Thanksgiving is this month, and we think its a perfect time to focus on teaching students to be grateful in order to create happier students and classrooms. Gratitude is at the center of inclusive schooling, so below, we’ve focused on a few ways to foster a gratitude-filled classroom.
First: Define the word.
For our purposes, we draw on a definition from Dr. Kerry Howells, a researcher who studies gratitude and education. She explains that gratitude is “an act of giving back out of acknowledgement for what we have received.” You’ll notice that she uses the word “act” in this definition, because in her research she has learned that it is really not until we express gratitude, through some kind of action, that it becomes authentic and beneficial for us. So while it is certainly useful to mentally practice your gratitude, it is only when you turn it into action— for example, greeting students by telling them how grateful you are for them to be in school today— can it turn into a practice that benefits you and others.
Second: Recognize the benefits.
Teachers who engage in a regular practice of gratitude in their classrooms report that they give greater priority to relationships with students, rather than tasks; develop greater collegiality with other faculty; feel calmer; have a greater overall sense of wellbeing; and their students are more engaged. In a study by Jeffrey Froh that focused specifically on middle school students, Froh had a small group of students practice gratitude every day by writing down 5 things they were grateful for in a gratitude journal. He found that students who were engaged in the gratitude practice reported greater optimism, improved satisfaction with their lives, and decreased negative feelings when compared to their peers who were not engaged in the daily gratitude practice.
Third: Find small ways to implement.
Below we provide a few examples we love that can help you and your students in your own practice of gratitude.
- Quick Jot. At the end of the day, have students close their eyes and think of a positive moment they’re grateful for. It can be a small moment or a big one. Next, have them write about that experience.
- Blog It. Create a blog post at the end of the class period or week, where each student shares or writes one great moment from the day or week for which they are grateful into the blog post. Or, if blogging isn’t your thing, create a Twitter or Instagram account that students can link their tiny beautiful moments to “@SHS6periodELA: Today I used the Pythagorean theorem correctly #tinymoments”. Whether a blog or a social media feed, by the end of the school year, your class will have thousands of small beautiful moments that they can read through and enjoy.
- Share a Note. One teacher we know shared with us that he writes tiny notes or draws simple images on post its or small index card a few times a week, each filled with specific praise and gratitude for a particular student. For example, he might write, “I love how you helped Aidan during lab today” or “Your comment about Mercutio’s anger was so insightful today.” He then shares these “messages of love” at random points throughout the day, and asks students to share the note with friends, parents, or other supporters.
Draw on the creative and interdisciplinary work of your colleagues to teach students the art and science of being grateful. One 9thgrade school team we know engaged students in a two-week interdisciplinary unit connecting health, art, and biology in order to study both the art and science of gratitude. Student culminating projects were shared with the entire school community on a Gratitude Night, and included research studies about the brain and gratitude, a photography series, and an experiential gratitude art installation.
Through developing a gratitude practice of your own, you can cultivate a gratitude-filled inclusive classroom. Learn more about implementing an inclusive classroom by joining our email list….