Gratitude Makes Us Feel Good

universal thank you note


When I was a new teacher, I needed a lot of support. I didn’t have much to offer in return. It felt terrible to be constantly in need. Then I discovered the power of gratitude.

Thank goodness my school climate has improved dramatically, but when I began teaching in 2003, it was a hard place to work. Morale was low, the principal seemed to play favorites, and the students’ behavior was unimaginably disrespectful. As a result, adults felt stressed-out and under-appreciated.

I think most people love being acknowledged, but in this type of environment, small gestures of appreciation had disproportionately positive impacts.

To counterbalance my own feelings of inadequacy as a teacher, I began writing notes every time a teacher or another adult on campus helped me, even in small ways.

An Example

Once, one of my colleagues noticed that I was issued a class set of the 8th grade textbook, even though I was teaching 7th grade English. The cover didn’t say the grade level, it just said “Silver Level.” If I had received the teacher’s edition, or if I had examined the inside pages, I may have realized that I had the wrong edition. But, at the rate I was going, it could have been weeks before I figured this out.  She called the book room for me and helped me get the correct set of books.

I wrote this teacher a warm note thanking her for helping me, acknowledging that it was probably a small thing for her, but that it had a large, positive impact on me, etc. The note was effusive and sincere. And, it made me feel good. I had given back.

I thought that would be the end of the interaction, but the teacher came into my classroom a day or so later to thank me for my note. Then, she said the textbook could be intimidating for a new teacher and offered to help me select a few good stories that her students had enjoyed. Wow, was I happy! It hadn’t occurred to me to ask for some story selection tips. Better yet, I might have made a friend.

As I began writing more notes, I noticed a similar pattern. Not all teachers and staffers offered additional help, but most thanked me for acknowledging them. Who is ever thanked for a thank you note? I looked for more opportunities to acknowledge people. Some notes of gratitude were for much smaller gestures. Sometimes it was just thanking someone for what amounted to doing their job.

I began to realize that expressing gratitude created a positive upward spiral, especially in an environment in which acknowledgement was rare. In other words, the bar was so low, that even small acts of gratitude had an unusually large positive impact and made everyone feel a bit better. As a teacher who was struggling at the time, I felt like I had something positive to offer.  Giving back made me feel good, too.

What You Can Do

  • Keep it Simple – You don’t need to spend much time or money. I use bright construction paper, which I fold in half and punch with a fancy design (I had a star and a swirl).
  • Make it Visible – Small items placed in teacher mailboxes can be easily lost, so I slip them into teachers’ time card sleeves. If you’re like me, you’ll smile if you happen to see a colleague reading the note at the end of the day.
  • Be Intentional – It doesn’t hurt to run down your roster of colleagues and think about who has helped you. Try to challenge yourself to write a few a week, or even one a day.

Today, I am a much better teacher than I used to be, and I am much happier at school. But I continue keep an eye out for opportunities to thank someone for something. Note writing has become part of my practice, and I hope it becomes part of yours, as well. Feel free to drop me a note in the comment section below.

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