Today we have an exciting guest post from Michael Fauteux, Director of Innovation at Leadership Public Schools and developer of the GiveThx app! Michael is presenting a workshop on gratitude science at Creating a Culture of Belonging – we hope to see you there!

Any educator or parent figures it out quickly: catching a child doing something good and recognizing them for it is a powerful way to reinforce prosocial behavior. The secret to making this most effective, I came to realize, involves two simple words: thank you.

Thanking someone is a natural way to recognize a person. Go deeper and look at the science, however, and it becomes clear why saying those two words can revolutionize class and school culture.

Gratitude Science

A robust body of research shows the benefits of gratitude practice. Authorities in the field like the Greater Good Science Center of UC Berkeley provide both research and thoughtful resources for gratitude practice. For the sake of this post, I will focus on four: relationships, reinforcement, resilience, and relevance. 

Relationships – Saying thank you to someone signals to them that you value them. It also communicates that you, or a group you belong to, derived a benefit from their action. Research shows that this type of recognition and value signaling helps produce new positive social connections and deepen existing ones. Put simply, science says saying thank you makes people want to be your friend!

Reinforcement – Being thanked for something specific and understanding the impact it had on someone makes you want to keep doing the behavior. Gratitude is a superfood of the character and socio-emotional learning world because of how it supports other skill development like empathy, self-awareness, and social awareness. Research shows that over time this builds critical self-esteem and belonging.

Resilience – Like growth mindset, gratitude practice can rewire a person’s brain for the better. Neuroscience shows how practitioners train themselves to see what is going well, even in moments of adversity, increasing resilience. Increased levels of dopamine production also make people happier. 

Relevance – Perhaps the most important aspect of gratitude for schools is how it can be a student-centered practice. Sharing stewardship for culture and climate with students increases their agency, engagement, and social-emotional learning. While students care when adults thank them, being thanked by peers is a deeply impactful way to build belonging.

Revolutionizing School Culture 

Imagine adopting gratitude as a core class or school positive recognition practice. Consider how it could be integrated into classes, advisories, and staff meetings as the default way to appreciate others in opening/closing routines, process checks, reflections, etc. Consider what student-led conferences could look like where they shared not only on their academic growth but also their socio-emotional progress by drawing on thank you notes as evidence. How might this be done sustainably and effectively?

Leadership Public Schools in Oakland, California offers an answer. Leveraging gratitude science, we built GiveThx, a digital tool and curriculum to facilitate sustainable and effective gratitude practice in schools for all students and staff. The digital tool (www.givethx.org) creates safe and equitable access to expressing thanks (it removes the social pressure from public expression) while the practices (https://bit.ly/GTPractices) support easy integration into the school day. Imagine what you could learn and how you would grow if you collected every thank you note you ever received in one place!

You can learn about gratitude science and far more this coming February 6th and 7th at Lausanne Learning’s Creating a Culture of Belonging conference in Dallas, Texas. 

Join me at my session on Thursday, February 6th called “Building Relationships and Belonging with Gratitude Science” to go deeper exploring research, practices, and tools that create inclusive learning communities with gratitude. I’m excited to share how student-centered, strengths-based gratitude practice can revolutionize relationships and culture in classrooms and schools. I hope you’ll join me.