The benefits of joy and gratitude

by Joseph S. Pizzo

At the initial NCTE SCOA meeting, the theme was “Joy.” It was defined as “the feeling that acknowledges satisfaction in oneself and in others as well.” During this pandemic, the main direction was identified as a critical component of both the personalities and the lives of all educators and families. 

We wrote about the topic of joy. We discussed our writings in both breakout rooms and a full meeting. Here is my note.

“Joy is reflected in the woman raising the child. We uplift as we mentor, but we gain from those we mentor as well. We experience confluencia as joy flows inward, but the experience is even greater when the confluencia follows its natural course and flows outwardly to share that which it has gained previously.”

At the second SCOA meeting held later in the day, we examined an article entitled, “How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain.” Breakout rooms were again used so the article could be discussed in assigned sections. The notes from my group are as follows:

  • Positive emotion words, negative emotion words, and “we” words (first-person plural words) that participants used in their writing have an impact.  
  • The gratitude writing group used a higher percentage of positive emotion words and “we” words.
  • The lack of negative emotion words—not the abundance of positive—explained the mental health gap between the gratitude writing group and the other writing group.
  • Gratitude letter writing produces better mental health by shifting one’s attention away from toxic emotions.

Having a positive outlook and avoiding toxic thoughts and situations was found to lessen the use of toxic words in one’s daily lexicon. According to the authors Joshua Brown and Joel Wong, “many studies over the past decade have found that people who consciously count their blessings tend to be happier and less depressed.” The experimental group in the study wrote letters of gratitude while the control group did not.

The research study that was conducted by Brown and Wong involved “nearly 300 adults, mostly college students who were seeking mental health counseling at a university. We recruited these participants just before they began their first session of counseling, and, on average, they reported clinically low levels of mental health at the time. The majority of people seeking counseling services at this university in general struggled with issues related to depression and anxiety.” 

The main findings made in the article are as follows:

  1. Gratitude unshackles us from toxic emotions.
  2. Gratitude helps (the individual) even if you don’t share it (in some form with others).
  3. Gratitude’s benefits… (emerge slowly over) time.
  4. Gratitude has lasting effects on the brain. (“…when people who are generally more grateful gave more money to a cause, they showed greater neural sensitivity in the medial prefrontal cortex, a brain area associated with learning and decision making. This suggests that people who are more grateful are also more attentive to how they express gratitude.”)

The authors of the article conclude that “practicing gratitude may help train the brain to be more sensitive to the experience of gratitude down the line, and this could contribute to improved mental health over time.”

I shall conclude my report by sharing the note of gratitude that I have written to my colleagues at NJCTE. 

Dear Friends,

I am grateful to all of you, my colleagues at NJCTE. We consistently have a range of different tasks to address and complete. It is important to know, however, that we gather our talents and combine our efforts to help any of us who may be in need. We acknowledge the commitments made to our organization and our membership by readily offering to help any member who may be in need. The unselfish nature of our organization makes me proud to be a member.

Thank you, NJCTE for your kindness of heart, your generosity of spirit, and your willingness to give of yourself to help others in need. 


Joe Pizzo

The benefits of joy and gratitude

Mentors + Mentees = Success

by Joseph S. Pizzo

NJCTE Early-Career Teaching Mentorship (ECTM) Director

NJCTE has created an executive board position for me: NJCTE Early-Career Teaching Mentorship (ECTM) Director. As the ECTM Director, I am creating a network of mentors who will work with early-career teachers from grades K-12+. Whether you are teaching kindergarteners to write phrases and sentences, primary and elementary students to write stories, or middle-school, high-school, and college/university students to write literary essays, personal narratives, and research papers, you will face questions for which you will not necessarily have practical answers. Your teaching experience can be enhanced through the assistance of a trusted mentor.

I had a wonderful mentor at the beginning of my career, but not all early-career teachers are as fortunate as I was. Some may have mentors who cannot manage to give the amount of time needed since these mentors have excess demands being placed upon them by their careers and families. Some may not be able to find a compatible mentor in their building or district. Some may simply be looking for a different perspective on or advice to help with classroom management, creating a rubric, or deciding how to use a certain technology platform such as Google Docs in a lesson. Teaching is a quite complex activity that sometimes may appear to be relatively easy to those who do not fully understand the process. Some of the common questions early-career educators are forced to face daily deal not only with matters of curriculum and pedagogy but also with matters of district protocol and procedure. Early-career teachers benefit from the advice of accomplished veterans. Moreover, various studies have found that there are common elements that constitute effective instruction. The models include those designed by Danielson, Marzano, and others. The models reward pedagogy, innovation, use of data to drive instruction, student engagement, purposefulness, and other key areas as well. An effective mentor brings this awareness to all interactions with a mentee.

As the director of our NJCTE Early-Career Teaching Mentorship (ECTM) program, I am hoping to bring together two constituencies. The first includes early-career teachers. You will be facing large amounts of rubrics to create, student essays to assign and grade, tests to create and grade, student learning preferences to address, district requirements to fulfill, and a great deal of general paperwork that seems to grow without any encouragement from you. You could benefit from having a mentor who will give you a reasonable amount of guidance and advice as you negotiate your way through the early months and even years of your teaching experience.

The second constituency includes mentor teachers. You are a mentor teacher if you are a leader in school who designs and presents effective learning engagements in the classroom, and who is comfortable working with other professionals. Moreover, a mentor teacher is a non-judgemental professional who recognizes the value of listening, encouraging, and suggesting solutions. 

