I love when authentic connections happen between people in unexpected ways. Recently I was co-facilitating a professional learning afternoon with three colleagues at a school site. The learning was focused on school and classroom culture, building relationships, and also expressing gratitude for our colleagues and our own resilience. One of my co-presenters introduced a Gratitude Circle as our closing activity for the session.
We got into groups of 4 and each group completed their own gratitude circle. To do this, the group would start with person A in the “hot seat”. The other three group members would each take turns saying something they appreciated about person A, or something they were grateful for about person A. Person A was only allowed to respond with “Thank you”. That is a key rule, because so many of us want to brush off compliments or kindness. This is a time to soak in the positive words. After person A, person B gets into the “hot seat” to hear the gratitude from their colleagues.
While the staff was doing this activity, our group of four presenters did the activity in the front of the room ourselves. Part way through I paused us and had our group turn to face the staff members, all seated at tables around a large auditorium. Immediately the principal said, “Look! I have never seen her smile like that!” and another person said, “Wow! Look how happy he looks!”. Observing the Gratitude Circles around the room gave us a chance to see authentic joy, happiness, laughter, some tears, and camaraderie amongst this staff. It was such a beautiful feeling to see how kindness spreads so easily.
I left this day so filled with gratitude. I went back to my office and described the activity to my friend and boss (Hi AG!), who then brought the Gratitude Circle to a group we were in together the following week.
As a participate myself in this activity twice, there were two profound elements of this for me. One was the challenge of coming up with some unique to share about my colleagues, so that I wasn’t repeating what was already said and I was being genuine in celebrating a strength about each person. The second was hearing the strengths or the compliments that different colleagues chose to share about me. It was fascinating to hear the specific examples of things I have said or done that stood out to other people, especially some people I’m only just beginning to get to know and others with whom I have worked very closely for almost 3 years now. One colleague told me she was impressed with how good I am at having difficult conversations. This is something that I have worked hard to learn my entire time in leadership. This was a HUGE weakness when I first became a school leader, and something I struggled with for years. It was so affirming to hear someone see this as a strength in me now, after I have read, studied, practiced, and role-played to develop skills in this area specifically.
Have you ever participated in a Gratitude Circle?