WMS people

Back to School Night 2015


I must admit I don’t usually prepare what I’m going to say on Back to School Night until somewhere around the first week of school…. But this year, I found inspiration early!

Last June as I listened to the 8th Grade Class deliver their graduation speeches, I noticed a dominant theme. (It was my 33rd Washington Montessori graduation and it finally struck me!) Each graduate spent a good amount of time saying “thank you”—thanks to their parents, to their teachers, to their friends.

Maren Benn said: “I want to thank everyone who has helped me along my journey.”

Brady Grustas said: “Thank you to everyone who has ever taught me, helped me, encouraged me and believed in me. I can’t be grateful enough for all that you’ve done for me.”

Colin Stewart said: “I am so grateful to have had all my teachers and made best friends because I don’t know who I would be or who I’ll become without the blessing of Montessori education. I want to thank my parents for putting education first and moving to the little town of Washington to put me in WMS.”

Those are just three of the quotes I could have read. There were plenty more to choose from.

It got me thinking about the importance of gratitude…. not in the context of your everyday please-and-thank yous, although, of course, those are important … but in terms of gratitude in a big sense, as an “emotion” that sustains us.

It turns out, gratitude is gaining momentum in the science/education community as well…

When we as educators or parents think of the traits we’d like to cultivate in our children, there are several that immediately come to mind—motivation, confidence, integrity, grit.

But a trait that is often overlooked—and some scientists argue that it’s perhaps the most important factor to a healthy, productive life—is GRATITUDE.

It’s so important, in fact, that Berkley’s Greater Good Science Center recently launched a $56 million, 3-year project dedicated solely to “Expanding the Science & Practice of Gratitude.”

Robert Emmons, a leading scientific expert on gratitude, explains gratitude as “an affirmation of goodness” and a recognition “that the sources of this goodness are outside of ourselves. … It is when we acknowledge that other people give us many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives.”

So why is this important? Emmons spent the past 8 years conducting intensive research on gratitude….his research shows that grateful people enjoy a range of benefits—from feeling less lonely and isolated to bolstering stronger immune systems and lowering blood pressure—than their counterparts.

A number of studies show that in the face of serious trauma, adversity, and suffering, if people have a grateful disposition, they’ll recover more quickly. Also that grateful people have a higher sense of self-worth. “when you’re grateful, you have the sense that someone else is looking out for you… Once you start to recognize the contributions that other people have made to your life—once you realize that other people have seen the value in you—you can transform the way you see yourself.

Other research claims experiencing and expressing gratitude can help improve children’s moods, strengthen their social ties, and cultivate a satisfaction with school and a sense of purposeful engagement with the world and a commitment to fulfilling meaningful goals.

I’ve always believed strongly that in order for our students to be successful, they first must feel like they belong. That is why developing community has always been a priority here. And it turns out the foundation of any strong community is a whole lot of gratitude.

So my wish for all of us this year is that we can fit small bits of gratitude into our lives–even when, or especially when, life is challenging.

Pat Werner

Back to School Night 2015