Gratitude Works Program

The Gratitude Works Program is part of the NASP's effort to promote students’ resilience, optimism, and academic success by helping them see the possibilities in themselves and others. The program is being rolled out in schools across the country during National School Psychology Awareness Week. Helping our students and school focus on strengthening positive relationships and increasing positive experiences is beneficial to both students' well-being and increasing positive school climate. Positive experiences with peers and adults contribute to a child’s resilience and ability to withstand personal challenges.

Gratitude at Work

School psychologists are ideally positioned to lead school efforts to promote gratitude. The Gratitude Works program is simple, flexible, and adaptable to all ages and school environments. Specifically, we are asking school psychologists across the country to help coordinate a Gratitude Works outreach effort where students will identify someone to whom they are grateful and thank them face-to-face. School psychologists are encouraged to work with staff to organize a small group of students, a classroom, a grade level, or even whole schools to write letters of gratitude to individuals who have made a difference in the students’ lives or in the lives of others. School psychologists may also choose to implement one of the additional activities suggested below. In some cases, school psychologists will be involved in direct implementation while others’ roles will be to organize and promote. These ideas may be new to many administrators and teachers, so school psychologists should provide a rationale, including potential advantages, for their benefit. Use the one-page fact sheet provided on the NASP website.

Gratitude and Positive Psychology

Positive psychology has been defined as the “scientific study of ordinary human strengths and virtues” (Sheldon & King, 2001, p. 216). Gratitude is conceptualized as a virtue or as an emotional state that involves an interpersonal connection between both the benefactor and beneficiary (Miller, 2009; Emmons, 2007). Genuine gratitude occurs when the beneficiary sees value in the benefit bestowed, perceives a cost associated with bestowing the benefit, and personally values the benefit they have received (Froh, Miller, & Snyder, 2007; Wood, Stewart, Linely, & Joseph, 2008). Research suggests that gratitude likely emerges in children between the ages of 7 and 10 (Emmons & Shelton, 2002). There is no current research indicating that efforts to make children below age 7 more grateful will be successful. However, young children do learn from modeling and practicing behaviors, so the Gratitude Works activities can contribute to a foundation for the later development of gratitude.

Suggested Activities

Gratitude Letters: School psychologists and teachers work together to provide students the opportunity to write letters of gratitude to people who have helped them achieve a possibility, been kind to them, or have done something to make a difference in their worlds. Recipients could be family members, school staff, coaches or activity leaders, friends, etc. These expressions of gratitude can take the form of a personal letter, an e-mail, an e-postcard, a note left in a locker or on a desk, a text message, an IM, etc. The format should suit the student and the recipient. If desired, students could even write a poem, make a card, or draw a picture. While students may choose to thank someone they know personally, this need not be required. For example, writing letters to our men and women in military service is an excellent way to teach gratitude to someone they haven’t met but who is making a sacrifice for them. Use the downloadable letterhead, card, and/or e-card on the NASP website.

Gratitude Club: School psychologists could work directly with a small group of students who may need help focusing on the positive aspects of their lives. This group format could benefit any student in the school, not only those traditionally served by school psychologists, and is a good way for school psychologists to gain visibility among the broader school environment. Parent permission should be secured before implementation. The club itself could take many directions, including verbal and written expressions of gratitude, learning how to write a thank you note, and recognizing positive behaviors in fellow students and in staff.

Gratitude Journals: In this activity, students and teachers write daily in a gratitude journal at a designated time. The task could be to write 3–5 sentences about people, pets, activities, etc. for which they are grateful. For students requiring more structure, teachers or school psychologists could prompt them to write one sentence (or more) about each category or could even provide sentence starters. Younger children can draw pictures in their gratitude journals. Older children should express why they are grateful for the things they listed.

Daily Gratitude: Teachers and students can start and end the school day by sharing statements of gratitude with one another. Teachers could create a rotation of students to serve as gratitude reporters and make one daily gratitude statement at each session. Teachers might choose to limit the students to thanking one another so that in addition to sharing gratitude, students can have the chance to be appreciated by peers.

