The Ripple Effect has Begun
In order for me to be intentional about my #oneword2019 – Gratitude- I decided to create a list of all the people who have impacted my life. Each week I think of more people to add to this list and it keeps increasing. I love that it keeps increasing because it means that I have had some amazing people walk into my life. Even if they do not happen to be present in my life now, they still made some sort of difference that needs to be recognized and celebrated.
With this list, I have made the commitment to write at least one person per week for the whole year. I am keeping all my letters in a Google folder, so that I can make sure I have documented this journey. In these first three weeks of the year I have written six letters. Right now I am writing at least two a week and I wish I could make time for more. But it really takes me time to just write one. I try to make it meaningful to both the recipient and myself. I try to be intentional with my feelings and thoughts and let the person know exactly why they have appeared on my gratitude list. I really and honestly want them to feel my appreciation and thankfulness for being who they are.
Each time I have written a letter I have gotten such a response and mutual expression of gratitude from my recipient. The power of this activity for me is overwhelming at times. Every time I have written a letter it has caused me to reflect upon the goodness that this person has brought into my life which ultimately leads me to tears. Every person has then responded in a way that adds to my tears. Not only is this affecting these special people but it is having a lasting and positive effect on me. I want to write more and more. I want to share my appreciation over and over again. It makes me aware of more people I can add to my list. My intentionality and actions create a ripple effect for me. Something that I want to happen with the people whom I am celebrating.
SO two weeks ago I felt compelled to find my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Toone. This man was one of the most influential teachers in my life. I think about him often and I have so desperately wanted to find him so I could tell him so.
I began my search on the district website and then at the middle school where I attended. I could not find him. A tad bit discouraged, I choose to keep looking. Then I turned to Facebook. I could not remember his first name, so I just started looking for the last name Toone in San Diego, California.
I found one!!
I thought that it was a long shot, but I sent him a message- “By chance do you happen to be the Mr. Toone who taught at Meadowbrook Middle School in the 1980’s.”
I immediately got a response- ” No, that was my brother.”
After reading this, I automatically thought because he said “was my brother” that Mr. Toone had passed on. I became extremely sad and anguished inside about how I would not get to tell him how he impacted my life.
So I decided to message his brother back and tell him that Mr. Toone played such an important role in my life and I just wanted him to know that.
Again his brother replied back immediately- ” I am sure he would love to hear this. Try this email.”
Complete elation came over me at that moment. I sat down right away to write this letter.
Below are the letters.
This first letter is the one I give to all my recipients first .
Dear Mr. Toone,
My One Word for 2019 is Gratitude. I was inspired by my students when we started a Gratitude movement in my class. I saw the power that showing gratitude and being grateful had in my classroom with my students. It inspired me to make it a focus for this year. With that in mind, I wrote a list of people who have made an impact in my life and for whom I am forever grateful.
If you are reading this, then you are on my list.
The following letter shares my love and gratitude to you for simply being YOU !
I hope this letter brings a little joy to your life and hopefully it creates a spark in you to begin to think about what you are thankful for.
Here is the gratitude letter to him:
Dear Mr. Toone,
I am sure that you do not remember me but that does not really matter. What matters is that I remember you! I remember the impact you had on a 11-12 year old girl back in the 1981-1982 school year at Meadowbrook Middle School.
That young girl was me- Bridget Levins. I had the pleasure of being in your sixth grade class. I remember that you used to ride your bicycle to school and store it in your little room/office attached to the classroom. I thought you were so cool!
I did not realize at that time how lucky that I was. What a difference you made in my life! I was a quiet and timid young girl. It took a lot for me to open up and share who I was with others. I lacked a lot of self confidence. You always made me feel like I mattered and was important.
