Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)

Teaching and Modeling Gratitude in Elementary School

Lessons in gratitude help students develop social awareness, a key component of social and emotional learning.

May 12, 2022
FatCamera / iStock

As a teacher, I aim to live life like a role model, and I teach students to do the same. I model kindness and gratitude in what I say and do.

The remarkable gift of gratitude makes a deep impact on our well-being, as it alters our perspective and leads us to live a life full of abundance and joy. Gratitude is a way of being for me. It is a part of how I think, feel, see, and experience the world.

Every interaction with students is an opportunity to intentionally uplift them through our kindness, gratitude, and empathy. By making their day a brighter one, we can make a positive impact in their lives and a warm imprint on their hearts.

It’s important to share with our students how they can live a life of gratitude. These lessons can have an even greater impact during hard times when things seem bleak.

4 Ways to Model and Teach About Gratitude

1. Encourage gratitude to peers. Every morning, students begin their day with a soft start to ease into our space by doing choice activities such as building, making things, reading, drawing, or playing games together. Before they put things away, they are always encouraged to thank classmates they spent time with. This builds a sense of gratitude for quality time spent and sends them into their day feeling appreciative and appreciated.

Similarly, anytime students work with a partner or in small groups, they are reminded to thank their partners.The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) framework asserts that this helps to develop students’ social awareness in “understanding and expressing gratitude.” What a gift it is to learn and be together!

2. Explicitly demonstrate and model gratitude during Community Circle. After our soft start, we always meet in our Community Circle. By making a small shift in the language, you can incorporate gratitude. For example, on Mondays, instead of asking students to share a highlight from their weekend, I ask them to share something they are grateful for from the weekend.

Also, each week, we practice sharing gratitude on Thankful Thursdays. Here, we choose a different focus each time. Some examples are: what are we thankful for in ourselves, family, friends, nature, water, or how we feel in our class.

Community Circle time gives me a phenomenal opportunity to regularly share my appreciation for how much I love being their teacher, how thankful I am for who they are, and how grateful I am for the fun and joy we have together each day. Every day, we experience heartwarming, reciprocal feelings of being seen, heard, valued, and appreciated. What a gift it is to be their teacher!

3. Express gratitude for leadership qualities as classroom management. In my first years of teaching, I used to call the names of students who were yet to follow expectations, which made it a negative interaction. Later in my career, I would say, “I like the way [insert name] is sitting quietly,” in order to encourage compliance from others who were not yet ready. But when I learned that students are not there to please me, I changed my words to explicitly and specifically thank students for things like their gift of attention, for being ready to learn, and for working diligently toward their best.

I discovered that one of the most effective means for classroom management was to notice, name, and nurture the positive behaviors I wanted to see by expressing gratitude. So I now thank students for being leaders. I say, “Thank you for being a leader by doing the right thing (or for being a role model).” It’s a simple change in my choice of words in the form of gratitude. I give positive attention to those who are responsible and respectful. The others quickly notice and fall in line.

I truly believe all students have leadership qualities. If you search for a list of leadership skills, children already have many of these. It’s up to us to showcase, cultivate, and appreciate them. I wrote a blog post called “The Gift of Leadership” about the five aspects of developing these skills in the classroom. We need to see their potential first, believe in them, nurture their potential, explicitly teach leadership skills, and provide opportunities for them to showcase these skills.

Students love being called leaders. In fact, when they notice others demonstrating leadership skills, they now will say to each other, “Thank you for being a leader!” It brightens the room and brings a smile to faces every time. What a gift our contribution is to improve classroom culture!

4. Share gratitude in feedback. My routine for feedback regularly begins with an expression of gratitude. I love to recognize students for their effort and dedication to their learning and growth. Whether it is feedback on their writing, a math assignment, or an assessment, anytime I provide written or verbal feedback, it includes a statement of gratitude.

This appreciation goes a long way in nurturing their well-being and hard work ethic for future learning. What a gift it is to have students who love to work hard!

Generously Give the Gift of Gratitude

The gift of gratitude is as much for others as it is for you. Think about how warm your heart feels to express and receive appreciation. These positive feelings help to provide an optimal culture for learning, growth, and well-being that brings joy and appreciation to everyone in your classroom community.

Gratitude is meant to be shared, so express it and give it freely and generously. The more grateful you are for the many gifts you discover, the more plentiful and joy filled your life will be.

Share This Story

  • email icon

Filed Under

  • Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)
  • Classroom Management
  • K-2 Primary
  • 3-5 Upper Elementary

Follow Edutopia

  • facebook icon
  • twitter icon
  • instagram icon
  • youtube icon
  • Privacy Policy
  • Terms of Use
George Lucas Educational Foundation
Edutopia is an initiative of the George Lucas Educational Foundation.
Edutopia®, the EDU Logo™ and Lucas Education Research Logo® are trademarks or registered trademarks of the George Lucas Educational Foundation in the U.S. and other countries.