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#135: Gratitude and Its Role in Online Learning

#135: Gratitude and Its Role in Online Learning

This post first appeared at https://apuedge.com/gratitude-and-its-role-in-online-learning/, 

Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. HansenAssociate Dean (Interim), School of Arts, Humanities and Education 

In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen delves into the many facets of gratitude and how to reach and teach online learners about gratitude.

Listen to the Episode:

Subscribe to Online Teaching Lounge
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Read the Transcript:

Bethanie Hansen: This podcast is for educators, academics, and parents, who know that online teaching can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding, engaging, and fun! Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen. And I’ll be your guide for online teaching tips, topics, and strategies. Walk with me into the Online Teaching Lounge.

Welcome to the podcast and thank you for taking this time out of your busy day to listen. The topics in our podcast focus on online education best practices, strategies to reach and teach online learners, video and media in your online class, and work-life balance while teaching online. Today, we look squarely at gratitude.

Gratitude is a best practice, and it is also a great way to reach and teach online learners. When someone approaches us with gratitude, we feel invited into their world. Gratitude is also a key element in work-life balance, in so many ways. Today we will look at what gratitude does for us and for others, and how to express appreciation in the online world.

What Does Gratitude Do?

Gratitude is an attitude or feeling of appreciation. It can be an affective trait, which is the general characteristic of having a grateful disposition. It can also be a mood, where gratitude is generally felt throughout the day. And, it can be an emotion, which comes from receiving what others offer to us.

When we feel gratitude, we view other people or circumstances in a positive light. We appreciate an opportunity, a sacrifice made, generosity, time, kindness, gifts, and help. And this appreciation may lead us to thank others for what we experience.

Feeling gratitude can improve self-esteem, reduce stress, and enhance relationships. It can go far to promote positive effects because it consciously turns attention away from what is missing toward something that is going well. Gratitude is a healing element that inspires us to bring our energy to a relationship or situation and let go of resistance and defensiveness.

In online education, where we might often feel alone, disconnected, or distant, gratitude connects us. Gratitude might look like thanks or recognition, and it can also come through respecting others and being responsive. When others express gratitude for our actions or characteristics, we might even feel that our impact is greater than we otherwise might believe. Gratitude helps the receiver to know they are making a difference. That they matter.

When we give gratitude to others and express appreciation, we build relationships and rapport. We enhance others’ experience and let them know that they make a difference for us. Gratitude has this wonderful way of taking perspective about the daily work and routines and bringing a different perspective to everything. When gratitude comes through showing respect and being responsive, it is a habit of making connection a priority and building trust.

According to the Dali Lama, “When we feel love and kindness towards others, it not only makes others feel loved and cared for, but it helps us also to develop inner happiness and peace.”

The field of positive psychology tells us that gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.

How Can We Express Appreciation in the Online World?

Feeling gratitude lifts us and improves our sense of wellbeing, and it is a feeling that invites us to share with others. You might be wondering what effective ways might be to express gratitude online, especially when you know a co-worker or a student virtually and have no other connection outside of that space.

One way to express gratitude is to say or write the words. This might be through a note or a letter. It might be through a creative expression of some kind. Another expression might be by giving a gratitude gift. Some people express gratitude with a face-to-face visit or by sincerely asking about others and listening. These are universal ways to thank others in any setting.

In the book “101 Ways to Say Thank You,” by Kelly Brown, we learn several ways to say thank you and appreciate others online. First, Brown states that e-mail is the least preferred way to send formal thank-you notes and that in today’s tech-savvy world, a handwritten note is always greatly appreciated because it makes an impact and has a lasting personal impression. I’ll start with a few tips for handwritten notes and then follow with some tips for e-mails.

First, regardless of whether you’re writing or e-mailing, send a thank-you message immediately so that you don’t forget. If someone has done you a favor or sent a gift, a thank you message should be sent within two weeks of the event or the gift. If you have received a message from the other person connected with whatever you’re grateful or appreciative of, you might set it on your desk or print it and tape it to the mirror to avoid forgetting to send the thank-you message. Another option would be to add a reminder to your electronic calendar or mobile device that will help you send the note in a prompt timeline. According to Brown, even if you offer appreciation with a phone call, a follow-up message is still important to send with your written message.

Second, write out the date. For example, if it is December 1st, you should write the whole word “December,” then the 1, a comma, and the four-digit year. After the date, write a salutation or greeting. It’s ok to begin with the word “dear” on this if you like.

