“...just the number of educators who are passionately pursuing this work, I'm grateful for every single one of them because I know how hard that work is, having been in that classroom, and yet I think one of the biggest rewards that I have been seeing from educators is when they say, "It's not that the work is any easier. It's as hard as it's ever been. But for whatever reason this year it didn't feel like work.”
— John Norlin
- Houston: Welcome everyone to the CharacterStrong Podcast, where we have conversations on school culture and leadership. My name is Houston Kraft. I'm one of the co-founders of CharacterStrong, here today with my other co-founder, John Norlin, and it is the day before Thanksgiving, an opportunity to spend a moment relishing in the beautiful trait and exercise of gratitude. I love this as a reminder, John, this time of year to dig in to one of my favorite quotes from a woman named Scarlett Lewis, who lost her son in the Sandy Hook shooting. She started an organization called the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement, and she says this beautiful thing that, "We can't have a grateful thought and an angry thought at the same time."
- Houston: I love that as a reminder today, as why the practice of gratitude is so healthy in our life, because our brains operate linearly, meaning we can only have one thought at once, and what a gift, which means when we intentionally focus, right, choose to look at things that we're grateful for in life, it means we can't have that thought and an angry thought, or that thought and an anxious thought, or that thought and a sad thought, or that thought and a stressful thought, which to me, is the great gift of gratitude.
- Houston: So I wanted to spend a little bit of time digging into that today, thinking about some of the things that we're grateful for as an organization, and getting to do some of this incredible work, and then end us today with a challenge. What do you think?
- John: I like that. That's good, man.
- Houston: Yeah. So one of the things that we, in our secondary curriculum, we have lots of opportunities for some gratitude challenges, opportunities to write gratitude towards people in your life who've helped you along the way, opportunities to share gratitude with other teachers, and there's some really cool videos that support the science of gratitude that hopefully inspire some students into meaningful action.
- Houston: In our elementary toolkit called Purposeful People, gratitude is one of the 10 traits that we currently focus on, and we define it as choosing to notice and appreciate things in our life, things in others and things in the world. I love the way that that sets up, because it's a choice. It's the choice to notice, so it starts with awareness, which I think that's like the foundation of gratitude, is just being conscious that every day, good is available to us if we're looking for it, that we're always going to find what we're looking for, which is why sometimes you go to the most destitute places in the world, and they seem happier than some of the most traditionally rich places in the world and you're like, "What is happening here?"
- Houston: Well, it is the awareness to look for good, and there's always things to appreciate in our life. Sometimes it's as simple as I woke up breathing again today. Sometimes it's things in the people around us, what a gift it is to get to work alongside you, John, someone that inspired me when I was in high school, changed a lot of the ways I thought about myself and about leadership and kindness, and the first person to ever hire me to speak at their school, and now we get to work together. I feel grateful for, I have two parents that have supported me along the way relentlessly, and things in the world, and as I look out today, I'm in LA and the sun is shining. I had a beautiful breakfast with family, and there's so much to be grateful for.
- Houston: So let's start with a moment of good news, John. What's something that you're grateful for over this past year, doing the work of CharacterStrong?
- John: Well, yeah man. I mean, there's so many things we're grateful for. Even just starting, close, I would echo that right back at you in regards to being able to do this work every day with someone who is as passionate and filled with purpose as you are to make change in the world, and that you do that with humility and with a drive that is unmatched, and so just grateful for you, my friend, every single day, to our team, who works so hard every single day and truly lives out the values and the character traits that we're about as an organization.
- John: But I think the biggest gratitude is ultimately now, it's the teachers that we are getting to work with every single day, that then trickles down to the students that they serve, which is the end goal, right? That we're creating a more kind, a more loving world in that way, and the number of educators who are dealing with so many things, right, that are on their plate. As we always say, there's so much on the plate of an educator, and the world is moving at an incredible pace, and sometimes we've been in this work for many years, and so we're having to adapt and we're having to change and we're having to continue to be intentional and it feels like we never ever fully figure it out.
- John: And just the number of educators who are passionately pursuing this work, I'm grateful for every single one of them because I know how hard that work is, having been in that classroom, and yet I think one of the biggest rewards that I have been seeing from educators is when they say, "It's not that the work is any easier. It's as hard as it's ever been. But for whatever reason this year it didn't feel like work." And digging into that powerful statement, usually the description is, "It's not just the intentional work relationally that we are doing from our staff to students. That's incredibly important. But just as important is the relational work we're doing staff to staff." And they'll say, "I actually look forward to coming to work every single day."
- John: And when we can make kindness normal in our school environments and in our classrooms, as a foundational approach, it's amazing what we can do even though the work is hard. So just grateful for educators everywhere who are serving our students and our families and our communities every single day. How about you, my friend?
“It's the choice to notice, so it starts with awareness, which I think that's like the foundation of gratitude, is just being conscious that every day, good is available to us if we're looking for it, that we're always going to find what we're looking for, which is why sometimes you go to the most destitute places in the world, and they seem happier than some of the most traditionally rich places in the world and you're like, "What is happening here?”
