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Gratitude and The Importance of Presentations of Learning

Carrie Koch- Head of School

Gratefulness means having an appreciative mindset for what one has received.

Every time I hear a story about a burnt-out teacher, a disengaged student or a test-driven curriculum, I feel a rush of gratitude for Vandermont. Gratitude is more than feeling thankful for material things. It is greater than being the receiver of gifts and compliments. Gratitude is a way of being in the world. It is a mindset that chooses to see abundance over scarcity. The reason I feel gratitude when I think about Vandermont is because I see it is a place of belonging. Even though the school only opened a few months ago, already, we have formed a culture where everything matters, and everyone is seen. For this culture to evolve, we must lean into the dynamic of giving and receiving on all possible levels. Consciousness of this dynamic is what fuels gratitude. The abundance we share at Vandermont is most viscerally felt by both observing and participating in the true joy of learning.

Relationships and learning are about giving and receiving. Sharing is at the root of all meaningful education. So, it is natural that we would name gratitude as a key ingredient to our success. Every day, we have a new opportunity to see the good in each other, whether we are happy or experiencing success. Gratitude at Vandermont flows from our growth mindset. A growth mindset is defined as the student’s belief that intelligence can be developed through hard work, effective strategies, and support from others. The opposite would be a fixed mindset: When a student believes that, if he or she is not born with intelligence, he or she will never be smart. As we encourage children to try new things, we look at challenges as a place to grow. Obstacles are to be overcome, failures serve as teachers, conflict pushes us to develop authentic relationships. Gratitude is recognizing that all the parts of life serve an important purpose and that everyone has a difference to make in the world.

One way we practice gratitude is by sharing our learning with others through a process called Presentations of Learning. What makes these so special is that we open our learning to the public on these special days, and we are willing to share the great successes as well as the messy confusion that comes from learning something new. Unlike the science fairs of yesteryear, with the slick, near-perfect poster boards summing up someone else’s discoveries, Vandermont students present their final products to community members, and they also share their personal reflections on their learning. Each child from age 5-14 completes a self-reflection at the end of each project where they reflect on who they were before the project, during the project and who they hope to become after the completion of the project. We call these “I was, I am, I am becoming” statements. You’ll notice the focus of this exercise is on the student rather than the product of the learning. Why would a child want to share such personal thoughts with a stranger? I am pretty sure it is because they are proud of who they are becoming. That is also at the root of our culture. Gratitude is generally a relationship-strengthening emotion because it requires us to see how we’ve been supported and encouraged by other people. To help foster the practice of gratitude, our students take the time to personally thank each of the panelists for their time, feedback and participation in their learning experience. The panelists affirm student growth, and the students share their gifts with them. The natural feeling at the end of these events is one of deep gratitude on everyone’s part. Gratitude is one of the many traits nurtured during our unique Presentations of Learnings and we look forward to our service-focused presentation coming up this November.

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