The Art of Appreciation

I was reading a blog the other day that gave kudos to teachers, in support of Teacher Appreciation Week. It talked about the work that teachers do and acknowledged teachers and educational assistants as doing important, worthwhile things, in both academic and other areas, so as to support children and young people in their growth, learning and development. It talked a lot about the little unnoticed things that teachers do, things that often fall below the radar as far as visibility. It was a nice article- it made you feel good to read it.

Particularly if you were a teacher.

And then I scrolled through the comments.

And as I did, I came across some negative feedback- as there so often is- to counter the opinions of the author. Comments placed there so as to undermine the author’s attempts at acknowledging her intended audience: teachers. Comments placed there to whine about why other groups of people hadn’t been thanked. Comments placed there to diminish the efforts of individuals committed to their calling and willing to make sacrifices so as to continue doing so. They were rather hurtful comments to read, whether one was a teacher or not.

I am a teacher. But these comments didn’t irk me because I am a teacher. They irked me because I am a human being. A person with a desire to continually acknowledge the best in people and thus see and commend the value of other human beings in service, whomever those individuals might be. And I do this, quite often, through the art of appreciation. Which is to say: I try to watch others. And whatever they might be doing or saying or being matters to me. So much so, that I try to extend to them, as often as I can, a word of appreciation. Thanks and gratitude. It’s not rocket science- but it is pretty important stuff: actually, it’s how I was taught to be by my own gracious mother. So I continue to do so as often as I can. And it is what I now teach the next generation to do as well- my students and four children as well.

It’s quite easy really. Appreciate people. Tell them once in a while what they mean to you. Carry on and repeat.

Couldn’t be simpler.

But I am finding, at times, that this ability of ours as people, to appreciate others: it is passed over in favor of the all-important critique. It is more trendy to critique someone on their performance, abilities or job and less favorable to find the best about them instead. It is more interesting to find fault. Less interesting to build up. More interesting to point fingers rather than to join hands.

As a result, we are losing much, not the least of which is a dying art. That is, the art of appreciating people and things and ideas. The ability to recognize possibility. Particularly, the potential in another human being and then acknowledge that same person for their endeavours. I think that we as people can never do enough appreciating in this life. And it certainly should never come at the expense of a lost opportunity taken instead to undermine another human being’s worthy attempts at celebrating other human beings for their efforts.

Appreciation matters.

My students had a tea party for their mother’s today. It is my third annual tea party for mothers. I once also threw a pizza party for fathers. It is possibly in the works again for this year. The point of me telling this is because the whole event is organized so that my students can take time to think about and reflect on their parents and the hard work they do at raising them. The important work they do in loving them. And thus come to appreciate them a little more. We spend time thinking about what parents do. How they look after us. How they provide for us. We take time to thank them. We sing songs in praise of them. We prepare things that we know they will like and then we serve them. We let them eat and drink first, for a change. In short, we take time to honor their legacy.

It’s very important work- and not just for five and six years olds. It just might be some of the most significant work I do with my students all year. I take it very seriously.

What I am trying to say here is this: we need to instill in our children, our young people and thus in adults as well, the value of appreciation. The worth of acknowledgment. The importance of telling people what they mean to us. The art of appreciation.

Not because we as receivers of this praise need it so as to shore up our self esteem.
Not because we are needy of accolades.
Not because we can’t function unless we have a set number of compliments.
Not for our egos.

But for our souls. Because quite simply, we matter.

No matter what we do we matter. That’s because people matter.

And because our person matters: our contributions thus matter, our influence matters and our legacy matters.

And when we are told as much, it causes us to want to do the same for another human being, starting a chain of appreciation to begin to form.
One can only imagine what ways this world could change with such a chain. Such a possibility for seeing worth in the world around us.
It is quite simply the power that is the art of appreciation.

And I believe that when we appreciate, there is no end to the possibilities for hope.

It’s just that influential.

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Kindness matters…

The big events in life are fantastic, of course.  And when they happen, I am blown over.  Awestruck.  But it’s the little things that really get me.  Those smallest of events, the little graces.  And when something little happens to change the course of my day for the better, I know there is nothing else to do but offer up gratitude.  To yield true appreciation for what I have received.

Because that one small thing was the game changer.  The difference.

