From helping students manage stress and maintain happiness, to building socio-emotional competencies that will enable them to form strong, positive relationships with others, the benefits of gratitude are well documented in literature. The challenge is fostering it as a habit from young. How can one instill an appreciative mind-set in students and build a school culture of gratitude?
Teaching students to say “Thank you” is important, but gratitude is more than just being polite and having good manners. “What we want is for it to become a way of life for students,” says Concord Primary School Head of Department for Character & Citizenship Education (HOD CCE), Ms Jeannett Lay.
Concord Primary School was one of 2 primary and 4 secondary schools to embark on a pilot project with the Ministry of Education (MOE) Student Development Curriculum Division (SDCD) in 2015 to implement Gratitude practices and study their effects on students.
Jeannett describes the project as “part of school efforts to promote the well-being of students through the cultivation of values”. (See box story below on the benefits of gratitude.)
Leveraging on one of its signature programmes, Precious Moments, that seeks to develop students morally, socially and emotionally, a core team of teachers and SDCD Officers sought to create a positive school climate that would allow students to take charge through empowerment and flourish with gratitude.
Getting Teachers on Board
To make this happen, a whole-school approach was needed, starting with the teachers.
“The core team believes that winning the hearts and changing the minds of teachers is central to this approach,” shares Jeannett.
With the firm belief that teachers should be key drivers of the project, the school adopted the 4As approach – Awareness, Application, Advocacy and Affirmation – to cultivate gratitude in staff and equip them with the essential skills to guide students in gratitude practices (see box story below about the 4As). SDCD Officers worked with the school to conduct workshops for teachers to learn how to incorporate gratitude practices creatively into their teaching and, more importantly, become positive role models that students could emulate.
“Role-modelling is important,” says Jeannett. “We also believe that on the ground, it would be good to have a team of skilled personnel to champion gratitude practices. Hopefully, this will eventually decrease reliance on input and direction from the planning team to sustain efforts.”
During the workshops, teachers experienced gratitude first-hand through gratitude activities and reflected on their personal experiences. To integrate efforts and instill common ownership, various departments were also engaged in the design, implementation and refinement of lesson plans and activities. For instance, the core team collaborated with the Art Unit to have students design gratitude postcards. From these experiences, teacher champions who nurture gratitude as an essential value were formed.
“As there needs to be resonance between what teachers believe in and what they are trying to implement in school, a lot of effort was dedicated to helping teachers see the project as something worthwhile,” explains MOE Senior Specialist (Guidance), Ms Yap Bao Ping.
To further reinforce the importance and relevance of gratitude as a value, gratitude initiatives were not positioned as something new, but aligned with the Character and Citizenship Education curriculum and existing school programmes.
More Thankful, Reflective and Expressive Students
With the introduction of gratitude into the school curriculum and commitment of teachers to nurture the value in students, Concordians have grown in their understanding and expression of gratitude, says Jeannett. Teachers also observe that students are more appreciative and thus happier.
“Students enjoy activities like posting on the gratitude wall in their classrooms, creating gratitude jars which contain gratitude notes, designing gratitude postcards and writing in their gratitude journal,” she says.
These activities were conducted across diverse platforms including assembly programmes at the school level, the Form Teacher Guidance Period and CCE Mother Tongue lessons at the class level as well as during Knowing Me Understanding Me (KMUM) one-to one teacher-student session at the individual level.
Findings from the pre- and post-surveys administered before and after the project also reveal significant differences in their students. More students now reflect on things, people and events they are grateful for, and express their gratitude more often and in varied ways.
“Teachers said that gratitude has become second nature to students,” shares Bao Ping. “When the gratitude journal was introduced in April 2016, some students were so excited they even backdated their entries all the way to January!”
To the team, such an enthusiastic response is evidence that students have started to internalize their learning and form a habit of expressing gratitude.
“Students enjoy activities like posting on the gratitude wall in their classrooms, creating gratitude jars which contain gratitude notes, designing gratitude postcards and writing in their gratitude journal.”
– Jeannett Lay, Concord Primary School
Extending Gratitude Beyond the School Environment
Moving forward, the school hopes to continue working towards the internalization of gratitude in Concordians.
“On the school front, we hope to focus on perspective-taking, where Concordians learn to view things with an appreciative lens,” says Jeannett.
The school also intends to extend gratitude practices to the whole environment by engaging parents. This is so that Concordians see gratitude as a way of life – something to be consistently practised – and not just an additional curriculum subject.
It has started doing so by getting parents involved in gratitude activities. During a recent parent-teacher conference, students wrote gratitude notes to their parents, and parents were encouraged to participate as well by writing gratitude notes to the teachers with their children. Resources on how to practise gratitude are also made available to parents through the school’s website.
“We want to strengthen our relationship with parents so that in time to come, there will be parent-champions whom we can tap on [as advocates],” explains Jeannett.
Just as the project has convinced teachers of the importance of nurturing gratitude, with the platforms to learn about and express gratitude, parents too can become role models who intentionally nurture gratitude in their children.