Third, write the body of your thank-you message. And Brown advocates the use of glowing superlatives and energetic adjectives. These are words like amazing, extraordinary, marvelous, outstanding, and splendid. And last, write a closing. This might be something like “sincerely,” or “gratefully,” followed by your signature.

The most effective and personal way to write a handwritten thank-you note is to do it in your own handwriting. This might take a bit of practice if you’re used to typing all day in your online work and do not spend much time writing or using cursive. It might even be helpful to write a draft before putting it onto the note or onto the card you’re sending.

If you cannot send a handwritten note and plan to use e-mail, Brown tells us that this is a good method when thanking someone in casual business and casual personal communications. For example, if someone shares something online, in an e-mail, or even in the online classroom, a thank you note sent electronically works well. While this is true, I’ve received hand-written thank you notes from others with whom I work online, and I have found them to be memorable and meaningful because that person took the time to consider a note away from the computer. It made a huge impression on me.

Sending an e-mail thank-you note is simple and doesn’t have to be formatted as formally as a hand-written note. After you’re sure that you have the right e-mail address, include a few words in the subject line to let the person receiving it know what your message will be about. Then, in the body of the message, begin with a salutation like “dear,” or you could even begin with “good morning” or “good afternoon.”

In an e-mail, the body of your message can look a lot like what you might write in a handwritten, classic thank-you note. Be brief, check spelling and grammar, avoid acronyms and profanity, and end with a closure and your name, even though it’s an e-mail. If it’s less formal, emojis and GIFs might be fun to add, with exclamation marks and lots of expressive words like brilliant, excellent, generous, fabulous, surprising, unbelievable, and vibrant. It can also add depth to your e-mail when you include an image related to the appreciation and mention it in the message so the person you’re thanking doesn’t miss it.

The main idea today is the incredible power of gratitude and expressing appreciation. It can bring positivity and connection in your online work. In my own experience, I’ve received a few handwritten cards from colleagues that I’ve mostly worked with at a distance through the online university where I teach. This kind of note surprised me and made me feel seen and valued. And one single message like that lasts a long, long time.

So, who would you like to appreciate today? It could be a course developer who spent countless hours getting your online class set up just so. Or an online leader who regularly cultivates an inviting, caring culture at your institution. Perhaps there is someone you regularly work with who you have not yet had a moment to stop and appreciate. Today’s the day. Thank you for being with me for this episode of The Online Teaching Lounge, and for the part you play in our online education profession. I’m grateful for the incredible colleagues I’ve worked with over time, the students who choose this type of learning, and the amazing miracle that we are all able to connect anytime, anywhere—all over the world. And with gratitude, we at American Public University wish you all the best this coming season.

This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. To share comments and requests for future episodes, please visit bethaniehansen.com/request. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey.

#66: Increasing Your Productivity as an Online Educator [Podcast]

#66: Increasing Your Productivity as an Online Educator [Podcast]

This content initially appeared at APUEdge.com

Maintaining a high level of productivity can be challenging for online educators. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen provides strategies on how to improve your physical and mental energy to increase productivity. Learn tips about how to manage your never-ending “to do” list, why it’s important to unclog your mind, and the value of giving yourself time to work on your personal “heart projects.”

Listen to the Episode:

Subscribe to Online Teaching Lounge
Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google Podcasts | Stitcher | Pandora

Read the Transcript:

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. It may seem a little odd to you today that we’re going to talk about increasing your productivity as an online educator, but I firmly believe that habits and strategies are what help us get through our teaching job and our teaching career. Many of us enter this profession because we want to make a difference or distill ideas upon others, or perhaps mentor people into our profession or the area that we love the most. Maybe we even want to make a big difference in the world.

Regardless of the reason why you came into this profession, the fact remains that being an educator is hard work. There is a lot to do. There’s a lot of feedback to give others. We must be organized to make that happen. We have announcements, we have content in the classroom itself, when we’re working online. We have follow-ups, personalized outreach efforts we need to do when students are falling behind. Guidance of all kinds. And as I mentioned before, feedback.

Among these many different types of activities, time gets away from us, sometimes. Have you ever said to yourself that you would get back to a task later in the evening? That’s a great sign that productivity tips can help you a lot in your online educator role.

Today, we’re going to talk about some special tips that come from a wonderful book called “Supercharge Productivity Habits” by John R. Torrance. It’s “50 Simple Hacks to Organize Your Tasks, Overcome Procrastination, Increase Efficiency, and Work Smarter to Become a Top Performer.”

