Teaching Tuesday: Thankfulness and Gratitude in the Classroom

By Dr. Tracy Vasquez and Dusty Sanchez, faculty

female teacher working with young co-ed students on practicing gratitude

Expressing thankfulness in November can be a nice reminder to include this practice in our classrooms. We have an opportunity to develop thankfulness in our classrooms with our students on every school day. Some ways we can bring a greater intention to teaching about thankfulness is through modeling thankfulness, providing students opportunities to engage in thankfulness and building a culture with families to incorporate thankfulness in the classroom and at home.

Modeling Thankfulness

As teachers we have a tremendous impact on the students in our classroom. We can model what thankfulness means and how this practice can be seen in our daily activities. For instance, we can verbally share daily affirmations about the thankfulness we have for good works done by our students and positive efforts done by our colleagues. This could be done with statements such as, “Thank you, Larry, for sitting up straight and contributing your best efforts on the writing prompt.” To colleagues it could be, “Thank you, Mrs. Smith, for taking my attendance to the office.” An additional opportunity to model thankfulness is by writing gratitude letters to students sharing more about your appreciation for their efforts and good work. This could be a Post-it notes on their desk, for example.

Opportunities for Students to Practice Thankfulness

To help students understand how to incorporate thankfulness into their routines, we can facilitate opportunities in the classroom. One practice we can begin as a routine opportunity is the use of gratitude journals. We can give students a prompt to respond to daily, which can help students be more intentional with their thankfulness and build in these thoughts into their regular routine. These journals can include the occasional gratitude comments back from their teacher or they can be shared with classmates. Another practice can be incorporated by using a gratitude jar. As the teacher, you can add marbles to the jar when you notice students practicing acts of gratitude or verbalizing it to you or their classmates. Students can also add notes of gratitude to the jar, which you can read out loud to the class. The thankfulness practiced in your classroom can be extended into the community as acts of service. In this way, students will learn how to demonstrate their thankfulness to the community through acts of gratitude.*

Examples can be coordinating classroom food drives, fundraising events or personal letters to veterans serving our community, elderly at nursing homes or children in the hospital setting. To help students develop these skills further, we can use role-play activities in the classroom. Students acting out exaggerated practices of being selfish and not showing thankfulness can help clarify what thankfulness does and does not look like when being practiced in real-life scenarios. As teachers we can use these scenarios to talk about the emotions that are involved and the opportunities students will have in their daily situations.

Thankfulness Opportunities Between Families and the Classroom

In addition to your efforts to build communities of thankfulness in your classroom, it is important to extend those concepts to students’ families to strengthen the school-home connection. There are a few ways you can do this. One way is by encouraging them to read stories about thankfulness at home. You can identify books or create a thankfulness reading list that can be shared out in your class newsletter or website. We can verbalize through phone calls to families some good things we are observing being done by their children in the classroom that we are grateful for, such as showing kindness to their peers or helping with a task in the classroom.

These can alternatively be shared out as emails or notes home. To provide opportunities for families to demonstrate their gratitude, we can welcome them in the classroom to volunteer, as well as provide jobs that can be done from the home, for those unable to come in. Home jobs can include cutting out shapes, preparing photos or coordinating classroom events. This helps to further strengthen the connections to the home, through practice of thankfulness and gratitude. You can then model your thankfulness and that of the class, when you schedule volunteer celebrations at the end of the year to show how much the volunteer’s work is appreciated.

These practices demonstrate how as educators we can experience a shift in mindset to positive thoughts associated with thankfulness. By sharing these strategies and additional opportunities for students to practice thankfulness, we are also helping their personal development. Recent research suggests 10 to 19-year-old students who practice acts of gratitude feel more positive emotions and connected to their community.**

As we continue with our month to recharge our thinking on thankfulness, we will be sharing some thoughts from faculty and staff on gratitude in the field of education. Want more? Check out all of the articles from Teaching Tuesday and return each week for a new post. Learn more about Grand Canyon University’s College of Education and our degree programs and join in our efforts to elevate the education profession.

Retrieved from:

*James Stanfield, Teaching the Gratitude Mindset in November 2021.

**Colorado State University Extension, Role-modeling Thankfulness in November 2021.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.