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Teaching Strategies: The Power of Appreciation

Janelle Cox

If you are looking for a fast way to shift a student’s mood and perspective, then using teaching strategies that demonstrate the power of appreciation is the way to go. Developing gratitude helps students focus on what is going well in their lives and what is working. It trains their brains to focus on the good rather than the bad. It teaches them to notice the little things like a sunny day, a good lunch in the school cafeteria, or a simple smile from a friend. The more they notice these little things, the more they will develop an optimistic and positive attitude towards their life. Here we will take a look at teaching strategies that accentuate the positive and promote gratitude.

Teaching Strategies that Accentuate the Positive

According to research gratitude leads to positivity. When our brains are being positive they are being more productive than when they are being negative or stressed. In addition to that, the hormone dopamine (when being positive) opens up the learning centers of the brain. So, put simply, when students are practicing gratitude and positivity, they are opening up more areas in their brain that will help them learn.

The American Psychological Association (APA) conducted a study that showed that children that grow up grateful have multiple health benefits. They conducted a study with children ages 10-14 that measured the development of gratefulness. Students had to complete a questionnaire, then in four years complete it again.  They found that the students with the most gratitude were more satisfied with their life, became more happy or hopeful, and had a better sense of meaning in their lives. They also experienced a 13 percent drop in depression and negative emotions.

Another study tested elementary students ages 8-11 and taught them weekly half-hour lessons on gratitude. The study found that students showed a significant increase in mood and grateful thinking after the lessons were completed. These findings suggest that children need to practice gratitude in their lives, it will improve their happiness and overall life satisfaction. 

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Teaching Gratitude to Your Students

Gratitude is a trait that can be taught. Research shows that the more that you practice it, the more it will become second nature. Scientists say that repeated behavior changes the neuropathways of the brain, and with repeated practice you can strengthen the happiness part of the brain. Practicing gratitude increases student’s positive emotions and makes them feel more satisfied in school and in life in general. Here are a few suggestions on how to bring gratitude and positively to your classroom.

1. Gratitude Check-In

Start each morning with a gratitude check-in, where students either write in a gratitude journal, tell a neighbor what they are thankful for, or have a classroom discussion. This simple and easy activity has proven to be an effective way to shift students’ minds to being positive while getting the school day off to a great start!

2. Savor the Moment

Teach students to slow down and smell the roses. By savoring the good experiences, students will learn to heighten their positive emotions. You can teach your students this technique by stopping what you are doing and expressing gratitude when good things happen. For example, when a colleague brings you a cup of coffee, then simply stop what you are doing and express thanks in that moment. Or, if you notice that the sun came out, point it out to your students what a lovely day it is and how grateful you are to be able to be in the moment and revel in it. Practice this technique with your students and you will soon find that they will savior every moment.

3. Gratitude Letter

Have students write gratitude letters to someone who has touched their lives in a positive way, influenced them, or has inspired them. Encourage students to hand-deliver their thank you note in person if they are able to. If they cannot, then the shear act of writing it alone will benefit them. Research shows that writing a gratitude letter to someone will increase your well-being and you will feel happier and more satisfied with your life.

4. Expressing Appreciation

Another effective way to faucet appreciation is to show your students appreciation. You can do this by recognizing, and thanking them for something that they have done well. If you noticed a student helping another student out in class, or if a student received a good grade after studying really hard. These are the times that teachers should take the initiative and give them a thankful recognition.

5. Gratitude Jar

As a class, craft a gratitude jar where students can secretly and anonymously write down one thing that they are thankful for each day when they enter the classroom. Then, either at your morning meeting or at the end of the day read the statements out the jar to the class.

Science supports the positive practice of being grateful and practicing gratitude, but many classrooms do not implement these activities. If you want your students to live a positive, happy life then you must implement these activities into your daily schedule.

Do you teach gratitude on your classroom? What activities do you do? Please share your ideas in the comment section below.

Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds a Master's of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com, as well as a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com and TeachHUB Magazine. You can follow her at Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, or on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators.