Early on in my career, I was encouraged to keep a box near my desk. You know, a receptacle for all the letters and cards and words of encouragement that would surely come my way. And as I made my way through that first month, and then that first semester, I began to wonder if my small shoe box was too lofty of a goal. Or perhaps I simply wasn’t connecting with my students as I wished. Finally, on a piece of green construction paper, 7th grader Robin had glued a handwritten letter offering me praise for simply not giving up. Those words helped me keep my footing through the winter break, survive the tough February days, and launch me toward the summer. Twenty-five years later and I still have that letter. However I have outgrown the shoe box and find myself filling a nearby desk drawer dedicated to these positive messages. Not only does the drawer remind me of my better moments, days, months and years. It also reminds me to take the time to share positive words with others. A challenge I had to overcome was allowing myself to simply receive the compliment. Too often we deflect and say something like: “oh, it was my pleasure”, or “no, you are the one I should thank.” When we do that we steal from them a small piece of the joy they have for us. We rob them just a bit of the power that comes with recognizing another. I would recommend that, instead, we simply say, “Your words mean a lot. Thank you for taking the time to share them with me.” I know this is easier said than done however I have learned that those few words carry more power.
Becoming friends on social media with former students can be another way to remain connected while also serving as a reminder that you had an impact on their life. When someone chooses to include you in the minutiae as well as grand moments in their life, they are telling you that you matter. And as I engage in pictures, videos, and stories of their emergence into adulthood, those beaming moments around marriage, the celebrations of becoming a parent, I am quickly reminded of my impact. And I work hard to give it all the space to breathe.
So as you sustain your effort through this fall semester and look toward the grind of the early spring, I hope that you will remember the power you have each day to positively impact a young person. Regardless of whether or not they find the right words to thank you, I am certain they appreciate what you do each day. Perhaps they will write a nice card or draw you a picture. Or maybe they will come in one morning to share something amazing their family did over the weekend. Or it will be a simple smile they offer, a “thanks” on the way out of class, or a nod in the hall. Regardless of the form it takes, work hard to not miss it. Because you are significant and they want you to know it.
How are you making sure that you are showing gratitude for others while also being able to receive it?