By ANDREW NELSON | Published February 14, 2013
KENNESAW—Walk into Owen Griffith’s fourth-grade class and don’t be surprised to see the 47-year-old strumming on a guitar. A longtime musician, the teacher sings songs with the youngsters to help them learn prayers, the water cycle and the names of the planets.
He was one of the teachers honored at the Archdiocese of Atlanta education banquet.
“At St. Catherine of Siena, I have the opportunity to give the gift of education, with an added bonus of a spiritual foundation,” Griffith said by email.
Griffith grew up in a house where for many years his father served on the local school board. Music playing was a big deal in his family, and they still play together at reunions. Before teaching, he worked in the transportation and logistics field, but he was moved by a “little message from God” to follow his heart into teaching.
He has taught at St. Catherine of Siena School, in Kennesaw, for seven years. One of his teaching techniques is to encourage his students to be grateful. Students start the day listing five things they are grateful for. These are the foundation of their “Attitude of Gratitude journals,” and by the end of the year every student has 1,000 written gratitudes.
With his guitar playing and the journaling, Griffith works to build a positive classroom atmosphere, which leads to effective teaching, he said. Griffith also gives his students a nudge to grow past their comfort zones, but he “always gives a safety net.”
A lesson he learned in the corporate world was to risk making mistakes. Once, a former boss told him that Griffith was not trying enough innovative things because his work had too few mistakes.
“I tell my students that it is not a mistake if you learn from it and try not to make the same mistake again,” he said.
“In fact, one way parents can help teachers is encourage (their students) to try new things—risk making a mistake to help them grow,” he said.
In his nomination, Griffith was saluted for his upbeat personality during the hectic times and his personality that inspires others. He was a leader behind a weekly meeting of faculty members who study the Bible.
Griffith and his wife of 25 years, Tricia, have a son. They attend Our Lady of LaSalette Church, Canton. Outside the classroom, his hobbies include riding his bicycle, reading and playing guitar. Inspired by his love of music, six years ago Griffith started a program at the Police Athletic League in Alpharetta to give guitars to young people so he could teach them to play.
For the future, he’d like to move into school administration. He recently graduated from Kennesaw State University with a master’s degree in educational leadership.
“I get so much spiritual nourishment from teaching,” he said. “I learn from the students every day.”