— Houston Kraft
- Houston: I think this past year, I had a really lovely moment when I was in Lewisville ISD. I got a chance to sit in on a kindness convocation, which was a new thing that the Lewisville School District adopted to try to pull from every every school a group of leaders, not necessarily in positions of traditional leadership, but people that just were influential on campus, and they brought them together and they said, "Hey, you're a kindness ambassador this year, which means we're trusting you to live out the message and the beliefs that we're trying to be about here this year of of kindness and compassion." And so they held trainings at the middle school level and high school level and I got to be a part of both of them.
- Houston: I remember going to the middle school one, and they opened up with a video of all the schools across Lewisville ISD, which is in Dallas, Texas, and they showed videos of these kids holding the doors open, greeting kids as they walked in, which is sort of one of the things that we talk about in our trainings. It's an example that you lived out when you were in high school and has inspired lots of other people to do the same, and Lewisville has taken it to heart and executed on it brilliantly. And I'm watching this montage of all these middle school kids inspired into action and I got to stand on the back and just be moved to tears that at the way that influence works, watching this district who have some passionate people at the district level, passionate teachers, passionate principals, get it and say, "We're not going to just talk about kindness, we're going to be about it and we're going to put all of the resources and time we need into making this happen," and as a result, you see these students moved into meaningful, consistent action.
- Houston: I was watching that just humbled by what's possible when you work alongside educators to equip them with some practical low burden ideas and the inspiration to get it going and all of a sudden, they take the magic and make it real. So that was my moment of gratitude this year sitting in the back of that on that auditorium watching 900 middle schoolers ready to live a more kind life.
- John: Yeah, man. And just a reminder that students want to be a part of purposeful work like that. They want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. They want to make change in this world. And if we authentically approach them with that opportunity to do that work, it's amazing not only what can happen, but what is happening.
- John: Well, how about this? Let me transition. One of the things that I absolutely love the frame is a TED Talk ... It's been around a little while ... by a gentleman named Drew Dudley, I think out of Canada. And the title of that TED Talk is Leading with Lollipops, and there's many gems in that TED Talk. I encourage all to watch it if you haven't seen it already. Even if you have, the reminder would be ... I love how he says, "It's interesting how we celebrate each other and people in our lives every year on our birthdays and yet all we got to do is just not die," which sounds kind of bad, but it's also kind of funny. It's like, yeah, all I've got to do is just not die and there's a celebration in some way or another. Usually it's like, "Happy birthday," and everyone's really excited.
- John: Yet, there are people that walk around us every single day, all year long that have had incredible influence, incredible positive impact and we haven't told them. And I think maybe the challenge today would be what is a practical challenge that we could give people today, Hugh, that would be putting gratitude into practice? One that we've done before in many of our educator trainings, what is a way that we could collectively, right, the number of people that listen to this podcast is many, so what is a way that we could in a simple yet powerful way, let people around us know how grateful we are for them, for their influence?
- Houston: William Arthur Ward says, "Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it."
- John: Oh, that's good, and ouch, too.
- Houston: Yeah, which is funny when we're willing to give those sometimes physical gifts, but the gifts of gratitude, which is sometimes the thing that we hang on to much longer than the socks or the sweater, we give sometimes less often. I think it's a matter of comfort and competency. But here's the challenge, and there's varying degrees. Either send a text message to a person in your life, "I appreciate your influence. I'm grateful for your influence on my life because blank," you make that phone call, "I'm grateful for your influence because blank," or the big challenge is you put it on video, a little video of yourself sharing gratitude towards one person in your life that you haven't done so in a while would be a challenge. Who's someone that you haven't shared gratitude with in a while that you'd love to during this holiday season?
- Houston: Take a little video and tag us, on whether it's Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. Tag us and we'd love to send something your way in gratitude for your exercise in gratitude. So we hope to see some of your videos out in the wild. And even if you don't send the video, maybe just send us a tweet or a message sharing what you shared and your experience sharing it. We would call this a character dare. We character dare you to send this message to at least one person in your life, and let's exercise this thing that this holiday is ultimately all about in a way that is real and meaningful beyond the turkeys and the stuffings.
- John: I love it, man, and influence others to do likewise. When people see genuine gratitude that is being given, they're far more likely to be reminded and do so as well. Well, thank you my friend. Yeah, just grateful for you. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family and from CharacterStrong to all that are listening and all out there. Thank you for the work that you do. It's incredibly difficult work, but it's incredibly purposeful work. If it was easy, everybody would do it, right? And I think to quote A League of Their Own, "It's the hard that makes it great." And so thank you for choosing to do hard things every single day. Grateful for you all.
- John: Thank you for listening to the CharacterStrong podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, feel free to share on your social media. Please rate, review and make sure to subscribe for future episodes on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Google Play. To learn more about CharacterStrong and how we're supporting schools, visit characterstrong.com. Thanks for listening and make it a great day.
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The CharacterStrong Team is a partnership of educators, speakers, and students who believe in creating sustainable change in schools and helping young people develop the skills of service, kindness, and empathy.