Gratitude Assembly: During School Psychology Awareness Week, school psychologists can hold a classroom or school assembly where teachers, administrators, support staff, volunteers, paraprofessionals, and community connections are given public appreciation. In this activity, the adults are the recipients and the students benefit by hearing adults make gratitude statements to one another.

General Implementation Guidelines

    1. Organize materials and ideas for School Psychology Awareness Week.
    2. Discuss the benefits and the activities with the school principal. Obtain permission for implementation. Use the one-page overview and research information as necessary.
    3. Determine the scope of the project. That is, which classrooms/students will participate? How long will it last? Who do you need to recruit to help? You may consider extending this program beyond School Psychology Awareness Week to become a more ingrained part of the school culture. Refer to the “Gratitude Activities” fact sheet on the website for additional suggestions for doing so.
    4. Provide written materials for teachers that explain the process and rationale. Use the “Teacher Instructions” fact sheet on the NASP website!
    5. If appropriate, link the Gratitude Works concepts to existing wellness promotion programs in your school, such as PBIS and positive school climate initiatives, to help align the program with current school priorities.
    6. Consider sending letters to parents describing the Gratitude Works program. A sample is available on the NASP website. Include “Supporting Gratitude in Your Child: Tips for Parents.”
    7. If the principal and district approve, contact the local media and describe the School Psychology Awareness Week efforts in your school. Invite them to visit. If they do, follow all the procedures that your district uses in working with the media. The media will most likely want to interview staff and students, so have a plan for this.
    8. Determine how you will know if the project is a success. During School Psychology Awareness Week, you may have data on the number of classrooms participating, the number of students participating, and feedback from colleagues and students. If you expand your efforts beyond School Psychology Awareness Week, consider collecting school-wide behavioral data (such as office referrals) or other relevant data prior to implementation. Then compare the data to postimplementation. You could also survey students, staff, and parents about their perceptions of the activities.
    9. Implement the activities. Have fun!
    10. Be positive and show gratitude to all who helped with the implementation.
    11. Give a final report (written or verbal) to your principal (and any others who may be interested) about the program and its effectiveness.
    12. Be sure to let NASP know what you are doing by filling out a brief Gratitude Works outcomes form on the NASP website.

School Psychology Awareness Week and Thanksgiving are only a few weeks apart; the topic works well for the month of November!

References

Emmons, R. A. (2007). Thanks! How the new science of gratitude can make you happier. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Emmons, R. A., & Shelton, C. M. (2002). Gratitude and the science of positive psychology. In C. R. Synder & S. J. Lopez (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology (pp. 459–471). New York: Oxford University Press.

Froh, J. J., Emmons, R. A., Card, N. A., Bono, G., & Wilson, J. (2009). Materialism can make adolescents psychologically poor: But can gratitude make them psychologically rich? Manuscript submitted for publication.

Froh, J. J., Miller, D. N., & Snyder, S. (2007). Gratitude in children and adolescents: Development, assessment, and school-based intervention. School Psychology Forum, 2, 1–13.

Froh, J. J., Sefick, W. J., & Emmons, R. A. (2008). Counting blessings in early adolescents: An experimental study of gratitude and subjective well-being. Journal of School Psychology, 46(2), 213–233.

Miller, D. N. (2009). Fostering gratitude. Principal Leadership, 9(6), 12–15.

Sheldon, K. M., & King, L. (2001). Why positive psychology is necessary. American Psychologist, 56, 216–217.

Wood, A. M., Maltby, J., Stewart, N., Linley, P. A., & Joseph, S. (2008). A social-cognitive model of trait and state levels of gratitude. Emotion, 8, 281–290.

Gratitude Works-THRIVE! Wristbands

Use these wristbands together with these suggested activities to create an adaptable program to teach your students and school community about the importance of gratitude.