SARATOGA SPRINGS — Hannah Weeden, an English teacher at Maple Avenue Middle School, created The Gratitude Project 15 years ago and has made it her life’s work for the last two years. This project consists of students delivering handwritten letters to people who have made a powerful impact on their lives, showing gratitude to them for that. Weeden believes that if gratitude is instilled in a child from a young age, you raise a happier child.
“Thinking and then recognizing the little things as well as the big things that enrich our lives enables us to not just feel happy, but be happy,” Weeden explained.
To Weeden, gratitude isn’t simply words, it’s an attitude.
“Students need to grow this attitude to find fulfillment within themselves, this has to be taught and modelled,” she said.
The students hand-write their letters because Weeden feels that hand-writing is as personal as it can get in this day and age with all of the technology that is available. She does not read the letters, she feels that would take away “from the sincerity of the students’ heart.”
“Similar to developing a muscle at the gym, developing gratitude requires regular and periodic practice in order to grow and develop,” Weeden explained.
Weeden has been a keynote speaker for the New York State Middle School Association (NYSMSA) at their last two annual conferences.
“I saw the tear-stained faces of my colleagues and I was blown away at how transformative it was for them to just receive a letter,” she explained, in reference to the students handing out their letters to the teachers who have made an impact on them.
“I feel like it’s essential for students to truly find ways to be positive and upbeat and I don’t think that often times they know how to do that. So that whole notion that gratitude isn’t necessarily about saying thank you to someone but it’s experiencing gratefulness of what you have, big or small. What I’ve come to recognize is students need to grow this attitude and I really am acting as a facilitator of that growth. They need to find fulfilment within themselves, but it really has to be taught and modeled, it doesn’t just happen,” she said.
“What has been incredibly empowering for me, is to see through their physical interactions between student and adult, student and student, to see that interaction, they’re growing. It’s a messy process, but they are really growing their soft skills which are being lost in a day and age when everyone is connected to a cell phone. So, it’s not only developing them in terms of giving them a more positive outlook on life but it’s enabling them to develop soft skills that are otherwise being lost,” she said.
In the last two years, teachers from South Glens Falls and South Colonie have expressed an interest in using The Gratitude Project in their classrooms.
“I’ve continued to speak to as many people, that are willing to listen, in terms of the project, as I can” Weeden said. “Sharing this has been a very intense experience for me. Yes, I put myself out there every day with my 145 students but I’m not one to put myself out there otherwise,” she explained.
With sharing her message of gratitude, Weeden’s goal is to see positive change.
“This is certainly a project that can be done at all levels,” she said enthusiastically.
For more information on The Gratitude Project, visit www. hweedenpowerofwords.com.