7 Simple Ways to Practice Gratitude in the Classroom
by Tiffany Creager
What if someone offered you a FREE 5 minute per day strategy that boasted the following benefits for you AND your students:
- Improved relationships,
- Made us nicer,
- Improved mood,
- Reduced Stress,
- Improved sleep,
- Strengthened ability to find meaning in our life and work, and
- Increased happiness by up to 25%
Would you take it? Read on to learn 7 simple ways to practice gratitude in the classroom.
As it turns out, the practice of gratitude has been shown time and time again to do just that! But, if it’s really that simple, how do we turn this idea into practice and more importantly into results! Read on to understand the importance of consistency, some simple implementation strategies, and a few caveats to this powerful practice.
Before we get to our quick and simple strategies, it’s important to understand the role consistency plays in the practice of gratitude. Our brains are wired to protect us by seeking danger, alerting us to potential threats, or bringing the negative to our attention. We’re grateful for that protection when we need it, but we can also train our brains to seek the positive in times of safety! Our brains are experience dependent. With each new experience of gratitude we’re teaching our brain to seek the positive. The more experiences we create, the easier it becomes!
In his book, Atomic Habits, James Clear reminds us that, “you do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.” While systems can represent many things, in this statement, he is referring to the systems of small habits we develop and incorporate into our routines to meet our long term goals. If, for example, you have a long term goal of running a marathon and you only run a mile or two in preparation, your body isn’t going to be adequately prepared for 26.2! Similarly, if you have a goal to be happier, feel better, improve your relationships, and manage stress through gratitude but are only practicing occasionally, you aren’t going to reap the benefits. If, instead, you add a simple two to five minute strategy into your daily routine, your long term goal is more achievable! In short, rewiring your brain to find the good IS possible and it begins with small daily appreciations that are easy to practice, model, and teach! Give it 30 days and let us know what you notice!
Practices of Gratitude
There are a multitude of ways to integrate gratitude into your classroom! Here are 7 simple ideas to get you started.
1. Daily gratitude journal
This can be part of your morning bell work or an end of the day reflection in which students simply jot down 3 things they’re grateful for! That’s it! There is added power to writing it down rather than simply stating your appreciations so I do encourage you to put pen to paper or if you have an electronic check-in with your students, ask them to type their answers there. If you notice some students writing the same thing over and over (video games, video games, video games), don’t be discouraged – they’re still practicing gratitude and with time, a shift will come!
2. Gratitude tree
I am not a fan of creating bulletin boards. It is not a strength I possess. Luckily, my dear friend and coworker (and her mom, a retired teacher), graciously helped me each year. In an effort to create as few as possible, I’d often try to think of a theme that could last all year. The year of the tree was my favorite! We filled it with multicolored leaves in fall, hearts in February (although snowflakes would have worked too), and green leaves in spring.
Each leaf or heart came from a student expressing appreciation for an act of kindness from a peer or teacher. We filled the board with notes of gratitude and it was a beautiful thing! My bulletin board happened to be located across from the gym and as every class lined up to leave P.E. and head back to class, I would listen to the whispers of excitement as they found their names or shared in the experiences of their classmates.
3. Appreciation, apology, or aha
I love this as a closing activity for your students! It promotes choice, connection, and reflection. Gather in a circle and ask each student to share an appreciation, an apology, or an aha moment from the day’s class. This gives students an opportunity to appreciate one another and to bear witness to the power gratitude and appreciation has on their peers. Check out this video to see it in action!
60-Second Strategy: Appreciation, Apology, Aha!
4. Gratitude garland
The first time I did this school wide, I ended up spending my weekend wrapping and stapling 550 little pieces of brightly colored paper into a very long garland. That first project was tied to our school values and every student made a commitment to practice kindness, good citizenship, respect, and so on.
This could be a pretty great visual representation of all of the moments of gratitude in a classroom as well! I imagine a jar of blank strips of brightly colored paper available to students who may choose one, write or draw an expression of gratitude or appreciation and place it in a designated place each week. The class could read and share their own or each other’s notes and add them to the garland every Friday!
5. Gratitude game
Make it fun! I love to have pipe cleaners handy for fidgets for myself and my students. Choose a variety of colors and place one pipe cleaner on each desk. Assign a gratitude share for each color. Make it even more fun by using candy like skittles!
- Name a person you’re grateful for
- Name a place you’re grateful for
- Name an experience you’re grateful for
- Name a food you’re grateful for
- You choose!
6. Appreciation list
Have you ever had a time where you felt irritated by everything someone you care for is doing? We spend a lot of time
together in the classroom and it’s totally normal to start to notice tension or irritation. Take a moment to remind yourself of all the great things about that person by spending 3-5 minutes writing a list of things you appreciate about them! Get an added benefit if you read your list aloud to the person! You might ask students post conflict (after debriefing) to do something similar.
7. Thank you notes
Encourage your students to notice acts of kindness and to express gratitude through a quick note! Keep a pile of small card stock or even post-it notes available so it’s a simple process. This is a great strategy for the teacher’s lounge as well – express your gratitude to your colleagues for all the wonderful things they do. The beauty of gratitude shared with others is that it benefits you AND the recipient!
A Note of Caution
Gratitude is a beautiful and powerful tool for strengthening relationships, improving mood, and more, but we do need to be mindful of when and how we turn to it. Sometimes, in an effort to help each other find the silver lining we may ask students to turn directly to gratitude without acknowledging the uncomfortable emotions. It’s not an intentional dismissal, it comes from our longing to heal!
Simply remember in times of distress to continue to validate and acknowledge the spectrum of emotions you and your students experience. We can even thank our uncomfortable emotions for signaling to our bodies that there was a need to address! Being constantly positive and regulated is not the goal! Developing awareness and practicing gratitude in times of safety is enough to allow us to reap the benefits!
In closing, the practice of gratitude is a powerful tool that has been repeatedly shown to improve our lives in a number of ways. When we consistently express thanks and appreciation, we rewire our brains, strengthen our relationships, and increase our happiness. Imagine if we shared these benefits with a classroom of students! Talk with your students about why you’ve asked them to participate and give them time to reflect regularly on any changes they’ve noticed. Modeling, teaching, and reflecting will empower students to carry this simple but important skill with them beyond their year with you. As you move forward with implementation, remember that just because it’s simple, doesn’t mean it’s easy! Give yourself grace, remember consistency is key, and have fun. I’m grateful for each of you.
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