The relationship between mentors and mentees requires honesty, trust, and a willingness to acknowledge district protocol, procedures, and requirements. Both parties must be willing to be attentive to maintaining a professional approach in all interactions. Most importantly, the success of each mentee’s students must be the main focal point of all efforts between each mentor and their mentee. All advice must be proactive at all times and devoid of anything considered to be either controversial or unacceptable by each mentee’s district.

If you are interested in either being a mentor or being connected with one as a mentee, then please know that you must hold a current membership in NJCTE. If you are not yet a member or if your membership has lapsed, then sign up at

Next, please fill out this Google Form by clicking on this link.

  • Mentors, please let me know the area(s) you feel comfortable with for giving advice.
  • Mentees, please let me know the areas for which you need a mentor. 

Please understand that all participants in this program are volunteers whose availability may be affected by their own schedules and circumstances. A mentor/mentee relationship must be built on a foundation of trust and professionalism. Moreover, all participants in this program have full schedules that fill much of each day. Therefore, contacts should be kept reasonably brief. Whenever possible, mentees might wish to consider the full schedules that mentors are already following daily. Thus, giving a mentor a little bit of lead time to respond to a mentee’s request would surely be appreciated. 

I am looking forward to this opportunity to assist in bringing NJCTE mentors and mentees together. Through these efforts, we look forward to improving instruction while easing a bit of that early-career angst that we all remember experiencing.

Mentors + Mentees = Success

A Tribute to My Mentor: Thank You, Dr. Joseph Byrnes

by Joseph S. Pizzo

NJCTE Early-Career Teaching Mentorship (ECTM) Director

When I first began teaching, I was filled with wonderful ideas. I would work for hours to generate new ideas for teaching a lesson, design materials that directly addressed my students’ needs, create assignments that were far more practical than those deadly and lengthy practice sheets, and fashion evaluations that would be both practical and comprehensive. The time I spent in preparation for my lessons was quite extensive, as well as exhausting. Often I wondered how I would ever have the strength to grade my students’ writing and project work efficiently. Personally, I am so grateful that I had a mentor who supported my efforts and served to inspire me to remain energetic while learning how to be more efficient in the use of my time and efforts.

My mentor in my early years as a 7th-grade language arts teacher for the Chester, NJ public schools is Dr. Joseph Byrnes, a gentleman who had a tremendous impact on me as a teacher. As an early-career teacher, I was eager and somewhat inexperienced. I needed someone whom I could trust when I needed advice. Dr. Byrnes (my personal Yoda) was always ready to listen to my frustrations while doling out encouragement rather than polite disappointment in my inexperience. The support he provided was priceless. He understood the process of writing in a way that supported the best of the research findings of the time. He knew how to motivate even those students who seemed to be disaffected. He was able to meet every student at their particular level of skills and interest, and he would almost magically be able to include every student in the entire learning process. 

What is most important to me is the fact that my mentor Dr. Byrnes gave me suggestions to enhance my instruction by using Alex Haley’s concept: he would “Find the good, and praise it.” He also encouraged me daily to “Design activities for our students so they can learn in a meaningful and engaging way.” Consistently, his final piece of advice to me was: “If you and your students become overwhelmed, frustrated, and confused, then no learning is taking place. Students need to feel that their opinions and feelings matter.” This advice has been invaluable throughout my entire career.  

As I prepare to begin my 46th year in my integrated language arts classroom, I am grateful to my mentor for his guidance, his encouragement, and his willingness to offer his advice in the form of encouragement rather than criticism. This type of supportive mentoring has provided me with the opportunity to inspire my students to discover the brilliance that each of them possesses. It is only through the wisdom and support of others that we as teachers are able to discover and develop the talents that lie within each of us. As Steven Spielberg observed, “The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.”

Thank you, Dr. Joseph Byrnes. I remain forever in your debt. 

A Tribute to My Mentor: Thank You, Dr. Joseph Byrnes

6 Word Sentences from 2018 Student NJEA Annual State Conference: What Makes Teaching Special?


What Makes Teaching Special?

(A Stream of Thoughtfulness)


“Why do you teach?” I inquired one day.

“Why do you teach?” I say.

“What drives you to the classroom day after day?”

“What motivates you?” I say.

So much to learn and share.


You say

Inspiring children to become leaders

Ensuring a high-quality education.

Unlocking every student’s potential

Helping others achieve their dreams

So much to learn and share.


You say

Creating lifelong learners

Expressing that we care

Giving equal opportunity to all students

Inspiring a love of learning

So much to learn and share.


You say

Working with those creating the future

Sharing knowledge with students and colleagues

Helping children be successful in school

Living life with people who care

So much to learn and share.
You say

Making a difference for those underserved

Always bringing something new to students

Watching students grow and mature

So much to learn and share.


You say

The opportunity to help everyone

Bringing life skills to every student

Unleashing passion and dedication

So much to learn and share.

So much to learn and share.

So much to learn and share.


The 6-word sentences used in this poem have been compiled by NJCTE Board Member Joseph S. Pizzo at the 2018 Student NJEA Annual State Conference held in Princeton on March 10. Both pre-service teachers and veteran teachers, professors, staff, and administrators are represented. A poetic framework has been added to the original comments. Some minor editing has been done to maintain the original six-word format for the comments.

Posted by Audrey Fisch, blog editor for NJCTE

New Jersey Council of Teachers of English
New Jersey Council of Teachers of English, the New Jersey state affiliate of NCTE, the National Council of Teachers of English

6 Word Sentences from 2018 Student NJEA Annual State Conference: What Makes Teaching Special?