Friday Focus – 11-22-2019

Dear Team,

What’s your attitude today? 

Excited? Overwhelmed? Exhausted? All of the above?

Sometimes the day before a long break can bring as much stress as it does anticipation as we hurry to wrap up our work, worry about students who may not have a happy holiday to look forward to, or mentally catalogue all the things that need to be done to prepare a Thanksgiving meal that will please the pickiest of in-laws.

But I hope in the bustle of getting ready for the holiday you don’t forget what it’s all about. I hope you choose an attitude of gratitude. I’ll admit, I can’t take credit for that catchy phrase. I learned it from Cherri Urban, library assistant at Hernandez Middle School. She and librarian Wendy Tucker, for the ninth year in a row, are promoting Project Attitude of Gratitude and created a “What are you thankful for?” bulletin board. Cherri invited me for a visit and to add my own message to the board. I’ll admit that my attitude was not one of gratitude when I arrived. I was thinking of the many tasks I needed to accomplish, how there wasn’t enough time in the day to get to everything, and a million other stressors of everyday life. At the time, this was just one more thing on my to-do list. But that all melted away as soon as I walked through the door. The opportunity to visit campuses, to meet with our wonderful educators and amazing students, always puts me in the right frame of mind. It slows down my pace and brings my priorities sharply into focus. My job is not always easy — in fact, it’s pretty hard — but visits like these remind me that my job is ALWAYS worth it. Because our students are worth it.

Reading what our students and staff members at Hernandez are thankful for and seeing the pictures of their smiling faces helped me come up with my message for the board:

“I am thankful for the opportunity to lead the best district in Texas!”

I truly am, and I’ll be giving thanks for all of you next week while I’m carving the turkey on our dinner table.

There have been many years that I dreaded the coming of Thanksgiving. You see, my mom passed away just two days before Thanksgiving well over a decade ago. For years it clouded the coming of the holidays with melancholy for me. But the older I get, and the more intentionally I practice gratitude, the more I’ve realized that there is poetry and grace in the timing of my mom’s death. It took me a while, but I believe the pain of her passing eased when I realized that all that live with purpose never, ever truly leave us. Mom, I owe you and dad, everything.

I have things to be thankful for because of them. And now I use Thanksgiving as a time to thank God for giving me my mother: a woman of courage, of unyielding honesty and of deep love for her children and family.

Gratitude should be more than a reflex to be polite. We think of a “thank you” as something we are giving to someone, not something we are doing to help ourselves. But did you know that gratitude literally rewires your brain to be happier? (I’m not making this up – read about it!)

A 2015 study found that those who practice gratitude are more optimistic and positive about their lives than others. Another study looking at gratitude and brain activity found that: “Gratitude affects brain function on a chemical level and its practice promotes feelings of self-worth and compassion for others.” 

So your intentional gratitude makes you a more compassionate person, which makes you more likely to inspire gratitude in others through your compassion. Imagine the positive cycle — the change in the world — we can create if we all focused on the gifts in our life and being thankful for them.

If gratitude has escaped you lately, I hope you take this perfect opportunity during the season of Thanksgiving to consider all you have to be thankful for. I hope the next time you say “thank you” you mean it from the bottom of your heart. Wherever you find yourself breaking bread this Thanksgiving Day, enjoy the moment and those seated at the table. Remember, life is too short and the seats at the table are never permanent.

May your heart be filled with gratitude but most of all, I hope you have a restful, memorable break spent with family and friends. As for me, I’m thankful for you and for the opportunity to serve the staff, students, parents and community of Round Rock ISD. Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanks for reading. I’ll write again soon.

Respectfully,

Steve Flores, Ph.D.
Superintendent of Schools