What is Gratitude?

Gratitude is a spontaneous feeling, but increasingly, research demonstrates its value as a practice—that is, making conscious efforts to count one’s blessings, according to Psychology Today.

In the school setting, gratitude can keep teachers going. A simple “thank you for what you do,” “Is there anything I can help you with in your classroom,” or “I recognize your hard work and it is appreciated,” can go a long way and change the culture and morale of any building. Educators appreciate gratitude because, often, the small acts of kindness outweigh the paycheck.

Students feel gratitude in school through connections and meaningful relationships with supportive adults. Students show gratitude for the educators who nurture them in various ways.

What Role Does Gratitude Play in Social-Emotional Learning?

Social-emotional learning is vital for students in all grades now more than ever. The effects of the pandemic are showing through the learning loss in academics but are also through social-emotional instability. Social-emotional learning teaches students about self-awareness, social awareness, how to engage in relationships and conflict, express your feelings, and make responsible decisions.

Mindfulness is a common practice in schools at all levels used by school counselors, teachers, and administrators to assist students in centering themselves and provide techniques to calm their minds and bodies. Leading students in brief meditations and giving positive affirmations daily promotes positive social-emotional health.

Gratitude connects students to positive emotions. When students feel valued, involved, and successful in school, they become grateful and motivated to do well. Many students come to school daily carrying challenges that may be obvious and some that are unknown. As educators, it is essential to uncover those challenges by making connections with students.

Imagine a class where the students do not feel valued by their teacher; a class where students do not have a voice, are not asked for feedback on what and how they are learning, and where the teacher is unaware of their feelings. Compare this setting to a class where students are seen and heard, given the opportunity to share their thoughts on learning styles and content, and where they know they are safe to release their feelings with an adult who cares. Gratitude comes from the latter and students thrive in all aspects.

It is important to know that social-emotional learning comes before instruction in any content area.  Students who feel safe, calm, and important give more effort, which yields better achievement.

Students show their gratitude towards educators in different ways. Some give words of affirmation and thank the teacher at the end of class, some bring gifts on special days, and others may do a random act of kindness.  The most important show of gratitude that a student can give is academic and personal growth, the ultimate goal.

Activities to Show Gratitude around the Holidays

There are so many ways to show gratitude around the holidays. Educators teach students about the world around them and how they can give back; this is a life skill that will not be soon forgotten.

Buddy Programs

Buddy programs have always been a great show of gratitude. We usually think of elementary schools engaging in this with a higher grade paired with a longer grade. This can also happen from school to school. The high school in your area could partner with a middle school or elementary school to mentor the younger students; reading to the students, helping with remediation, or discussing the most relevant issues the class is facing are beneficial.

Thank You Cards

Never underestimate the power of a handwritten thank you card. Giving students the opportunity and resources to write thank you cards to the educators or family members in their lives is very valuable. Hallmark cards are amazing but the ones that personally come from a student’s heart are invaluable.


If you have a choir or not, you can arrange a group of students to carol inside the school. Educators would be surprised and feel appreciated with a knock on their door greeted with a holiday serenade from the students they work so hard for each day.

“What I’m Thankful For” Bulletin Boards

These are very popular and can be creatively done. Remember that student work should always be the focus; the posters from the school supply store are beautiful, but the original work of the children leaves a lasting impact. Allow them to free write and draw about what they are thankful for.

Culinary Class Snacks

The culinary class in high school has the perfect opportunity to practice and show gratitude by preparing a breakfast or lunch for the school staff. They could also prepare meals or snacks for all the administrators in the area. Another idea is to prepare something for a local shelter or nursing home if allowable. The possibilities are endless.

Virtual Choirs

The COVID-19 pandemic has restricted us from carrying out some of our traditions. However, we have the advantage of technology to move forward in innovative ways. For example, virtual choirs have become popular over the past two years. Your choral and orchestra students can still create holiday music for the local nursing homes, school programs, etc. remotely.

Veterans/Nursing Home Gifts

Students can host a fundraiser to purchase socks and gloves, soft snacks, or other senior-appropriate items to package and drop off at local nursing or veteran homes and facilities.

Community Clean Up

A very convenient opportunity to show gratitude is to assist in cleaning up the school grounds. There are always maintenance tasks that need attending to on campus. Supervised by a staff member, this would be a successful event and much appreciated by all stakeholders.

Faculty Car Wash

Students in high school could select a group of staff and wash the outside of their cars. Think about the feeling of gratitude the custodians, bus drivers, or cafeteria staff would have coming out to a clean car after a long day.

Food Drive

Food drives have always been valuable.  Students and staff bring in non-perishable food items for the less fortunate. Students could also raise money to purchase other items like turkeys, hams, or a gift card to the grocery store.

Whatever you do, always remember to show students that life is about giving back. We come full circle in education: our students take our place eventually. We want them to be their best and remember that they were growing with love.