Cultivating Kindness...School-wide!

Would you like to set off a giant wave of kindness that envelops your school? 

Would you like to spread goodwill and gratitude throughout your school community?

Would you like to make teachers, custodians, principals, bus drivers, and cafeteria aides cry?

Tears of joy, people! Tears of joy. 

Yes? Definitely? Let's talk, friends.

A few years ago, a cool guest author came to my school to talk about the research he did prior to writing a book about mountain lions. The kids were engaged, but the icing on the cake was that he left some parting gifts in the way of pens, magnets, and yo-yos. (The yo-yo satisfaction rate is real, friends.) The kids loved their swag, and a few days later, I encouraged them to write thank-you notes to the speaker.

What I discovered was that the kids' thank you writing skills came to a screeching halt after the words...well..."thank you." 

Clearly, we had some work to do. 

We started by discussing thank you notes in general. Who are the people in our lives deserving of our gratitude? (We went beyond the "birthday gift.") And what are our specific reasons for writing them a note? (Note: Find this and more in a free printable download here.)

We came up with the following considerations:
  • Who has helped me with something?
  • Who has made me feel special?
  • Who has brightened my day?
  • Who has made things interesting?
  • Who has boosted my confidence?
  • Who has challenged me?
  • Who has gotten me interested in a subject or topic?
Do you want to cultivate happiness throughout your school community? Begin a gratitude project of your own, by reading about everything you need to get started. It includes a link to a free download.

The Note

Our next step is the note itself. I asked the kids if there is anything we could do to make the note special at first glance. They decided that the cookie-cutter look of a store bought thank you wouldn't be as special as a handmade one and also that a hand-written note would show more thought than a typed note.

We then determined that the best way to express that gratitude would be to include very specific information about the reason behind our feelings of gratitude and how the kindness will affect us going forward. This became our very flexible formatting

Date and Greeting

In the upper right, write the date. Below the date, on the left, include a formal, respectful greeting.

Say Thank You and Elaborate

Begin by telling the person exactly what you are thankful for. Customize the note by using specific details and elaboration.

Bland: Thank you for coming to my school.

Delicious: Thank you for inspiring us to be curious about the animals on our planet. We are excited to do our own research and write feature articles for a class magazine. Some of the kids in our class are also going to try to take some original animal photos. We've also had fun writing with the mountain lion pens and playing with the yo-yos! 

Talk About the Past and the Future

Write about what you thought when you first met the person, and write about how they will influence you in the future.

Bland: I'm going to use the pens.

Delicious: When the teacher said you were coming to visit, I didn't think much of it because we don't have mountain lions around here. But I enjoyed your stories about how you watched one care for her cubs and another leap 10 feet up a tree. It makes me wonder about other wild animals that live in North America. I don't usually like to write, but thanks to you, I think I'm going to enjoy our feature article writing unit.

Thank Them Again and Sign Off

The entire point of the note is to say "thank you," so say it again. Then use a gracious closing and sign your name.

-Sincerely,     -My deepest thanks,     -Yours truly,     -Fondly,

The Result

When the author received the notes, he sent me an email gushing about them. He had received them on the day that his publisher gave him some massive rewrites to do on his newest book, so it had not been a great day. Until he got the thank you notes, that is. When I read the kids his email, they were thrilled. 

Our big take-away: 
Do you want to cultivate happiness throughout your school community? Begin a gratitude project of your own, by reading about everything you need to get started. It includes a link to a free download.

The entire thank-you movement took on a life of its own. The kids went "gratitude crazy," writing notes to others in our school community. They wrote to the people who do little things that make their days a little brighter, or a little easier, or a little safer. The most wonderful part was that the kids were expressing their gratitude to people who don't often feel appreciated, or even noticed

I was so proud. They seemed to have a knack for recognizing the kind people who are easy to overlook, but who deserve so much more. Because of that, the notes were a huge hit.

The original thank you writers have moved on to college by now, but the spirit of their gratitude lives on. Ever since those first notes were written, my kids write notes of gratitude to members of the school community every year. It has brought such a warm, fuzzy feeling to our school. 

Here's a confession. Every once in a while, I look around. 

Ok. I snoop. 

To my delight, I can still find more than a few of those original notes, hanging up on a bulletin board, or a desk, or even a dashboard. 

Kindness invites kindness. And we can never invite too much kindness. 

If you would like to start a gratitude project of your own, you can download this freebie, which includes everything you need to get started.
Would you like to spread goodwill and gratitude throughout your school community? The Gratitude Project is perfect for Teacher Appreciation Week or as an end of the year project. Fun, easy, and rewarding, it's all explained in this blogpost. I can't wait to start our Gratitude Project!


  1. I have also had the "what comes after 'thank you'?" question from students, so this is an amazing resource. Thanks so much for sharing, and I LOVE the picture of you and the pupster. I keep trying to tell Padfoot that he needs to fetch items for me like Sunny does for you. :)

  2. Writing thank you notes is becoming a lost art. I LOVE this activity! Thanks so much!

  3. I just love your blog! Your words flow straight to my heart, and I love that you've created this activity to help students master such an important skill! Thank you so much for sharing!

  4. The lost art of the thank you note! What a great way to teach your students to show gratitude AND to learn an important skill.

  5. Thank you for organizing the link up. Kindness invites kindness. Great job and thank you for sharing.

  6. I love this--I know getting Thank Yous from students makes my day. This is such a wonderful idea.

  7. What an inspiring blog post, Darlene! I think that this is a fabulous idea that can really help create a culture of kindness. I will definitely be sharing this with the teachers at my school! Thank you for sharing!

  8. Love, love, love this! There is so much power in a thank you note and in communicating our gratitude. My semester is about to end, and I can't wait to use this activity on the last day!

  9. This was such a great post. I love the idea of the thank you note. Thank you for the great ideas.

  10. This is such a heartwarming idea! You're so right - gratitude is a double benefit. You may never know the power of your words on someone's life. :)

  11. Wow...what a heart-warming post, Darlene.I really feel as if I'm sitting across from you when I read your posts. And this one was warm and fuzzy (like you) to boot. Thanks for offering up such a terrific freebie :-)