Not everyone approaches their educator job as if it is a performer productivity type of role. However, we know that unless we keep up with the day-to-day tasks, the endless minutiae of being an administrator of the classroom, we will not be able to have the kind of impact we would like to have.

These tips today are intended to help you. I want to help you really enjoy what you do and make a difference, as you want to do. So let’s jump in and talk about productivity habits. I will share just a few today to get you started. And after this podcast, I do hope you will check out this book, “Supercharge Productivity Habits” by John R. Torrance.

Increasing Your Physical and Mental Energy

The first habit I’d like to share with you today is in the area of increasing your physical and mental energy. You’ve probably heard that athletes are always thinking about increasing their energy and bringing protein into the body, drinking lots of water, getting plenty of rest. It makes a lot of sense that a person who’s out there competing physically would need to do that, right?

Of course, the mind is also one of the greatest tools that we have at our disposal. We can’t have energy, like confidence or focus, motivation, or any kind of productivity at all, if our mind is wandering or not feeling healthy. In fact, there is a lot that has to do with our physical and mental energy that impacts our productivity and our overall effectiveness as educators.

Think about it, if you were really approaching your job as if you have to be in tiptop, physical and mental condition to be an educator, what would you do to reach that goal? I’ve thought about this a little bit, and in the time that I’ve worked at American Public University, I’ve been very fortunate to have the influence of the Wellness Team. Not sure if that’s their title, but early on several years ago, there used to be this little challenge in the employee portal. It was private, no one else could see it. But you had to record your weight at the start of each year. And you had to do some exercises along the way, partially some kind of incentive to have one kind of health insurance over another.

And I’m expecting that it probably had to do with the cost out of my paycheck. And that’s what motivated me. I don’t recall exactly what the situation was, but I do remember that I had to write down how much I weighed and then I had to engage in certain health-related activities like walking, or counting steps, or something like that.

Now, when you think about it, even just becoming aware of your own physical activity level, your physical fitness, your overall health, and your bodyweight does something to you. It was a few years of doing that, and pretty soon I realized I needed to make major changes. In my own situation, I did lose 95 pounds and I have successfully maintained that for the past four to five years. And it all started with that awareness every year that was part of the health insurance plan of just working at American Public University.

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*About this image: My professional faculty photo, taken by American Public University Systems (2015, on left) and an informal photo taken at home (2020, on right)

If I took it further and thought about it every year and recorded my efforts to become a mental athlete as an educator, I would take it a lot further and increase my goals in physical and mental wellness. Over time, I want to become more confident, more focused, more productive, and more happy with myself in my role and in the work that I do with my students.

In essence, it is the everyday habit that one puts into their physical and mental abilities that come together to summatively create the performance and productivity we have in the online classroom.

There are some high-powered physical and mental energy hacks that Torrance shares in his book. And I’d like to share these with you here.

Tackle What You Dread First

First, he talks about tackling what you dread the most. It’s going to give you energy to deal with the less critical things or the less enjoyable things throughout the day because you’ve done the most difficult one.

Visualize Before You Go to Bed

Second, you’re going to visualize before you go to bed, and the thoughts that you take to bed matter. So your mind is going to get in a mood for sleep. And you’re also going to think about or visualize the type of things you’re going to be doing when you’re waking up that are pleasurable to you. So you’re actually predicting a positive day for the next day and thinking about the energy you need to begin the day.

Now that second hack there, thinking about it before you go to bed, I personally do that a lot. That’s one of my own habits. I’ll make a to-do list about the things I want to do the next day. And I’ll think about how I need to wake up.

Then in the next morning, when I wake up, I’m actually laying in bed sometimes feeling very tired and not at all interested in getting out of bed. And I’ll remember what I’m going to do first thing in the morning. And then I’ll purposely choose to jump out of bed and give myself some energy so I can get moving.

Sometimes it’s really hard. And other times it’s very easy because the motivating task is so interesting to me. Whatever you do, visualizing before bed can set the tone for the next day, but make sure it’s something positive you’re visualizing, and you’re seeing action and the motivation that you’re going to need.

Unclog Your Mind

Third, unclog your mind. So Torrance suggests that we all have a never-ending to-do list. I don’t know if you have one, but I know I do. And it can sometimes make me feel like I never really finish things. There’s always another list tomorrow and sometimes one list can go through a week or two without completely getting wiped out.