One of the things I remember most about your class was that you continued to encourage my love of reading. Reading was my favorite subject and I loved reading. My most favorite time in your class was after lunch when you let us read. Just read! And you let us sit wherever we wanted. I remember laying under my desk so often – that was my most treasured spot. You do not even know how special that time was with a book! Thank you!!!! I have been an elementary teacher for 23 years and I always remember that example you set and I make sure that my students have that quiet time with a book- any book that they want.
As I said I was a very quiet girl. That year I tried out for the cheer team and so did several other girls in your class. I had been a Pop Warner Cheerleader all my years in elementary school and when I started Meadowbrook all I wanted was to be a cheerleader. You knew which girls in your class were trying out. After tryouts when they announced, over the school intercom, all the girls who made it to the next round, my name was not announced. But all the other girls in our class made it to the next round. The person over the intercom, said Congratulations to all who made it and YOU said “ And Congratulations to Bridget for trying her best at tryouts.”
WOW! I remember that to this day! You made me feel valued in my little world that was filled with disappointment and devastation. You made me feel like I still was good enough. Thank You , Mr. Toone for taking the time to get to know me and acknowledge who I was. What you did was such a pivotal moment in my life. It always warm my heart when I think of you and what you did that day. I cannot thank you enough for taking the time to make me feel special and valued.
Because I was so quiet and shy there were more times than not in my school life, as a child ,that I felt invisible. But you never made me feel invisible. You made me feel like I mattered and that I was important. You took the time to get to know me. Thank You!!
As an educator now, I always make sure that my “quiet” students do not feel invisible. I take the time to build relationships and get to know my students. I want them to know that they matter. I want them to know that they are important. That is exactly what you did!
Many times educators do not know the impact that they may make on their students’ lives. I am sure I speak for many- you made a tremendous impact!
I want to take the time to thank you for that sixth grade year and that day you acknowledged that being me was just enough!
With much gratitude and appreciation,
Bridget Levins Gengler
After writing this letter, I sat for a bit wondering if I should press send. What if he does not get it? What if I typed in the wrong email address? What if it goes to Spam and he never sees it? So many questions popped into my head.
But then my self talk set in- Do it! Cannonballin! This is gratitude! No matter what happens he deserves this letter!
So I pressed send and hoped that he would receive it . I hoped that even if I never got a response that it would make a difference in his life.
After a few weeks of wondering where that letter ended up, Mr. Toone responded to my email. When I saw his email, I was so excited and really did not know what to do!
I sat down in my quiet spot and opened the email. I read and reread this endearing letter from Mr. Toone. I felt like that sixth grade girl again. Every way that he made me feel when I was in his class, came back to me. I sat there and cried. I shared it with my daughter, my son and my husband. They are witnesses to the power of this gratitude mission that I am on.
This is only January and I want to keep writing these letters and spreading this message of gratitude to as many people as I possibly can. I am not sure, at this time, where this will go, but I do know that I am dedicated to making sure all these people know how important they are and how much I value who they are.
Mr. Toone’s response is evidence of the ripple effect that I am trying to create.
Below is the letter that I received from Mr. Toone:
Please forgive me for waiting so long to reply to your sweet and very welcome sentiments. Expressing gratitude is something most of us (I include myself!) just don’t take the time to do, and I am glad you are making this meaningful point to your own students.I have a dim recollection of the cheerleader selection incident, only because I struggled against that kind of institutional insensitivity throughout my career. I’ve always felt strongly that too many educators, blinded by their laudable desire to make kids feel good about themselves, forget that creating “winners” and “losers” can be more damaging than helpful.I was always a reader, too, and I’m glad the down time after lunch gave you some respite and comfort in the midst of the school day. Having an opportunity to “own” a little piece of time in the day to read makes a big difference to people like us.I am so grateful to you for writing, and I’ll be inspired by you to express my own thanks to people who have touched me in a positive way. People like you. I hope that one day you will receive a letter such as the one you sent me.
With warm affection,David
So I hope that my gratitude mission inspires others to do the same and express gratitude. I hope it creates a ripple effect!