November is the month we most associate with gratitude. Giving thanks, spending time with families, and giving to others coupled with the natural opportunity to associate with a gratitude practice—it is woven into our personal and professional culture. It’s the time of year we hear the question “What are you thankful for?” more than ever. We ask it, and we share with one another our appreciation for their time, love, actions, and more.

November is the perfect time to integrate an ongoing gratitude practice at your school. Research shows us that a regular gratitude practice correlates with positive emotional function and a reduction in emotional dysfunction, as well as positive relationship building. These are three qualities that can significantly increase overall well-being and happiness for us all and promote an environment where academic success can thrive. Gratitude has far more power to impact our students’ lives than we have ever realized.

Modeling and providing the opportunity to create a gratitude practice is a first step to adding a new tool to your school’s toolkit that supports student happiness and mental health resilience. Here are three ways we use technology to model and build our gratitude practice at Sarah Pyle Academy (SPA):

Happiness Challenge

Students and staff participate in challenges throughout the year to build their gratitude practice. Using a Google Slide template for 10, 20, or more days, students and staff identify one thing they are grateful for, an act of kindness they participated in, and something they are looking forward to in the next 24 hours. I post my own challenge on my principal site (modeling the practice is critical to success), and students share their completed journals with their advisor or the teacher they feel most connected to and receive an incentive.

Gratitude Journals

There are many apps and websites which students can use for a digital gratitude journal. At SPA, we developed a Google form and embedded a link in our schoolwide calendar (accessible to students, parents, and staff). The link connects to a short Google form that asks specific reflection questions involving gratitude and aligned specifically to our school. The questions change based on the time of the year, community input, and events and activities (homecoming, standardized tests, etc.). They also are responsive to any schoolwide issues or concerns we may be dealing with at the time. We find this practice is an awesome opportunity for us to focus on what is “right in our SPA world” and develop that positive perspective that is often hard to do when life gets difficult.

#ThrowShine Campaign

Photo by Kristina MacBury

This year, Laura Malmstrom, our school counselor, brought the “Throw Shine, Not Shade” initiative back from the American School Counselors Association conference. Through the initiative, we publicly shout out each other for our impact in making our community better. Right now, we use a public bulletin board, but we are developing a game on FlipGrid, a free social learning platform that allows members of your school community to respond to prompts or create videos. We are aspiring to have a #ThrowShine FlipGrid mixtape.

Supporting our students’ mental health and overall well-being is a need that has intensified. The more we know, the more we recognize the imperative in providing the resources, training and opportunities in being responsive to the emotional, social, and mental health of our entire school community as the best way to build the most successful, healthy, and happy academic program.

How can we integrate a gratitude practice into our district, school, and classrooms to achieve the positive impacts, and where can technology be used to maximize the access and integrity of our efforts?

Kristina MacBury is principal at Sarah Pyle Academy in Wilmington, DE. She is an author, speaker, leadership coach, and advocate for school happiness agency. She is a 2018 NASSP Digital Principal of the Year and in 2017 was named a Top 30 Technologist, Transformer, and Trailblazer by the Center for Digital Education. Follow her on Twitter at @MacBuryKristina and visit her blog at

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