Why Teach Gratitude?
Ensure Happiness and Success
We all want what is best for our students. We spend so much time focused on academic standards and test scores, but what if there was a simpler way to ensure happiness and success in your students?
This article from Forbes tells us there is research that shows feeling grateful can both positively affect your mental/emotional state, and help you achieve the life you want.
According to an article by Geoffrey James, “People who approach life with a sense of gratitude are constantly aware of what’s wonderful in their life. Because they enjoy the fruits of their successes, they seek out more success. And when things don’t go as planned, people who are grateful can put failure into perspective.”
According to Psychology Today, showing gratitude increases activity in the hypothalamus. This part of the brain controls a wide variety of bodily functions, including eating, drinking, and sleeping. The hypothalamus also affects metabolism and stress levels. So clearly there are also many positive affects on your students’ health!
Prevent Sense of Entitlement
It has been proven that today students show entitlement more than ever before. This is because many students are accustomed to being rewarded for simply participating; they learn less, because they don’t feel the need to do the work.
An article on Huffington Post shares Eight Ways to Combat Entitlement in the Classroom. One suggestion is bringing your students to a place where they can serve others in need. This is because in order to show gratitude, students must recognize and acknowledge they are the recipients of an unearned benefit. After the experience of serving others, your class could benefit from a discussion about gratitude.
Improve Classroom Culture
By putting an emphasis on gratitude, you can positively influence the way your students interact and behave in your class. In order for key elements, like teamwork, community, and appreciation, there needs to be a focus on gratitude.
Students come from all different backgrounds and, just like us, enter the classroom each day with sets of problems that are unrelated to academics. Emphasizing gratitude creates an optimistic atmosphere that is exemplified through the students’ thoughts and behaviors.
How to Teach Gratitude
Teach About Students in Less Fortunate Countries
A powerful way to encourage gratitude in your classroom is to teach about students in less fortunate countries. After my brothers spent a summer teaching and helping in a missionary school in the poorest slum of Nairobi, Kenya, they came back to share the experience with students in the U.S.
Kids were shocked to see the photos of the classrooms there. They soaked up the stories with so much empathy for the kids in Kenya.
They heard about how when a teacher walks out of the classroom there, a student hops right up to continue at the board, because they feel that every second of class time is precious. Education is the key to getting out of the slum. A very small percentage will ever go on to high school, and the ultimate dream is to get to go to college or get out of the area and be able to bring back enough money to help their families.
The American students were amazed to hear that students in the Mukuru slum only eat at school. They come in very hungry Monday mornings after each weekend.
Our students are so used to being in their own bubble. Exposing them to these ideas really helps them see how grateful they should be. Even pulling up some web images of schools in other countries may help. Talk to your students about the beautiful learning environment they have here, and their opportunities.
They will suddenly show a lot more respect for their restrooms, lockers, and books if you handle this conversation well.
Take it a Step Further
If your students seem interested and want to help, consider coming together as a class to sponsor a child. It's really easy to collect just a few dollars per student, and this small amount can cover a child's education in Nairobi (plus a hot meal every day) for an entire year!
Here is the link to sponsor a child: www.marianist.com/oln
This is an easy way for your class to participate. It's a great mission that you can trust. My brothers have seen the school in action firsthand, and I know the provincial of the Marianist Mission personally. My mom's class is even commited to continuing to sponsor their student continually each year! Take advantage of this opportunity to teach your students about generosity and empathy.
An effective way to teach gratitude in your classroom is introducing gratitude journals. Students can carry composition notebooks and each day, write three, specific things they are thankful for. So instead of writing, “I’m thankful for breakfast,” encourage them to write, I’m thankful for the bowl of cereal and the banana I ate this morning.”
Gratitude journals only take a couple of minutes, but are immensely powerful in teaching gratitude!
Be a Model of Gratitude
Practicing gratitude yourself, and being open about it to your students, is the perfect way to help your students learn to practice gratitude, as well. You can make sure you say thank you, show optimism, or even share anecdotes of how you are practicing gratitude.
Students often overlook those who provide service for them, at school and at home. Ask your students to write holiday cards or thank you cards for people who make their lives easier that they never even think about.
Start with a quick chat about the way the custodian ensures that there are enough desks for each child in each room, keeps the floor clean, and keeps the windows and HVAC system working properly so they can be comfortable all day. Help them take a moment to reflect on all the little things they take for granted. You can even make a list on the board by having students contribute ideas of what the school nurse, custodian, secretary, librarian, etc. do for them each day.
Then, they can jot a note featuring one of these things that they are grateful for. This is worth taking time to do! Students who take a moment to think these things through will walk around forever with a different perspective of the people around them.
Focus on empathy. Model putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Try sharing something with your students like “I am so grateful for Mr. Tim myself because some days, there is such a mess on the floor in here, and he has to stay late when I am heading out to be home for dinner with my family. I wonder if we can do a better job keeping this room clean so that he can count on us for a quick sweep and get home a few minutes earlier every night. I bet he’d really appreciate that.”
A Simple Gratitude Lesson
Ask your students to close their eyes and think of somebody who was really influential in their lives, someone who had done something really amazing for them. Then, after some time to reflect, have them write as much as they can about why this person was so important.
Then, show them this video.
After the video, tell them it is their turn to be put on the spot. They must tell their person what they wrote at some point that day.
This simple activity is sure to bring some overwhelming gratitude to your classroom, and maybe even a few heartwarming tears!
I hope this information helps you and your students practice gratitude and leads to all of the many benefits I mentioned! Do you have any other ways to practice or teach gratitude to your students? We’d love to hear in the comments below!
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