I’ve been catching up on the 10% Happier Podcast from Dan Harris, recommended to me by my wife. On an episode from October of 2018, the guest was Shawn Achor. Achor’s definition of happiness is compelling: Happiness is the joy you feel moving toward your potential.

One of the elements that contributes to happiness is gratitude, and Achor has an exercise that points us more toward happiness than cynicism. Achor suggests that we write three things we are grateful for each day, but add the reason why we are thankful for these things. The “why” is critical to the exercise. According to Achor, doing this exercise consistently for 21 days will transform a pessimist into an optimist.

Taking a cue from Achor, here are three things that I’m grateful for having served the St. Johnsbury School District this year, as well as the why.

1. The emphasis on relationships. This is the centerpiece to my leadership and something that abounds in the St. Johnsbury School District. We put people first because the work of education is deeply personal. Faculty and staff pour themselves into their work, serving the students and the families of St. Johnsbury. We make mistakes, we admit them, we apologize, and we move on. It is always, always, always about relationships.

2. Kindness. In my remarks to the 8th Grade Class of 2019, I mentioned that this is perhaps the most polarized time I can remember in our country’s history. We live in a world full of social media retorts, acting first, then asking questions, and a lack of face-to-face communication. In St. Johnsbury, I’ve been a part of and witnessed hard conversations in person, where we tell the truth with compassion, and we model empathy. In a world where we can be anything, kindness matters.

3. Teaching and learning for all students. I was humbled to learn of the singular focus established by the Leadership Team when I started in September, and I saw it in action in all corners of our work this year. One of the ways that this was most evident to me was during our contract negotiations with our labor units. We were settled with a new contract in three sessions - literally, just three sessions. I know colleague superintendents who have needed more than three sessions to establish negotiating ground rules. The fact that this is the reality in St. Johnsbury points to a commitment by our labor units to put students first. This is a credit to them and to the School Board.

I am grateful to have the opportunity to serve in a school district where students come first, where kindness is present, and where we emphasize relationships.

We are St. Johnsbury, and I am proud to be a part of it!

Dr. Brian G. Ricca is superintendent of St. Johnsbury School.

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