I entered the wonderful world of teaching after 20+ years of working in business. Switching gears was exciting yet challenging. The environment alone was a huge change. Spending my days in a shared office with adults differed greatly from being in my own classroom with children under the age of 12. But no matter my job, I was always cognizant of how I felt at work and what things I needed around me to help me be my best. Some included: green plants, travel photos and images hanging on my walls or propped on my desk, and fresh flowers that I brought in every Monday morning.
Throughout my work experiences, I also learned that the way the day started was important, but the way it ended was even more so. This was especially true when working with young children. The way the day started set the tone, but it could be turned around if we got off on the wrong foot. However, the way the day ended was what the kids and I would think about well after school let out and would remember when we returned the next morning. So, I decided to begin each day with a song and end each day on a “positive note” with a positive note!
From my journal: October 12, 2004 Newbury Park, California
“Hand wrote some sayings on xerox paper, folded them up & put them into a canning jar. We’ll see how it goes…”
At the time, I didn’t know there was a scientific term for what I was doing and hoped to achieve. It’s referred to as the “peak-end” rule. Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist explains that people remember experiences based on the how the event made them feel at its peak, and how the person felt when it ended. This is how we summarize our life events and decide whether we want to experience a particular one again. Along similar lines, Theresa Glomb, a professor at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management said that although good things occur three to five times more frequently than unpleasant ones, bad experiences impact us five to 10 times more. She also stated that humans pay more attention to negative occurrences than positive ones, even if the good ones lasted a lot longer. Wow!
Given these facts, I’m happy to report my students loved these positive notes! As mentioned in my journal entry, I started handwriting these tidbits on scrap paper and folded them like fortunes you find in Chinese cookies. Keeping them in a see-through jar resting on my desk was a visible reminder of what we’d share before the last bell rang, signaling that it was time to go home.
At first, I was the one who dipped my hand in and read the note I fished out. Sayings like: “Always be kind to others.”, “Express yourself your favorite way every day!” and “You are truly amazing!” filled my container. Wanting students to take a more active part in this, I then decided to choose a student each day to select one and read it to the class. Whoever read it, got to take it home.
Everyone seemed to enjoy this little ritual, so the next year, I began typing up these notes, that way I didn’t have to rewrite them each fall. I also expanded these sayings and added quotes from popular kids’ books. Among them: “You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” (Winnie the Pooh), “Take the adventure, heed the call!” (The Wind in the Willows) and “You’re off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, So… get on your way!” (Oh, the Places You’ll Go).
Sometime later, I changed things up a bit more. A month or so into each school year, I invited my class to write their own positive notes on colorful paper to add to mine. Most loved this idea and just about every student in every class participated. Funny enough, many of the ones that the kids wrote began with the word “Don’t”. I suppose that was their way of giving “good” advice and saving someone from having to endure a consequence of a not-so-positive experience they once had! A few of theirs included: “Don’t write on yourself with markers.”, “Don’t eat something off the cafeteria floor.”, and “Don’t talk when Mrs. Braverman is talking!” Ha! There were also a lot of sweet ones like, “Sit with someone who is alone at the lunch table.”, “You absolutely ROCK!”, and “Hug your pets every day.”
To this day, I still have a glass jar holding happy notes. Sometimes after a trying time, I’ll pull one out and read it to myself. It never fails to make me feel better. On occasion, I’ll slip one into a letter I am writing to a loved one. A few years back, a friend was going through a tough time, so I selected a couple dozen and put them in a small container tied with a ribbon. I left it on her doorstep with the instructions to read one every night before bed. Her response reminded me just how impactful a few thoughtful words can be. Regardless of age, a little positivity really can go, a very long way.