High School Drama Class - January 2016
Our Drama Teacher and Dean of Students, Rob Wilson, invited me to come hear his high school Drama students perform their gratitude monologues. The task? Students were asked to write a gratitude letter to someone in their life. They then memorized the letter and performed it as an original monologue. Students were also given the option to invite the recipient of the letter to come listen, whether in person or virtually.
I had only been planning to stop in for a few performances, but once the students started, they had my attention for the whole period. One student's best friend Skyped in from another country. The student thanked the friend for helping her through a tough transition period. Her writing was poetic, and the performance had a genuine and raw emotion to it. "You anchored me," she confessed. "Your calls and texts helped me to get on with life."
Rob asked another performer how she felt when she shared her letter. "Some part of me lifted away," a student replied. "It was the feeling of letting it out when I said thank you."
The exercise was inspired by a workshop Rob attended earlier this year in Positive Education with Geelong Grammar School. Geelong's model of Positive Education is based on the science of Positive Psychology and includes six main facets: positive health, positive relationships, positive emotions, positive accomplishment, positive engagement, and positive purpose.
During the training session with Geelong, a specific focus was put on developing gratitude as a positive emotion. Participants in the course are continually told: learn it, live it, teach it, embed it. As a model to his students, Rob shared how he wrote his gratitude letter to his cousin and mailed it to him, but that he still had not yet read a gratitude letter aloud to someone. He commended the students for their honesty and courage to share their letters.
Students chose to write letters to different people in their lives: parents, teachers, coaches, and friends. One student wrote to Matt Dickherber, thanking him for his coaching and encouragement in baseball. Another wrote to Seth Laffin. Another student, who was new this year, thanked an unnamed other student for helping her feel welcome in the school community, even though she felt alone at first. Part of what made this exercise so effective is that the students learned language specific to expressing their thanks.
I was impressed and inspired how Rob was able to so fully integrate positive emotion into his monologue unit. This type of unit planning adds so much value to our school community, highlighting the support that students receive and helping them to openly express their gratitude. Thanks Rob, for a fantastic lesson which I'm sure the students will remember.
For more on gratitude and positive emotion:
In Praise of Gratitude - Harvard Health Publications
The Role of Positive Emotions in Positive Psychology - Barbara L. Fredrickson
Young, Mark E., and Tracy S. Hutchinson. "The rediscovery of gratitude: implications for counseling practice." Journal of Humanistic Counseling Apr. 2012: 99+. Academic OneFile. Web. 26 Jan. 2016.