Partner School Stories

Be thankful. Find gratitude.

By Joe McDonough

Sometimes the best thing we can do in schools to make things better is to focus on topics that might not even seem to connect directly to our work.  Sometimes the things we need don’t really have anything to do with what our jobs are, but are more about how we feel about our jobs.  And, really, just how we are feeling.

Right now it is more difficult than ever to feel good about our work as educators.  COVID has changed almost every aspect of our day and persistently leaves a cloud of uncertainty hanging over our schools and our homes.  So what can we do?

Be thankful.  Find gratitude.

Why gratitude?  In short, focusing on what we can be grateful for is shown to have positive outcomes in life—it’s research-based.  For a primer on gratitude and its impact on our work as educators, read this brief P2 blog post from a couple of years ago.  Based on positive psychology—the foundation for much of The Positivity Project—gratitude is a way of seeing the world that can be developed through specific interventions or practices.  Gratitude interventions have been clinically demonstrated to increase levels of happiness in study participants, with some results lasting even months down the road once the intervention has stopped.

An effective gratitude practice that we recently implemented at our school was sharing gratitude notes with one another.  It was simple and only took people a few minutes to write a note explaining why they were grateful that a chosen colleague was part of our school.  This is essentially a pared-down version of a full-fledged gratitude letter, which has been used as a gratitude intervention and has been shown to increase levels of contentedness and decrease depressive states.  It was a perfect fit for a busy school day—and had the added benefit of making things a little brighter for both the writer and the recipient of the note.  

As we focus on gratitude for the next two weeks of our P2 calendar, please consider using gratitude notes (click here to download) in your school.  Even now, there is much to be thankful for.

Joe McDonough
Principal, J.M. McKenney Middle School

Joe McDonough is the principal of J.M. McKenney Middle School in Canton, NY. He has researched and written about the implications of teachers’ experiences of gratitude for school leadership.  He is currently interested in the role perception plays in defining teachers’ experiences within their schools and how these differing experiences may affect school climate and culture.