The Three R’s – and G: The place for Gratitude in Early Education

November 25, 2013

By Janet Max

How would the educational experience be transformed—and transforming—if gratitude was part of the curriculum for students, and for training of teachers and administrators?  Lea Waters is dedicated to providing the answers, as well as the resources, via her research on gratitude.

Lea Waters is the director of the Centre for Positive Psychology in the School of Education at the University of Melbourne, and she recently visited the Center for Positive Organizations to share her research into the importance of gratitude to well-being, and how best to engender a culture of gratitude in schools.  She presented her research to University of Michigan faculty members and doctoral students in a POS Research Incubator session, and gave presentations on early education curricula featuring gratitude to students in the Center for Positive Organizations +Lab.

During her POS Research Incubator session, Professor Waters shared her goal to theorize and explain how gratitude gets institutionalized in work groups and organizations. She noted, “I’m a pragmatist—I see myself as a science practitioner. What I really want to do is write this paper so I can work with organizations and say, ‘These are the underlying mechanisms you want to try to promote in people and here are some interventions that you can use’ . . . I want to bring this back to schools . . . to convince them of the need for gratitude.”

She noted that while there is a fair amount of empirical research demonstrating the importance of expressing gratitude to feelings of personal well-being, there is very little research on the importance of gratitude in organizations, or on the relational benefits of gratitude.  Meanwhile, study after study shows that workers feel undervalued and overworked.  She coined the term “Gratitude Deficit Disorder” to describe the experience in many organizations, where gratitude is the “missing ingredient.”

Professor Waters is passionate about bringing a gratitude component to curricula for young students, but she recognizes the importance of preparing teachers and administrators to be effective in teaching it.  In one simple but powerful example, she shared a picture of a gratitude board that one principal initiated on her own, after participating in a study that included gratitude interventions.  The principal did not announce her plans, or explain the board, she simply labeled it and put up one note of gratitude herself, on an existing board in the staff lounge.   Day by day, other staff members added notes of gratitude, and over time, the atmosphere of the lounge changed from one where conversations frequently featured complaints to an overall more positive tone.

Lea Waters’s  full presentation.

Lea Waters’s website

Centre for Positive Psychology 

Positive Education page at Ivanhoe Grammar School, where Professor Waters’s work has been used