Committee for Children Blog

Gratitude in the Classroom

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by Dr. Kim Gulbrandson

I recently attended a workshop on the topic of gratitude, and I learned so much that I would like to share some of it with you. The information I learned comes from research in the field and, surprisingly, very little research has been done about children and gratitude until the last decade.

Gratitude is also often referred to as thankfulness, gratefulness, or appreciation. It can also be explained as a readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. There are two levels of gratitude. Gratitude, as a state, is a temporary affect that follows after we receive help. As a trait, gratitude is a general disposition and outlook in life that is permanent.

People who are grateful have been found to have a reportedly more positive schematic bias. They often positively interpret conflict; are more satisfied, less materialistic, and less envious; and have greater self-esteem. Gratitude has also been shown to be related to greater school connectedness, life satisfaction, self-esteem, well-being, alertness, attentiveness, energy, and positive affect.

Gratitude can be contagious. When experiencing an act of thankfulness or appreciation, one tends to be more likely to show similar acts toward others, such as “paying it forward.” An example of this comes from a colleague of mine who went to pay for her drink in the Starbucks drive-through, and was told by the employee that the person ahead of her paid for it. She then decided to pay for a drink for the person behind her. She arrived at work in a great mood and said that the experience made her day.

All this talk about gratitude made me realize that I could do more to show gratitude toward others in my life, and that I could encourage more gratitude amongst students. Here are a just a few examples of things that can be done to foster gratitude at the school level:

  • Gratitude letters: Have students write a letter to someone they are grateful for and deliver it in person.
  • Gratitude art: Ask students to come up with sayings that show gratefulness, or gratitude posters or collages.
  • Gratitude journals: Give students weekly writing prompts, for example, “Tell about three things you are grateful for and why” or “Write about a time when someone showed gratefulness toward you.”
  • Gratitude lists: Have students make a list of all the things they are grateful for.

For more information about gratitude, do a web search for Jeffrey Froh. His work focuses on students’ cognitive appraisals or perceptions in relation to gratitude.