If you can unclog that list by writing it all down, setting it aside, turning off technology, and letting go of emails and all those things, at some point you’re going to have a little bit of space to think more clearly, be more mentally alert, and be able to set limits around your time.

Unclogging your mind is also going to help you think about what you can take off of your list. If you do write it down and realize it’s been there a while, maybe it doesn’t even need to get done at all, or maybe it could be delegated. There’s possibly another solution if you find that something is on your to-do list for a very long time.

Get the Right Amount of Sleep

The fourth productivity hack is getting the right amount of sleep. Believe it or not, the amount of sleep you get every day actually impacts your mental and physical functioning. Over time you can actually have long-term health effects that are negative if you’re constantly cheating yourself on the sleep.

Now, if you have dragged your work out throughout the day, especially when you’re only working online, if all of your energy is put into that, it can feel like you can never really let go and never really get enough sleep.

Think about what kind of environment you need. What kind of bedding will be most comfortable for you? Is the pillow nice and cool or warm, however, you prefer it? Would there be something you could do before bed to relax you, like a warm bath or some people even drink warm milk, or cocoa, or something like that? Is it helpful for you to read a book before you go to bed? One thing that I’ve heard a lot is no caffeine and no alcohol in the later hours of the day because both of those tend to impact the quality of your sleep throughout the night.

And then, of course, avoid screen time, two hours before bedtime. You can wear these blue-light-blocking glasses that will help you to actually reduce the impact of the screen on your eyes. And you can also buy a light therapy lamp on Amazon that’s going to help you have an experience with bright light, first thing in the morning to really set your time clock and your circadian rhythm.

These are good things to think about if you’re still having problems getting high-quality sleep, but getting enough sleep is definitely essential to give your brain the energy it needs and your body, the energy as well to get through the day.

Pursue Your “Heart Project”

Next, spend a good day chunk of your day pursuing your heart project. A heart project is something you really care about. It’s in your own goal area. It might be what Torrance calls your ultimate passion. When you focus on these things you care most about at some point during a day, this is going to give you a lot of joy, it will refresh you, and help you feel totally revitalized and energized.

So if you have a lot of grading to do, and you’re not a big fan of grading, do the grading, but be sure to give yourself time for this passion project, or heart project. You need reasons to get out of bed in the morning. And if this is it, give yourself the time after you’ve done some of the more difficult tasks of your online teaching job.

Some of the other tips mentioned here in the body and mind category are to have a sense of gratitude and to have a positive outlook on life generally. You also want to think about eating the right foods. Believe it or not, the things you put into your body impact your energy level and your mental functioning.

There’s a thing called inflammation. If you’re not familiar with this, certain foods can actually cause your body to react in a way that inflames your cells and parts of your body. If you eat a lot of carbohydrates and sugar, some people react very poorly to that. You might have puffy eyes or a puffy face and mentally feel quite sluggish and tired. This will make it more difficult to be productive as an online educator, or in any other field.

Think about how healthy food makes you feel. And even if it is less enjoyable than some of those more high carb, or high sugar foods you might crave, think about how you might be able to incorporate these healthy foods to enhance your mental alertness.

Eating more calories early in the day instead of at night can also give you more energy. And then, of course, more fiber, fruit and vegetables, and protein and minerals and vitamins. These things can all add to your energy level and clear up your mind so you can think clearly and be more productive along the way.

Be Active and Find a Physical Exercise You Enjoy

And then lastly, be active, enjoy what you’re doing physically. You might be inspired through exercise, which will help you sleep better and relieve stress as well as boosting your brain. But you might also find a new habit that you could enjoy, like going for a run, short walk, working out with someone else, biking, or even dancing.

My personal favorite is putting on my noise-canceling headphones, some really peppy upbeat music, and walking on my treadmill for 30 minutes or more sometime in the middle of the day. Whatever it is that helps you to physically get active. When we’re working online, we’re sitting a lot and we’re much more prone to want to sit a little bit longer so that we can just get through what we’re trying to do that day.

If you break it up instead, you’ll find that you have more energy and you can even be more productive. So take breaks. Think about the food you eat and the exercise you do as ways to fuel the mind as well as the body.

There are many other productivity hacks and habits in this book by John Torrance. I hope you’ll check it out and try those that I’ve shared with you today, as we all work towards being more productive online educators. And I wish you all the best in your online teaching this coming week.

This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge Podcast. To share comments and requests for future episodes, please visit bethaniehansen.com/request. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey.

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