Appreciation for me, is more than being thankful. Yes, it is important to acknowledge and appreciate the big or little things in life which mean most to us. Whilst this helps remind us of the positives we have, it is also worthwhile in attaching value to simple pleasures which we may otherwise take for granted. The smell of freshly cut grass. A pink sky at sunrise. The first coffee of the day. It helps us to notice and recognise things which impact us, and helps us to tune into these rather than becoming pre-occupied by the negative. During 2020, a year like no other, I’m sure I’m not the only one who has found it helpful to focus on the small wins. When we are constantly bombarded with negativity in press and on social media, the uncertainty and changing situations can be a real source of anxiety. And so it’s important that we do not let that negativity become the norm.
However, thinking of appreciation in a wider sense, I’m more drawn to the definition which explains it in terms of a ‘full understanding of a situation.’ Yes 2020 has taught us to appreciate the positives which have come from challenging situations. But I also believe it has helped many of us to become more aware of others’ situations and attempt to be more understanding of the difficulties others may be facing.
It would have been easy to become enveloped in our own hardships over the last year. And believe me that’s ok. From my own experience, juggling home schooling, and working from home during a pandemic. Not being able to see family. No childcare to allow some much needed couple time. Cancelled plans. And uncertainty in bucketloads. It’s important to acknowledge these feelings of disappointment and failure. Yet I believe there has been time to slow down, pause and reflect on our appreciation of how difficult this has been for everyone.
What I’ve seen is huge numbers of people thinking of others. Appreciating the difficulties others are in. Finding ways to make life during a pandemic that bit better for older people. Connecting with others who are isolated and alone. Becoming innovative by creating virtual opportunities to share from a distance. Discovering ways to spread kindness. All these are borne from an increased awareness of those outwith our immediate family bubble. Neighbours we’ve never spoken to. Members of our local community who have come together to support each other. Older people in care homes. Those on the margins.
When teaching pupils about art work we often discuss appreciation of paintings. Many learners find it difficult to appreciate a piece of art because they don’t necessarily ‘like’ it. I try to help them realise that appreciation isn’t about personal taste. We aren’t asking if they would buy it or hang it in their bedroom. We want them to recognise and be sensitive to the piece. We hope they will consider it from all angles. Recognise the important aspects and the ways in which it is unique.
And so it is with life. To fully appreciate others’ situations, opinions and viewpoints, we need to remove that bit of us which might judge. The personal bit of us which considers whether it is to ‘our taste’ or what we’d personally do in that situation. And instead, seek to fully understand and conscientiously appreciate, without judgement. To question the needs of others with real empathy, and to seek the best for them, not for ourselves. It’s so easy to make a decision based on someone’s appearance or form an opinion as a result of someone’s status or reputation. But appreciation helps us to see the full situation.
In education, and in life, we all have different opinions and viewpoints. Some have louder voices than others. Debates around curriculum, behaviour and assessment are common. There is no right or wrong. Different contexts suit different approaches. Appreciation of other ways of doing things doesn’t mean we personally agree with that particular method, but a recognition that there is a reason for the choice. That for that individual, they believe it’s best for them. I think it’s important to have strong values and opinions on what we, as teachers believe in and stand for – being able to confidently express these to our school community and team is vital to help us move forward together. However, having an appreciation of the variety of other ways things can be done is also incredibly worthwhile and shows a strength of character.
If there’s one good thing to come from 2020, my hope is that everyone will be a little more equipped to show an appreciation of both the positive aspects of their own life, as well as being a little more open-minded and appreciative of the opinions of others and the situations they find themselves in. As 2020 has demonstrated, life is unpredictable and fragile. We don’t know what is around the corner. So being able to show appreciation for the here and now is vital. In a world in which we are sometimes quick to judge, let’s all show some appreciation as cognisance, sensitivity and empathy.