Teach Forward: Gratitude in Education – Plenty to be Thankful For!

November 22, 2021
Text Gratitude typed on retro typewriter

*Contributed by Christine Andresen MLS, MSIT, Research & Education Informationist, MUSC Libraries

Teaching can sometimes feel like a truly thankless job, and as we move towards the end of the semester and the holiday season approaches, I find myself reflecting on the meaning and role of gratitude in education. Gratitude has been consistently associated with greater happiness in positive psychology research, and over the past decade a growing body of research has found evidence of how building a culture of gratitude in the classroom has benefits for teachers’ enhanced well-being and calm amidst stress, as well as enhancing students’ academic motivation and resilience in learning.

As we teach the importance of evidence-based practice in the health sciences professions, it is equally important for us as educators to continue to evolve our own teaching philosophies and instructional strategies as new research evidence becomes available.

With that in mind, here are a few ways to foster a culture of gratitude in the classroom that do not require you to overhaul your course design or revise your curriculum.

Model Gratitude

  • We are the givers of the gift of education. If we shift our thinking and embrace this perception as reality, our students are more likely to recognize that what they are receiving from us actually is a gift rather than a right or an expectation.
    • Spend the first few moments of class demonstrating empathy and compassion by sharing how grateful you are for the students choosing to be present and how much you appreciate their hard work during these unprecedented COVID-19 times.
    • Share gratitude in student feedback by including something quick and specific that honors the time and effort the student spent completing an assignment.
    • Implement a “Student Shout Outs” discussion forum to recognize and express appreciation for something meaningful you observe during class and also encourage your students to post to the forum to acknowledge their fellow classmates with a kudos and give thanks.

Gratitude Journaling

  • Add a discussion forum to your course to have students document five things they are grateful for each week (~15min per week).
    • The basic premise of a gratitude journal is to spend a few moments each week writing down one or more things you are thankful for. The things on the list can be small in importance (“the tasty breakfast sandwich I had this morning”) or relatively large (“my sister gave birth to a healthy baby girl”).
    • The goal of the gratitude journal exercise is to recall a good experience, person, or thing in your life – and enjoy the good emotions that come from remembering it.

Gratitude Box

  • Add an anonymous discussion forum and have students write down one thing they are grateful for each week as pre-work to be completed prior to coming to class. Read a handful of posts out loud at the end of class as a reminder of all the things people can feel grateful for (~10min per week).

Some days it can be a struggle to be thankful for the opportunity to teach and to feel privileged to be able to share in the learning experience with our students, but the practice of gratitude serves as a reminder to shift our attention towards something positive in our lives rather than dwell on something bad and helps us overcome those struggles.

Interested in learning more about the role of gratitude in education? Or ready to implement gratitude practices in your course? A list of suggested articles for more information is available here, and your librarians are available to assist with a more focused literature search that meets your individual needs.