Ever since we were children, we have been told to be thankful for what we have (no matter how big or little that is). While that’s always a message that is lingering somewhere, it is more common to have a surge of “don’t forget to show gratitude” messages when the holidays are near. But what about showing gratitude in the classroom for the rest of the year?
I think it is safe to say that so many people, while thankful for the highs in their lives, don’t make a point to focus on what they are grateful for on a daily basis, which is even more of a reason to incorporate gratitude in the classroom every day.
This is mainly due to the unrelenting hustle and bustle of our day-to-day. There is only so much capacity in our brains to give everything our due diligence.
Why is it though that gratitude for the little things is often an afterthought?
I read a fascinating article that discusses how consistent gratitude will literally rewire your brain. Say what?!
In this era of teacher burnout, could this really be a simple way to change our reactions to stress?
In 2015 Dr. Robert Emmons of the University of California at Davis and Dr. Michael McCullough of the University of Miami, both psychologists, published a study that demonstrated actual physical responses the subjects had when practicing gratitude on a regular basis.
One third of the subjects in the study were asked to keep a daily journal of things that happened during the week for which they were grateful. Another third was asked to write down daily irritations or events that had displeased them. The last third of the group was asked to write down daily situations and events with no emphasis on either positive or negative emotional attachment. At the end of the 10-week study, each group was asked to record how they felt physically and generally about life.
The gratitude group reported feeling more optimistic and positive about their lives than the other groups. In addition, the gratitude group was more physically active and reported fewer visits to a doctor than those who wrote only about their negative experiences.“Neuroscience Reveals: Gratitude Literally Rewires Your Brain to be Happier”
by DailyHealthPost Editorial; July 21, 2019
How incredible is that?
This changes everything in regard to practicing gratitude in the classroom.
It begs to ask the question, “Why does this seem so hard to believe?”
Unfortunately, we live in a time where there is still a stigma surrounding mental health. If we can’t tangibly see something, it makes it harder to acknowledge. Therefore, when we hear statements like these, we assume they’re fake.
This one has science to back it up, y’all.
Really, it’s all the snowball effect. When you train your mind to start to focus on even the most simplistic, positive events in your day, your levels of stress and anxiety will begin to even out and/or decrease. With those levels declining, physical ailments will improve such as muscle tension and sleep patterns. This, in turn, leads to more energy and thus a decrease in health risks.
All from showing gratitude.
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How to incorporate gratitude in the classroom
As teachers, we certainly have different challenges that face us every day as opposed to other professions. We often travel down the rabbit hole of student reflections before we consider our own. However, Student-Centered World harps on one thought quite often:
You can’t pour from an empty cup.
If you’re not taking care of your own mental needs, it makes it incredibly hard to help take care of others. With us having more and more students coming into our classrooms with trauma in their backgrounds, we need to be on point to take care of their needs to help them flourish with gratitude in the classroom.
By learning to incorporate gratitude in the classroom, you are helping yourself as well as your students flourish.
So what can you do to start? While expressing gratitude can branch out in so many different ways (gratitude walks, meditation, mantras, etc.), I think the most basic way to start the practice is by using a gratitude journal.
This isn’t as “eye-rolly” as you think.
It’s not a diary. You’re not reaching in to figure out your innermost secrets and desires.
You’re simplistically getting specific thoughts on paper about what brings you gratitude.
There are dozens of options out there for specific gratitude journals to buy. Personally, I have two that I think are spot on.
The Daily Writing Journal for Men & Women includes inspirational quotes, gratitude, journal prompts (that are short, but thought-provoking), and a spot to journal any thoughts you have at that time. It’s a nice array of blues and comes with stickers. Love it.
My favorite option is the Gratitude: A Day and Night Reflection Journal (90 Days). This one is more of a peachy/purple palate, but it breaks down a little bit for the morning in preparation for your day and a little at night to wrap up what happened. It also internally seems more manageable as it is set for 90 days.
Other ways to incorporate gratitude in the classroom
Rituals – If you have a specific routine or ritual that you do at the beginning of class, begin adding in moments where students can share what they are grateful for before diving into work. This allows them to set their intentions and also serves as a brain break for younger students.
Emails – If you use email at the beginning of your day (and you should because it’s like gold), send one to parents or guardians that have students share something they are grateful for. It could be the same every time, or different each time. Just make sure to ask them if they are okay with you sharing their responses publicly.
Blankets – Create a “Gratitude Circle” out of blankets where students can share what they are grateful for. This allows for students to sit by whoever they want instead of being forced into specific groups or partners, but also have to opportunity to share with others if they so choose. Just make sure that you keep an eye on who is sharing and keeping things equal.
A Gratitude Tree – Put up a bulletin board with paper leaves saying what students are grateful for, but make sure to give them prompts like “I’m grateful for…” or something similar. If you want to get fancy (and if you can), try cutting out a leaf from a branch and gluing it to the back of each paper.
Having leaves with different things students are grateful for can help create focus group discussions, allowing students to build on their partner’s responses. If they didn’t have anything that was exactly what you were looking for, then they can tell them what they wish someone would say instead.
Everything – Incorporating gratitude into everything you do is the easiest way to make it a part of your daily routine. You can begin and end each class with a reflection on what students are grateful for, or simply catch them throughout the day and ask if anyone wants to share something they are grateful for. It’s as easy as that!
The important thing to remember is that gratitude doesn’t have to be difficult. It’s so easy to say little things throughout the day, and they can make a huge difference in someone’s mood or outlook on life. You don’t need to wait until Thanksgiving or winter break for students to learn about gratitude either – you can teach it every day!
As it’s been mentioned over and over again, it is absolutely imperative that we take care of our mental health before we even attempt to help anyone else. Now adding this extra element of “rewiring” your brain and we have an equation for greatness.
Not every day will be perfect. Some days it will seem like nothing is going right and it will be extremely difficult to find moments to be grateful for. How about the fact that you work up that morning? Have a job (with benefits) to go to? Was able to have a cup of coffee? There’s always SOMETHING to be grateful for…it’s just a matter of finding it through all the static and focusing on the good.
Do you already journal? Do you do something else that helps facilitate your gratitude experience? Let us know in the comments. The more ideas that there are out there, the easier it will be for us all to adopt these good habits that have long-reaching benefits for our mental and physical health.
Now go out and show gratitude for the little things. They add up.
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