Friday afternoon, I am sitting at a small desk with a stack of papers, a student to my left.  As I have been out most of the week with Oldest home sick, I am truly behind.  Depressingly behind.    Everything’s a mess.  And I hate messes.  Never mind the fact that I was SUPPOSE to have been home even today.  That didn’t happen because my sub never got booked.  And The Call (the “where in the heck are you” call) came from the school about ten minutes before homeroom.

Where was I?  And who was my sub for today?  Good questions, both of them.  I didn’t quite know the answer to either, to be honest.  All I knew was this:  I’d better get my heiny in gear as I had a class to teach, with or without a substitute.

Me still in my flannel pajamas, mopping up water spills on the cupboard.  Hair like a rat nest.

So, the rush began.  Trying to call a sub, while frantically moving around to get ready anyway, I ran my leg into the corner of the hope chest in our bedroom.  Leaving a sharp pain searing through the torn flesh.  No time to stop.  Just.keep.moving.

I rush.  Arriving at school only twenty-five minutes into the day.  My eyes like lead balls.  I have a strong desire to prop them open with my fingers.  But in spite of this all, the children’s voices call out to me.  And I can feel the teacher engine revving.  The hugs, the little arms that envelope me.  The “I love you’s” offering up the encouragement I need to make this all happen.

“I can do this,” I whisper to my inner self.

The day grinds on.  I use my prep to return home to check on the invalid, bring drinks to the bed, pulling up covers.  I scramble to also pull together or put away a few of the things I left hanging in my haste to leave the house.  And then.  I am off again.  Back to the classroom.

Back to the reality of today.

And so it was that I found myself sitting there in the afternoon with that stack of papers.  Feeling the pressures of deadlines and checklists weighing in on me.  And right in the midst of it all, an extra little Boy showed up.  “Could I come in for a break?” says he.  Ah, yes.  I had almost forgotten that this was that time of the day.  Him needing the break, and my room being the “just-right-spot” for that break to happen.

And then,  I’ll admit that I thought it.  “How am I going to get all this done…with another busy little body to add to the mayhem?”

Needless to say.  The noise levels rose, the toys began to take on a life of their own.  My concentration was breaking, as was that of my uninterested little subjects, whom I was testing.  And right about the moment that would have been the breaking point, a little voice asks, that of the Boy:

“Mrs. Gard, where is your broom and dustpan?”  And I’ll admit it.  I turned swiftly, expecting to see an overturned sandbox emptied out on the floor.  But all I saw was a tiny pile of moonsand.  And a Boy who was willing to help sweep it up.  Could I find him the means to be of assistance?

But of course.

Kindness matters.   It can come quite unexpectedly.  Sometimes coming wrapped up in shiny, big packages, done up with bows.  But at other times, it arrives quite unobtrusively.  Through a Boy’s hands and feet.   I like big shows of kindness, but my favorites are really the smallest of gestures.  Because kindness matters, regardless of the proportions or dimensions of the expression of goodwill.  It is the act of doing that makes the difference.

And when kindness comes from a child, directed toward me, the adult.  I don’t know why.  It just blows me away.

Of course it matters that we practice kindness in relation to our fellow humankind.   But Adults, listen to me: it especially matters that we direct kindnesses to those who are still so very small.  Toward those who are still the child.  Who are still the impressionable ones.   And kindness matters when adults are the givers because those first of all impressions are the hardest ones to undo.  And our first impressions of life are of course made in our childhood.

So then.  It really matters how we treat a child. It matters because children never forget.  And neither do we who were once the child ever forget.   We never forget the unkindnesses, but thankfully neither do we ever forget the truly wonderful little graces that make life more bearable.

Kindness always matters.

It matters when one is sitting on the bench at a sporting event, and a child is competing for their personal best.    And the pressure’s on- the score is that close.  It matters, whether or not, the Adult- the coach, is kind.  Whether or not he treats the child with integrity, with value.  It matters that the coach believes the best about the child’s abilities and thus wants to lift the child to even better bests.  Every time she plays.  Because he believes she can.  That she is able.  He has that kind of faith in her abilities.

