Starting the New Year with Optimism and Gratitude

  • David Hoffman It’s New Year’s Day. I’m sitting at my kitchen table, working my way through a pot of coffee, and reading the Seattle Times.

    My guilty pleasure is the Rant and Rave section where readers share their irks or perks. To start my day off on a positive note, I only read the Rave comments. Here’s one from a few days ago that made me smile: “Rave to the manager at the pro shop at West Seattle Bowl. Recently, I dealt with this manager, who is an expert in detail, in my effort to buy a ruby-red bowling ball. It fits perfectly and I hope [it] will give me strikes and spares with ease.”

    One has to appreciate Ruby-red Bowler’s optimism and gratitude.

    Speaking of optimism and gratitude, today’s paper gets me reflecting upon the past twelve months and anticipating what’s to come. It’s easy to be deflated and think good riddance to a year filled with global and national tension as well as a personal health scare that took me away from the work that I love. It’s tempting to think out of sight out of mind to a year that brought sadness and hardship to people I know or heard about. Their pain and loss are profound.

    But there was much to be grateful for in 2019. Globally, fewer people were living in poverty, child mortality rates declined, and the gender gap narrowed. Regionally, our state’s economy continued to grow, our renown tech sector continued to link the world in positive and productive ways, and our agriculture industry was instrumental in feeding the planet (How about those new delicious state-grown Cosmic Crisp apples?). Washington students were among the nation's best in eighth grade reading and math test scores as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (U.S. News and World Report, May 14, 2019). Stories of hope, courage and inspiration were to be found on a daily basis.

    On a personal level, I found much to be optimistic about and grateful for in 2019. I continued having the privilege of being principal of this amazing school, working alongside energetic and inspiring students, staff and families. Daily, I received immense joy seeing students grow socially and academically. I was inspired by staff who designed and delivered inclusive and effective practices, always caring deeply about the well-being and safety of children. I look back with singular amazement at the amount of time and resources parents and community members gifted to staff and students. Simply stated, 2019 saw the continuation of a healthy and vibrant Island Park learning community.

    Even during my medical leave, I found myself feeling immense optimism and gratitude. I constantly reminded myself how lucky I was to have a condition that, while chronic, is highly responsive to treatment. I actually appreciated my weekly infusion and lab analysis sessions knowing that the former would produce desired results in the later. I was comforted by my oncologist’s confidence, availability and humor. I was thankful for the nursing staff’s compassion and professionalism. I was humbled and overwhelmed by the outpouring of concern and support from family, friends, colleagues and the Island Park learning community (especially the student-made cards). I embraced the solitude of days at home, free from work’s stresses and responsibilities. I relished my uninterrupted reading time. I savored my Beatles music more than ever. (Having a bad day? Listen to Let It Be and Here Comes the Sun.) I enjoyed the therapeutic nature of my prescribed daily walks, building up my immune system while marveling at autumn’s amazing color display. I’m in debt to my cats for granting me permission to share their house full time. Their complete self-absorption kept me grounded.

    My prognosis looks promising.

    We too need to flood our school with optimism and gratitude. Sharing and modeling these feelings are crucial to the general well-being of all of its inhabitants. Being a child, or child-like, means being optimistic. It’s what gets one out of bed each day, excited for whatever the day brings, eager to take on challenges with the knowledge that they are surmountable, and enthusiastic about what new learning will be shared and utilized. Our students’ optimism is palpable, invigorating and contagious. One feels it when listening to their ideas and aspirations, reviewing their work product, and watching their positive interactions.

    Our children need to be continuously told, in words and actions, that all will be well. Constant assurances and pointing out silver linings in otherwise precarious situations help children learn to frame issues and predicaments in a promising light. Through authentic praise, measured and personalized support, and positive “spin,” they will develop the personal confidence to visualize and effect their own bright futures.

    Similarly, modeling gratitude helps children learn to seek succor and sustenance from the simple things in life. Verbalizing one’s appreciation of a beautiful sunset or piece of music, for a small act of kindness, for some taken-for-granted opportunity provides perspective and humility.

    Suffice to say, I am so appreciative of the optimism and gratitude present at Island Park, traits supported and reinforced through our staff, volunteers, Second Step curriculum, PBIS (positive behavior interventions and supports) initiatives, student council, MIYFS counseling opportunities, classroom buddies, peer mentoring opportunities, and the daily actions of our kind students—to name just a few positive dynamics.

    As we say goodbye to 2019 and welcome 2020, please know that my coffee cup remains half full and is ready to be replenished. Here’s wishing everyone a new year as radiant as that rubyred bowling ball and filled with nothing but strikes, spares and just one or two of those pesky, inevitable and sometimes hilarious gutter balls.

    Forever Optimistic and Grateful.