The Irreverent Professor

Unvarnished realities about life, teaching, learning, and change in this wild, wild world

A Little Gratitude Goes a Long Way

I just got back from (brrrr…) Minneapolis where I facilitated three educational programs at the Religious Conference Managers Association (RCMA) Annual Conference, Emerge 2013.  I wasn’t sure what to expect because I’d never spoken for this particular group before.   It was a fantastic experience!  top_banner2

They (the planners of religious conferences and the supplier-partners who provide the facilities and services they need) were so engaged and participatory in the sessions (well, 2 out of 3, anyway…the session that lasted until 5:30 had a quiet audience.  I’m still not sure whether it was the topic:  “Understanding Difficult Contract Clauses” or the time or some other factor.  It happens.).  Two of the topics were legal and one was crisis management.  I know, some of you out there are going “Zzzzzzz….” but this is important stuff in the hospitality and meetings industry. (So important that I’m thinking of resurrecting my Dr. Tyra’s R.I.S.K. Review blog – what do you think?)

Anyway, I’ve been struggling a bit with my real job lately – teaching at a university – and I’ve been trying to figure out why.  I’ve always loved the challenge of “nuggetizing” information about this industry that I love (the meetings industry) and providing it to college students to give them a leg up on their competition when they get out there looking for a job.  Yet lately it has felt a bit like just going through the motions.  And I haven’t been able to figure out why.

Now, I think I know!  Gratitude is the key.  It’s energizing to work with a grateful group.  On the flip side, it’s de-motivating to work with an ungrateful (or perhaps more aptly, an apathetic) group. As we all remember from college, not every class is scintillating.  Not every class makes you want to run up to the professor and say “Wow, that was so helpful.  Thank you for taking the time to provide this information to us!”  In fact, few do.  But when I speak to industry groups, I often (but not always) have a few people who come up and say just that.  What I often get in class are bored looks (if not outright napping), “is this going to be on the test?” and some bold folks who confess they are neither interested nor plan to use any of this when they grow up.  It’s deflating.

I’ve taught at three universities.  I still hear and keep in touch with graduate from University 1.  They still rock my world regularly.  

Meeting up with one of my graduates in Singapore!
Meeting up with one of my graduates in Singapore!

I never hear from graduates of University 2.  And I’m just beginning (after 3 years) to hear (though very rarely) from students and graduates of my current university, University 3.  But usually just to provide them “professional contacts”…which I’m happy to do, but it’s not quite the same as hearing “Thanks.”

Maybe I just haven’t been here long enough for the students to realize and share with me and others the value in what they’ve learned in our classes.

I don’t want to be one of those “needy” people who needs ego stroking to feel good about what I do.  But, hey, a little positive feedback goes a long way in maintaining motivation in any job.  So say Kouzes & Posner, godfathers of leadership, anyway.

So show your gratitude today – to a teacher, a spouse, a neighbor, anyone.  A little gratitude truly goes a long way.

Carpe gratitude.

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4 thoughts on “A Little Gratitude Goes a Long Way

  1. Thank you for sharing such real and honest insight. Ironically, or not, I attended a breakfast program this morning where I was asked by someone…”Do you feel like you are still making an impact?” I have never been asked that at these (typical networking events) but it caused me to think. Well, I did think. My age & perspective changes, my student’s age & perspective stay the same. Should I expect them to evolve as I am…well, no. What I am questioning, is the role of employee (faculty) well-being within an academic environment (empower). With my professional and research experience crossing both HR and events, I question the balance of increased expectations by the Academy, with the fact that the Academy does not consider the full development of the faculty. The external environment is changing around us, students expectations of what a university provides for their money has forced schools to make many quick changes (i.e. residential life, technology, recreation facility, etc.) which is fine, but our employers are still incorporating scholarship and teaching using a 19th century model for the faculty. Maybe not go so far as to say…employer gratitude…that would not happen, but maybe employer goodwill to their internal customers. Just my .08.


    • I agree wholeheartedly, especially about how the Academy doesn’t consider the full development of faculty (like any good employer should). I may be, in part, mourning the loss of a great leader in our department who in fact DID let us know he was grateful for what we did. And that little positive feedback and communication went a long way. It has made me realize that good leadership is quite rare.


  2. sespain on said:

    I appreciate good teachers, but I know I don’t always focus on them like I should. It’s kind of like reading through the comments on a returned paper. I’m not even sure I read through the entire good comments, because it seems the “needs improvement” category mandates my attention. Thank you for your post and I will keep it in mind as I interact with my professors.


  3. I think it’s human nature to focus on ourselves and those “needs improvement” comments. In fact, I think it’s sometimes hard to remember that professors are humans too. But someday you’ll be the manager, boss, leader, speaker, whatever and if you want people to show you their gratitude, it helps by showing your own.

    Thanks for your comment. I’m glad it gave you something to think about. 🙂


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