Studies show that gratitude is an emotional state that can provide strength and resilience to those who express it often. This week, we want you to exercise your gratitude muscles. First, write a list of 3 times you missed opportunities to express gratitude or tell someone how much they mean to you. It doesn’t matter if it happened yesterday or last year. Next, go out and make up for the misses. If you have a former teacher who really impacted you, you could say, “I never thanked you for all the valuable lessons you gave me.” If you have a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while, you could say, “I never told you how important our friendship is to me, and I’m sorry we drifted apart.” If doing it in person is too hard, give it a try over email or text.
According to a study conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality, 82% of transgender or gender non-binary youth reported that they feel unsafe at school. Of trans and non-gender conforming students, 44% of them had been abused physically (ex. punched, shoved, etc.) and 67% of them had been bullied online. If a trans or gender non-conforming student at your school is getting bullied, make an effort this week to offer them help. Let them know you’re there for them whenever they need you. You can say something like, “Hey, I just want to let you know that I don’t like seeing you get bullied and I’m on your side.” If you don’t know any transgender people in your community, you can check out books, films, YouTube channels, and transgender blogs to find out more about what it means to be transgender, so you can be an effective ally in the future.
Watching a television program recently talking about creativity. One of their examples was a previously failing elementary school that adopted an arts-based curriculum for all grades and subjects. This means “teaching about, with, and through the arts.” The results? Dramatically increased math and English test scores – in some cases, gains as high as 50%.
It meant a radical re-thinking of how and why we deliver education. Education today is a fairly structured affair, with time delineated into subjects and periods, with little flow-through in the day. One set of ideas ends and the student moves on to the next class and set of ideas.
But even if you accept that we can’t get away from structured education (an assertion I do not accept), there are still ways to cultivate creativity. In her article, Marilyn Price-Mitchell PhD discusses ways of cultivating creativity even in “standards-based classrooms.” Possibility thinking and divergent thinking are only two of the methods she suggests.
But we’re talking about arts-based education. And research strongly suggests that not only does it work to improve overall academic performance, it can actually “significantly reduce or completely eliminate the educational achievement gap for economically disadvantaged students.”
As early as 2004, research was showing the compatibility of arts-based curriculum for whole schools, not just some grades or student populations. “A whole-school art activity may focus on one project in which all the students in the school participate. One elementary school, for example, studied a George Seurat painting for 5 weeks as part of a social studies project.”
Or the curriculum can be individual classroom-based. “In one model, for example, a professional artist visited individual teachers weekly for a period of 2 years to help them integrate arts into their language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies curricula.”
“But is it good for students?” you ask. In short, yes. The research shows that not only does it improve academics, but learning ability generally, thinking skills, self-esteem, willingness to try new things…all are improved with arts-based education.
It’s not new, it’s not easy. But if we want to take our schools beyond excellence to distinction, if we want to honor the artistic heritage of Ojai, if we want to create fundamental gains for our students and faculty, we need to think about new ways. Arts-based education bears close examination.
Including someone new is a powerful act that can dramatically lessen the effects of isolation.²⁵ Is there someone in your class that you’ve noticed looking down or lonely? Make a point to reach out and invite them to hang out with your friends this week, even if they’re not normally part of your group. You could say, “We’re seeing a new movie after school, want to join? Should be fun,” or “A group of us is going to play some pickup basketball on Saturday afternoon. Wanna come? Don’t worry, we’re no pros.” That tiny gesture could make a world of difference to them.
Empathy is an invaluable skill when it comes to taking the power out of bullying. According to a 2014 study, schools where students reported having more empathy for their classmates had fewer instances of bullying. Thankfully, empathy is something we can all work on. This week, read, or even write, a story about someone who is very different from you. Maybe they go to a school on the opposite side of the country from you, or maybe they have radically different political views. Maybe it’s a fictional character, someone in the public eye, or even someone from history. Taking on the viewpoint, even briefly, of people we imagine to be different from us can increase our empathy. BONUS: When you’ve finished, share your story with a friend, and encourage them to try it, too.
Questioning a rumor can be a great way to stop it in its tracks. This week, when you hear someone share a rumor, question them. You can try saying, “How would you feel if someone said that about you?” or “Come on, we should really give them the benefit of the doubt. Who told you that?” Even though it’s tough, questioning rumors is a great way to defuse them.
Sometimes simple actions can make the biggest difference. Each day this week, email or text a different friend a supportive message. You can try starting with friends who look down or who you know are struggling, but then branch out. You can text something like, “Hey, ___. I know you might just be tired and stressed from school (I know I am), but I noticed you looked kind of down today. Just a little reminder that I’m on your team and you’ve totally got this,” or “___! We haven’t talked in a couple months, but I was just thinking about how much fun we had at my birthday party last year. You’re such a good friend and I miss you! Let’s catch up soon.” Don’t worry if you can’t get the message just right. What matters most is the gesture.