Grounding in gratitude

Making the most of a few moments and pursuing perspectives outside our own can help leaders further their connection with gratitude.

6 min read

EducationEducational Leadership

woman facing sun with arms spread wide for article on gratitude for educational leaders

Tim Robberts/Getty Images

Fred Ende

In general, November and December tend to be holiday-focused. Regardless of what we choose to celebrate, the months connecting autumn and winter are often filled with opportunities to consider gratitude and the gratefulness that should be a part of our everyday lives. Of course, gratitude can’t be only a holiday thing. As I’ve considered my growing relationship with gratitude, I have come to realize that there are four practices I tend to incorporate in my work that help me to ground myself in gratitude. 

Maximizing moment

Clint Kofford and Mike Morrison, two great educational leaders, speak to the value of examining constructs of time to best understand the impact we can have in working with others. The smallest time increment, according to them, is a moment, a block of time usually no longer than a few minutes. 

Thinking through this lens can be daunting. There are thousands of moments in a day; how to manage them? However, when looked through a more positive frame, we might consider, “Wow, with so many moments available, I can truly express gratitude to even more people.” 

Here’s how I am operationalizing this: Knowing that gratitude can be shared in a moment’s time, I am making it my business to devote a few moments each day to showing my appreciation for all that I have been given. This can be through a few simple words or actions, and it can have powerful results. We often bemoan how much time is taken up in our lives with elements that are mundane or that we don’t like. Yet, knowing that a moment can change the course of a person’s day, week, life, etc., why wouldn’t we capitalize on them with a kind word even more often?

Pursue perspectives

In my short time on this planet I have learned that the grass is only ever really greener when we don’t take the time to explore the grass more fully. Perspective brings us a lot, with the most value being in understanding people’s lived experiences and the context that helps us better understand our world. 

Perspective also helps us more fully recognize what we have and what we don’t. And, I would suggest, it helps us to see that as challenging as our lives may be, there is much and more that we can value from what we know so far and what we don’t (as of now). 

By pursuing varied perspectives we also let others know we are interested in who they are and what they have experienced. A simple “Tell me what that was like” shows our curiosity and our willingness to see the world a bit differently than through our own daily experience. 

How does gratitude relate? Simply put, the more we know about others, the more we understand about ourselves. And that self-knowledge lets us be more grateful for what we have.

Talk transparently

When I think of all the leadership skills that have helped me throughout my career, honesty and transparency would be at the top. Open conversation, as difficult as it may be, helps us to usher in the best decision-making — the decision-making where people know they are heard and cared for. 

It is never easy to be fully transparent. And sometimes, full transparency has the potential to hurt in the short term. The other option, however, is much worse. When we hide information, or when we avoid speaking our truth, the information often reaches the ears of others anyway, and usually in a worse way than were we to share it ourselves. 

Talking transparently lets others know we see and hear them and that we see and hear them as peers, as equals, as those capable of understanding the world that exists. While this might not bring happiness, it does bring gratitude, both for those on the listening end and for those who are engaging in the transparent talk. That mutual gratitude is a bridge towards effective collaboration and growth.

Honor humility

I sometimes struggle with writing these monthly reflections. It isn’t with the process of writing itself; that challenge I relish. Instead, it is about feeling that the ideas I share are of little value to readers. After all, I’m just a person learning and leading and attempting to grow well. 

Humility is both a blessing and a curse. It can prevent us from seeing all that we bring, and it also helps us value all that we have. Whether self-delivered or from others, regular doses of humility and consistent recognition of the need to be humble help each of us grow in ways that make the process and purpose as important as the person. 

We all love recognition, and sometimes that is warranted. Truth be told though, I’ve always been much more grateful for team-driven accomplishments than achievements gained by my work alone. Honoring humility and recognizing that we are constantly improving helps us value those around us and all that has been done to help each of us succeed.

I write these last few sentences a few hours before our Thanksgiving festivities begin. I’m grateful for the time with family and friends and all that has been provided for me and that I’ve worked for. I’m grateful for having the opportunity to reflect through this post. And I’m grateful for all those who have helped me to become a better leader, learner and person. Wishing you all the best this holiday season.


Fred Ende is the director of curriculum and instructional services for Putnam/Northern Westchester BOCES in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. Ende currently blogs for SmartBrief Education, and his two books, “Professional Development That Sticks” and “Forces of Influence,” are available from ASCD. Connect with Ende on his website or on Twitter.


Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own. 



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