Can we teach gratitude online?


I used to find it impossible to imagine how you could teach gratitude in an online environment. Of course, if we are to consider the teaching of gratitude as just a list of strategies and definitions, or something that can be packaged up as content, then to transfer this to an online environment is easy. But my approach advocates that the person who is teaching gratitude does so, not only through the subject matter or words, but also through their own ‘inner attitude’ of gratitude that they transmit to their students. A teacher’s own conscious practise of gratitude – particularly before the teaching takes place – can have an enormous impact through their very presence in the classroom. You might be able to call to mind such a teacher.

I was very excited about the opportunity to develop a postgraduate unit, ESM704 Gratitude in Education at my university – the University of Tasmania. This was launched in Spring School last year and taken up by students in the Masters of Education and Masters of Teaching courses, as well as by teachers outside the university who did this as a discrete unit for their own professional development.

The only mode I was permitted to deliver it in was an online platform. I realised that I needed to make up for my lack of ability to transmit my gratitude to my students through my physical presence. I needed to be even more vigilant about my inner attitude of gratitude as I prepared the content, gave my lectures and joined the discussion boards with my students. This included addressing my resentment for being forced to teach online in a way that seemed counter-intuitive to my natural way of teaching.

I saw the efforts I made reciprocated by my students in ways that I had never imagined. So many commented on how much they appreciated the passion behind my lectures and engagement with them in the discussions. I was able to see that genuine and authentic acknowledgment to my students in words of thanks for what I was gaining from them and learning from them became more concrete in their written form. It was perhaps this palpable ebb and flow of gratitude towards each other, that led to our weekly discussions and the assignments demonstrating a much deeper engagement with gratitude than I had experienced in the face-to-face environment. I now have a record of their thoughts on gratitude that I will treasure forever. A few weeks ago I received a letter of commendation from the Pro-Vice Chancellor for the high scores of evaluation given to the unit by these students.

So yes, we can teach gratitude online and our inner attitude of gratitude can be felt by our students even if we are not physically present.

I am very much looking forward to the next offering of the unit, starting at the end of October this year and hope to be joined by teachers from around the globe,



Dr Kerry Howells is an author, award-winning educator and experienced researcher.

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