An Attitude of Gratitude

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. – John F. Kennedy

A few months ago, I attended an ISAAGNY conference of Admissions Directors, Early Childhood Directors, and Heads of Schools at The Dalton School, where the topic of early childhood admissions tests were discussed. The speaker was Samuel Miesels, the Director of the Erikson Institute since 2002 and an national leading authority in the field of assessment (

At The IDEAL School, we have never required standardized ERB tests as a part of our admissions decisions, and it was nice to be validated by Mr. Miesel’s data regarding the fallibility of such testing instruments in predicting student success. He believes that no schools should use these exams as entry assessments.

Since early childhood tests cannot determine success, what then are criteria that can? Mr. Miesel mentioned the book How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, by Paul Tough, which I recently read. In the book, Mr. Tough identifies a set of strengths that were, according to research, very likely to predict life satisfaction and high achievement. They are: grit, self-control, zest, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism, and curiosity — none of which can be measured by standardized tests.

At IDEAL, we actively work to build strength of character during our Town Meetings, assemblies, and through our social studies curriculum.  We speak about the concept of gratitude, one of the identified strengths mentioned by Mr. Tough for life satisfaction.

At Town Meetings I read the book Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message by Chief Jake Swamp, which is based on an ancient message of peace and appreciation of Mother Earth and all her inhabitants. The words in the book come from the Native people known as the Haudenosaunee, also known as the Iroquois or Six Nations – Mohawk, Onieda, Cayuga, Onondaga, Seneca, and Tuscarora. The people of the Six Nations are from upstate New York and Canada, and the words from the book are still spoken at ceremonial and governmental gatherings.

In the tradition of the Six Nations, children are taught this greeting to say each morning, building their strength of gratitude. At our next Town Meeting, I will be sharing that their tradition teaches that people everywhere are part of the same “family” and that our diversity, like all of Nature’s wonders, is truly a gift to be thankful for.

When advocates for a new way of educating children make their case, like Samuel Miesels or Paul Tough, they can also look to groups like the Six Nations who have believed in, and practiced, the value of gratitude for centuries. At IDEAL, we are thankful for our diversity and for each other and know that no testing device can measure this quality. We will continue to teach our students to be grateful, compassionate, and kind, and are confident that this is how children succeed.


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