This project is a proposal to create both a virtual and physical space to perpetuate gratitude in both arenas. Expressions of gratitude in the virtual world will result in a tangible beautification of barren spaces of the workplace with both plants and the messages of gratitude.
Every time someone is thanked by a colleague, a plant, like a small succulent, would be added on campus. These plants would create garden areas or "living walls" in the currently green-less/ sad spaces on campus.
Not only would each colleague's act that inspired gratitude be memorialized by a living, growing plant, but contributors would also be recognized. For every 5 expressions of gratitude, a solar light would be added in honor of the contributor -a literal and metaphorical representation of the illumination that the contributor gave to the act of kindness. The incentive to participate is not an individual reward, but a collective one that grows -representative of how gratitude is both life-giving and self-perpetuating. The tangible, beautifying result would remind employees how much there is to be grateful for while motivating further expressions of gratitude.
To encourage genuine expressions of gratitude, there is no personal reward for participation. Instead, the planting of a new plant in the green-deprived spaces on campus would beautify the space while creating pockets of space more inviting to the creation of community.
CONTEXT & PHYSICAL SPACE: We are a public high school of 188 staff members and 1633 students located in a busy metropolitan area. Currently, neither staff nor students use the outdoor seating areas on campus because of its uninviting nature. In fact, because construction and renovation efforts have blocked off a lot of the green spaces and seating areas available on campus, students and staff have no natural space (with greenery) to congregate and create community.
Pictured below is an area adjacent to 40 temporary bungalows called "The Village." Note the peeling paint on the walls and the overall concrete sadness. The reconstruction has also decentralized our campus, making face-to-face interaction with colleagues all the more a challenge.
For the pilot, we plan on planting a living wall in the area pictured to serve as and frame a literal space to create community. This physical communal space would follow the creation of a metaphorical one established by expressions of gratitude.
Day One of the pilot began with the email below to 14 colleague who agreed to help test the prototype. The email included a simple template to guide expressions of gratitude, in addition to references to research on the benefits of gratitude.
INITIAL RESULTS: EXPRESSIONS OF GRATITUDE
Participation felt warm and sincere, and were often followed by a rally of agreement and further gratitude. Here is an example of one of the many expressions sent:
Thank you Romeo for allowing me to borrow your AMAZING students to help Normanaid with our net-smart video. You have mentored KBEV students into true professionals. Most importantly, you have created a space for many students to thrive and be successful who without your leadership they may not have the opportunity to know what they are capable of accomplishing.Our peer counseling team would have never been able to create a technology video without the help of KBEV!-Ali Norman
(To access the entire archive of expressions of gratitude, click here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1rX4wfy7clsM6-TbFZGZEOJD71mZPinEI_ntfzfEwXOs/edit?usp=sharing)
INITIAL RESULTS: THE NUMBERS
On the second day of the launch, we added staff members from The Village, totaling participants to 32. Here are the numbers of expressions by date:
Soon, because the recipients of the "thank yous" were not limited to the participants in the pilot, the word about the Gratitude Garden project spread across campus. It was discussed at an all-teacher meeting, and after getting the ok from the principal, we added the entire staff as participants in the project on Dec 4. The number of expressions exploded soon after:
(note the spike on Dec 5th! More on that in THE CHALLENGES section)
MORE RESULTS: RECIPIENTS OF GRATITUDE SPREAD ACROSS OCCUPATIONAL ROLES
The 188 staff members are made up of teachers, administrators, security staff, office staff, counselors, instructional assistants, food services staff, custodians, and maintenance and operations (M&0) staff. The stacked bars below show the number of staff members thanked by role (top) compared to the number of staff members total (bottom).
The 106 total expressions of gratitude (as of Dec 7 or 12 days of the pilot) were written by 68 individual staff members. The group of gratitude expressers, the most active participants, made up 36% of the total staff. The recipients, 79 individuals (some receiving more than one expression), captured a larger proportion of the staff, 42%. Expressions crossed both geographical and occupational boundaries.
THE PLANTING OF THE GARDEN: DECEMBER 14
This event, planned for Dec 14, involved the collaboration of many volunteers and generous donors. This event is planned for the lunch period before a scheduled staff meeting in hopes of increasing attendance. A variety of succulents (with the names of those thanked on planting labels next to them) will be available for the staff to help install into the living wall.
To continue the acknowledgement of each staff member's contribution to the community, the expressions of gratitude written during the pilot will project on one of the nearby walls during the event.
This event would allow staff to reinforce the community built in the virtual space, while the expressions of gratitude would "prime" staff members to be more willing to see other staff members as part of their team.
FEEDBACK and CHALLENGES
The "spike" on Dec 5 reflected a great explosion of gratitude, likely from the contagion of gratitude and a great need to connect in a positive way. Of the 34 respondents who completed the survey of open-ended questions, the great majority of the feedback was positive:
"I loved that this project helped our community to re-discover the goodness that surrounds us."
"We, as a community, have gone through many challenges over the past five years, and, in that, we have lost much of our sense of community. This project helped us to find that again and helped us to venture out of the isolation of our classroom."
"its contagious once one hears a thank you its easy to think of thanking others aloud"
"It is so easy to critique negatively and rarely demonstrate what we appreciate"
"It was reminder that it feels good to express gratitude"
"Brought the staff together more. Lets us hear what we don't hear enough of."
"It is so easy to critique negatively and rarely demonstrate what we appreciate"
People were excited about:
"the happiness that this project brings to many people"
"Actually seeing the garden"
"To hear how much we value each other"
"Planting seeds to allow for a growth of a physically prettier and more positive campus.""making someone's day better"
"The wonderful comments and feeling of inclusion"
"Everyone's enthusiasm to show gratitude towards others"
"the recognition of those unsung heroes we may not otherwise remember to acknowledge"
While the great majority of feedback discussed the benefits to the individual, the staff as a team, and the campus, the criticism was focused in two areas: the overwhelming number of emails in our inboxes, and concerns about inclusiveness (the first two weeks did not include the entire staff):
"I think everyone is just so excited that, like other things, overkill lessons the impact. I think as time goes on, people will write thoughts of gratitude less often with more impact. (that sounds negative, but I hope you understand what I mean)the individual posts weren't always clear about being part of the project."
"Too many emails!"
"am wondering if staff members who were not mentioned felt 'left out'of the activity"
THE FUTURE & FURTHER GROWTH
The feedback generally implied that the pilot, though not polished, met its goals in increasing morale, positive contact between staff members, starting the shift in our workplace culture, and a general increase in feelings of gratitude both in and outside the workplace.
The biggest challenge is long-term funding as donations of both money and time fueled the pilot. Despite the eco and cost-friendly design of the garden itself, the great number of volunteer hours needed to administer the project make this 100% volunteer & donation model unsustainable. While we initially thought that email was a viable forum and that no other electronic space was necessary, the Dec 5th spike seemed to challenge otherwise. All that said, a long-term funding source to maintain the garden, purchase supplies, find a way to automate archiving of the gratitude expressions, and provide an administrator who would be able to keep the project running in a way that would still take advantage of volunteers and allow the parts of the garden to serve other purposes on campus.
By allowing the garden to be maintained by students in a horticulture/ edible garden/ composting program itself, the garden could provide its own supplies and maintenance, while being used for other purposes, like a restorative justice program. Without this, administering this project would quickly cause burnt out (which is one of the problems facing public sector employees that this project was designed to address).