November 29, 2018

How to Inspire Gratitude in Students

Michelle Ramos
Four young children put their arms around eachother's shoulders

In the aftermath of Thanksgiving break, many of us are counting our blessings and giving thanks for the many gifts in our lives. Yet, practicing gratitude shouldn’t just be relegated to the holidays; in fact, being thankful year-round can have tremendous benefits.

We’ve all heard the maxim that life is better when you live it with an “attitude of gratitude” —and for good reason. Practicing gratitude can lessen stress, improve physical health, bolster relationships, and create a culture of collaboration and respect. Gratitude has also been proven to enhance empathy, boost self-esteem, and reduce aggression. For students, cultivating a sense of thankfulness can even improve learning outcomes.

Teaching gratitude isn’t as straightforward as teaching times tables. Helping students become more aware of all the opportunity and blessings around them requires more than a simple lesson—rather, it’s about laying the groundwork for an ongoing practice. For educators and teachers, here are some basic ways to inspire a sense of gratitude in your classroom.

Model Gratitude in Class

Kids learn by mimicking adult behavior. If they see that their teacher feels fortunate to be doing what they’re doing, students will naturally start to see their own lives through a similarly appreciative lens.

As an educator, a simple way to model gratitude is to verbalize it. For example, you might comment, “I can’t believe how lucky we are that it’s so sunny out today! What makes you happy about this morning?”

As you model gratitude in the classroom, demonstrate that gratitude is an action: it’s not just about feeling thankful, but expressing that thankfulness. Another great way to do this is to give credit to others that have contributed to your day. For example, a teacher could share,“My neighbor took time from his busy schedule to help me carry a heavy package this morning. He helped me out big time! Who helped you today?”

Remember: something doesn’t have to be exceptional to be worthy of appreciation. Rather, great pleasure can be found in the simplest of things. One can be happy just to be experiencing a brand new day! Or as Maya Angelou put it, “This a wonderful day. I've never seen this one before.”

Celebrate Small Academic Wins

We all face challenges. Some face greater challenges than others. By helping students focus on their successes and the resources they do have at their disposal, teachers can inspire a sense of appreciation in the classroom—as well as a sense of possibility in their students.

One way to do this is to acknowledge the small wins as well as the bigger ones. While it’s wonderful when someone aces a test, it’s also cause to celebrate when a student has an “aha” moment and fully grasps a concept for the first time.

For students who are easily frustrated, remind them how far they’ve come. For example, a student might struggle with charting the slope of a line and feel daunted by the infamous “y = mx + b” equation. Here, a teacher can remind their student that the concept of variables was, at one time, just as daunting to them. When we look back and see how much progress we’ve made, we become more appreciative of how far we’ve come and are more encouraged to keep striving to improve.

Encourage Students to Count Their Blessings…on Paper

There’s a reason “gratitude journals” are wildly popular: they help us to take stock of everything that’s going well, as opposed to the one thing that’s going wrong. One way to incorporate this idea into the classroom is to have students write “gratitude lists.”

Encourage students, at the start or end of class, to write down the five things they’re grateful for. They can then share something on their list out loud. These lists can range in item number and be themed to help kids recognize the blessings and gifts in different spheres of their life. List options could include:

  • 5 Things I Appreciate About My School
  • 3 People I’m Happy Are in my Life
  • 4 Things I’ve Grateful For at Home

English teachers could even use these lists as personal writing prompts, to inspire kids to delve into more detail about the aspects of their life that they feel appreciation for.

Ultimately, gratitude creates a ripple effect: when one person expresses gratitude, others are more likely to express thanks as well. As educators and teachers, we’re in a unique position to help kids cultivate a sense of appreciation, positivity, and gratitude. After all, a lesson in gratitude may be one of the most important lessons a child ever learns.