It matters when one is sitting in a classroom, and their child’s educational records lie naked before them on a student-sized desk, peppered with 1s and 2s, along with (maybe) a few 3s and 4s thrown in for good measure.   It matters, whether or not.  The Adult, the teacher kindly speaks and listens to that parent’s desperate entreaty for understanding.  Whether or not the teacher can see the child through the parent’s eyes, through their unique awareness of the child’s needs and conditions.  It matters that the teacher listens as that parent urgently makes their case, that the teacher honors their role as the primary caregiver of this child.  It matter that the teacher really cares, truly believes in the child.  That she sees through to the person, beyond the behaviours.  To the heart, to the essence of the human being.

And later still.  It matters when one is sitting across from a school administrator, trustee or board director, and a child’s future rests firmly in the hands of significant others.  And there is a lot to lose, a lot at stake.  It matters that the school board personnel act with integrity and honor, always seeing the child as a face, not a number.  Because children are more than just cases, or data or the property of anyone or anybody.

Kindness matters.

And when inevitably.   One is sitting in a hospital room, and a child is lying limp on a bed, temp rising and cheeks flush with fever.   It matters whether or not kindness has been done.  It matters if the Adult, the doctor, kindly speaks and listens to the parent’s pleas for help.  It matters that he listens as the parent speaks their mind, that he hears her with respect and consideration.  And it matters that he talks kindly to the young patient, soothing them with his gentle demeanor.  It matters that he act with the utmost of consideration.  To preserve the dignity and sanctity of life.  It matters.

Because kindness matters.  And although the big things in life are wonderful, it’s the little things that make all the difference.

On appreciation…

How to teach appreciation?  I am at a loss, by times…

Second-Youngest Daughter came home from school today and mentioned, in an off-hand way, that she had shared her lunch with one of the boys in her Grade 3 class who had only had a bag of Cheesies stashed away inside his lunchbag.  When Husband inquired for further information, she filled him in on the rest of the story.  It appears that this particular boy packs his own lunch in the mornings.  And as he had woken up later than usual on this Monday morning, he scrambled at the last minute to put together a decent lunch.  All he could come up with at the last minute was a half-eaten bag of Cheesies that had been there in his lunch bag  since Friday.  So that was what he packed for himself to eat for lunch.

This story is a banner child in support of the school breakfast program, if I might say so myself.  It is also a case for mild neglect- although we don’t know the rest of the story.  One can only guess.  And it is certainly a case for much needed nutrition education, both for parents and children.

But even more compelling than this heart-breaking story of Cheesies for lunch is the flip side to the coin.  Our own children within the four walls of our home have never had to feel the pain of an empty stomach.  Youngest Daughter showed up this morning in my class complaining of being hungry.  I asked if she had eaten her breakfast, as Husband is the one who feeds everyone for the first meal of the day, and she replied that “no” she hadn’t had anything to eat.  Being her teacher and her parent, I was shocked, embarrassed and a wee bit curious how our youngest had been overlooked for breakfast.  So, I asked her again if she truly had not eaten breakfast this morning.

To which she replied sadly, “I had no breakfast.”  Awk!  Embarrassing!

I honestly felt like a neglectful mother at this point, even though it was not “my bad”.  (And I also was feeling a wee bit annoyed at Husband- because it certainly was “his bad”.)  But, we carried on and she had her snacks at 10:00 a.m. and all was well.  When I got home this evening, I (nicely) asked Husband why she had not eaten any breakfast this morning.  He said that she had indeed eaten breakfast- she had a bowl of Cheerios.  To which statement Youngest responded, “Well, it was not a very big bowl!”

How to teach appreciation?  When others have so little.  So little in the way of parental support, financial resources, time.  So little in the way of proper information, education and understanding.  So little in the way of tender, loving care, amongst so many other missing things, both great and small.

One must never take for granted the gift it is to have food on the table, a roof over the head, clean drinking water, a warm bed on which to rest at day’s end.  These are assumed basic needs. And they are blessings for those of us fortunate enough to have in our possession when so many do not share this great wealth.  So this is what I think.  Teaching appreciation must be done bit by bit, little by little, conversation by conversation.  Imparting the wealth of gratitude one utterance at a time.   One gift at a time.  Sharing a lunch is appreciating its value. For to truly understand the riches of wealth, one must understand the grace that is Gratitude.

For gratitude and appreciation are blessings all of their own.