3 Simple Ways to Cultivate a Culture of Gratitude

After 16 years in education I can honestly say that November is my favorite month.  It’s not because the weather is perfect, that I made it through the first few months of school alive, or even that winter break is fast approaching ( all great reasons though).  November tops my list because it’s the one month of the year that we are all reminded to give thanks. Educators go above and beyond to teach this abstract concept called gratitude.  In elementary schools you will see cute little turkeys on the wall with sentences beginning with “ I am thankful for…”. In secondary, students may be writing letters or sending care packages to veterans thanking them for their service.  Acts of appreciation can be witnessed on every campus in some form or fashion because there is a holiday this month that emphasizes thankfulness.

The act of being grateful does not come as easy when we aren’t prompted because our brains are literally hardwired to notice the negative first.  Although the scientific research on this subject is fascinating I will keep it simple and demonstrate my point. You come to work on Tuesday and the art teacher tells you how nice your hair looks that day.  You spend time with a student and when they are leaving they say “thanks for listening to me, I feel so much better”. At lunch your principal offers to buy you lunch because you are such an asset to the campus.  Right before you leave for the day you check your emails. You read one from a parent that is complaining about the way you handled their child’s schedule change. Lying in bed that evening you will probably not think about all the positive affirmations you received that day. You may likely focus on that parent email and not allow yourself to feel gratitude for that day.  We often hear educators talk about how ungrateful students are or as counselors we work with hundreds of students battling depression, self-harm, and suicidal ideation because they are convinced that their life is nothing but negative. This article shows us that practicing daily gratitude gives us a deeper connection to ourselves and the world around us. We preach the benefits of gratitude, but are we teaching them how to practice it? 

Here are three simple ways to cultivate a culture of gratitude:

1. Showing gratitude is completely free, yet totally priceless

Provide opportunities for students and staff to show gratitude to others.  You can CLICK HERE for this free lesson with any age level to demonstrate the power of a thank you. Model the purposeful act of showing gratitude throughout the day and encourage staff members to do the same. Challenge your student leadership team to “share the love” and to remind their peers to pay it forward.  After having JC Pohl come out and train my students at a leadership summit they have been an integral part of building a culture of connection and gratitude.  

2. Find the Silver Lining

When working with students and staff who come to you with issues, concerns, or problems encourage them to think hard and come up with one positive that can result from their issue/problem. For example, a student comes in to express their anger about the fact they are grounded for the weekend and they are missing out on going to the football game.  Maybe the silver lining can be that they are behind on homework and this will give them a chance to catch up. Make it a habit to look for something positive with everyone you encounter.

3. Blessings vs. Burdens

During a class guidance lesson, staff meeting, or individual counseling session instruct the student or staff member to write down 5 burdens (issues that are bothering them or holding them back from succeeding).  Now challenge them to let their blessings outweigh their burdens by writing down three times as many reasons to be grateful. Big or small, it all counts. This can be a great reminder that we will all have negative experiences in our lives, but we are in control of whether we let those burdens keep us from counting our blessings.

The concept of showing gratitude is very simple and often forgotten, but can be extremely impactful on school culture and individual mindsets.  

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them”—-John F. Kennedy

Penny Knight
School Counselor, TEEN TRUTH

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