wasn't really thankful for every student or staff member in the room but had to be because I said I was, or that it would seem like I was just making stuff and keeping it general enough because I really didn't know any of those I was thanking. If I would have had the idea earlier (and the time to do something with it), I might (and probably should) have printed a formal list and prepared a more solid sentence or two of appreciation for each person. Unfortunately, not all of my best ideas (very few of them, actually) come with prep time built in, so I just prayed and went with it on the fly.

Though there were plenty to mention (and I mentioned plenty), I tried not to focus on obvious outward things like talents and abilities, but instead concentrated more on character virtues in our students and staff for which I was thankful. This was hard, of course, as we are so conditioned by our culture to thank people for what they do rather than who they are, but I wanted to try to help our students and staff understand that, though they have many, they are not their gifts.

A few general observations:

  • Whether students or adults, none seemed comfortable with genuine public appreciation. I noticed two different main responses: 1) forced eye contact, in which they were bound and determined to look at me because I was speaking to/about them in public; or 2) the avoidance of eye contact at all costs, as it was just too intimate of a moment to share in front of others.
  • While I don't think it was too obvious externally, I
    recognized internally that I knew some students (and even staff)
    better than others, which mentally worked against me if I let myself go
    too far down the road of evaluating real-time every ten-second attempt
    at thankfulness. I had to let this go (at least for the time being) so
    as to not sabotage the attempt, but it was a good reason and reminder to
    work harder at getting to know all of our people better.
  • The twenty minutes it took to work through everyone was the easiest period of full attention I've ever requested from a room full of 6th-12th graders. Students were fascinated (appalled?) by the fact that, not only were they being singled out in front of their peers, but they were being singled out for positive and personal reasons. While there were plenty of laughs and lots of smiles, there seemed a subtle insecurity running through the room that I might come to one of them, not have anything nice to say, and just skip over someone to someone else as a result. Thankfully, that was not the case.

What was the case was a renewed appreciation in my own heart for whom these students and staff are as people, as well as a really nice start to a really nice last day before Thanksgiving break. We forget – I forget – how desperate all of us are for validation. We're affirmation junkies! My little attempt at something different for RISE was a big reminder personally that gratitude must be communicated (and not just stored up) to fully harness its helpful (and often healing) power.

"We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right,
because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of
you for one another is increasing." 2 Thessalonians 1:3

  1. This post blessed me. Thank you for leading Veritas in pursuit of knowledge, goodness, and beauty. This was sheer beauty.

  2. I thought what you did yesterday was a really cool idea. I personally enjoyed it and judging by the conversations later on in class, I would say others did too. I know several people who took what you said about them and really ran with the ideas. It inspired the class fairly well, thank you.

  3. What a wonderful send-off to this holiday of gratefulness — to see and, more importantly, to intimately express our love and appreciation of others! A genuine teaching moment for which most teachers would happily sacrifice lesson plans!

  4. I think this was a wonderful idea! I am sure all the students and staff felt so appreciated and special.
    We’re so thankful to have you lead our kiddos and staff at VCA. You do an amazing job!

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