An Attitude of Gratitude

We taught my nephew to say “thank you” at a very young age. It was a family effort, and when he would forget he was prompted with raised eyebrows and a “What do you say?” He is now 7, but the lessons have continued for his younger brother, with the occasional exaggerated, “Could you please pass the butter? Thank you!” at the dinner table. He’ll catch on just like his brother did and soon the lessons will become less pronounced, the “thank yous” more second-nature.

During this month – dubbed “Teacher Appreciation” – I can’t help but think of these lessons and how important they are, not only for the young ones, but for us “older” ones, too. Is it really enough to dedicate a single month to showing teachers just how greatly they are appreciated? Absolutely not. We all know that. Teaching is a tremendously challenging occupation, one that does not get recognized nearly as much as it should. And it’s not just people on the “outside”; it’s us on the inside, too. When was the last time you showed gratitude for your students? Other teachers? For yourself?

When considering gratitude, you may think, “Well, I said thank you to my students yesterday for not kicking the stones on the playground.” Although it was probably much needed (we all need a gentle reminder from time to time), it’s not the thanks I’m talking about here. Instead, we can try finding ways to express genuine gratitude on a daily basis. Here are a few ideas to get you started.


Gratitude for your students

  • Post-its go a long way: A simple “Hey, great job yesterday!” stuck to a students’ desk in the morning can make all the difference. Want something a little greener? Try using a tool like ClassDojo to type a quick text to a student’s parent. It’ll be a great surprise!
  • Give your students voice: Taking the time to really hear someone is one of the highest forms of gratitude (and respect). Flipgrid is an easy way to provide students with opportunities to share their voice!

Gratitude for your colleagues

  • Collaborate with the best of them: Got a real team mentality at your school? Maybe you’re in need of one? Google recently introduced the Team Drive and it makes sharing your ideas and resources that much more efficient. What better way to thank a fellow teacher than by sharing an idea?
  • Give credit where credit’s due: We all work hard, so when we are fresh out of ideas, we often find ourselves sorting through skads of them on Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, the works. Show your thanks by sharing your find and t@gging the owner of the idea. (I personally LOVE getting @ed on Twitter!)

Gratitude for yourself

  • Star in a movie: I would venture to say that this is the most important kind of gratitude. As teachers, we are constantly celebrating our students’ progress, but we don’t always recognize our own. This recognition is essential to our growth as teachers and can serve us greatly in terms of feeling accomplished and happy in what we do. In order to observe growth, take advantage of available technology and record your teaching from time to time. (SWIVLs are great if you have the funds, but anything will do!) You will be surprised to see how much you grow on a weekly basis.
  • Time machine: Not feeling the video? Perusing your Google Drive can have a similar effect. It can be shocking to see how much you’ve created and utilized over the months. When was the last time you looked back with an attitude of gratitude? Do yourself the favor and take some time this week; go back and “star” the lessons you liked most, comment on those that needed a little tweaking. You’ll be that much more prepared for next year.

I realize that time is of the essence in the teaching world, but I can’t stress how important it is to honor your journey as a teacher. We spend so much of our time following a pacing calendar, grading assessments, spotting the “developings” on our observation reports. Take a moment to give yourself a pat on the back. Pick up a mocha instead of a coffee; do whatever you have to do to thank yourself for sticking it out and showing up every day for your students.

Flip the Music Classroom with YouTube Videos

The Challenge

Mr. Chung is a music teacher at University Neighborhood High School in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. On average, he has more than thirty students per class period, making it virtually impossible for all of them to watch him playing instruments up close. Anyone who has learned to play an instrument knows how important these demonstrations are and on top of that, students can easily fall behind if they miss a class, because the lessons are taught “live” without a textbook or any other supplementary resources.

The Solution

While working with Kyle Liao, an instructional technology coach from Educate LLC, Mr. Chung began experimenting with video as a possible solution to the challenges he faced in his music classroom. At first, the Educate coach recorded Mr. Chung playing a few of the songs he’d been teaching in class, sharing them with students via YouTube. Mr. Chung quickly realized that the digital generation was excited to watch the videos outside of class time and continue practicing their instruments at home.

Over time, he saw the value in this model and since has been able to completely flip his classroom using video. As his work with the Educate coach progressed, he was able to create a Google Site to organize the growing video catalog, embed teacher notes, and annotate the clips. Mr. Chung now records all of his lessons and instrument demonstrations. He even encourages students to make their own demo videos as a rigorous form of assessment (i.e. high on Depth of KnowledgeBloom’s Taxonomy).

The Outcome

By recording his lessons and demonstrations, Mr. Chung can ensure that every student properly sees and hears his music instruction, even if they happen to miss a day of class. Moreover, student engagement has increased exponentially because students love using their personal mobile devices as a part of the learning experience. “They are way more willing to watch a video on YouTube than to listen to the words coming out of my mouth in the classroom,” he jokes.

In addition to increased engagement and better focus during classroom sessions, students are now spending more of their free time watching the videos and practicing their instruments. Mr. Chung also uses the videos as a form of differentiation, as students can pause and rewind the clips, learning the music at their own pace. Since the  majority of the instruction can now be done independently, students are less intimidated to get started with a new song or instrument. Their confident performances speak for themselves!

Make it happen in your classroom…

The Tools

The Steps

1. Record each lesson using a format that allows for a gradual release of responsibility where students can hear from the teacher first, try it along with the video, then pause the video and practice solo.
2. Upload and organize the videos on a classroom YouTube channel or other video hosting service approved by your district. If you use G Suite for Education, you can also easily create a free Google site and organize the videos there.
3. Record other demonstrations so that students can practice a variety of songs and techniques alongside a video example. Make sure each video has a specific and clear focus (such as playing a scale, a new song, or learning a chord).
4. Plan and teach classroom procedures that allow students to leverage computers or mobile devices to access the videos alongside their instruments. Consider allowing them to use their own cell phones if your school’s policy allows for it.
5. In order to assess students, have them record themselves playing their instrument and upload it as a private YouTube video or in a Google Drive folder for later review.