Three Ways to Show Genuine Gratitude this Thanksgiving

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Sometimes, administrators stop into my sessions to thank the staff that I support for their hard work and contributions to our learning. Most of the time, this is appreciated by everyone in the room. Once in a while, people express some level of resentment once the moment loses its luster, though.

“I wish our principal would stop saying thank you,” one teacher remarked at the end of a long and very warm day a few weeks back. “I don’t think she knows what we’re even doing here or why. The last time she observed me, she criticized my instructional approach. She wanted me to provide background knowledge to my students. I asked them to build it themselves through a bit of quick research instead. This is something we’ve discussed during these sessions. It really bothers me that she doesn’t realize this. I don’t want to be thanked today and called into question tomorrow.”

Distinguishing easy thanks from genuine gratitude is no easy task.

I’m grateful that this teacher forgave me for failing to keep her administrator abreast of our work together using far more specific detail. The entire exchange got me thinking more about thanks and the unintended consequences of tossing it around. In fact, I’ve tried to stop saying thank you ever since this exchange. These are the three strategies I’m using to show genuine gratitude whenever it’s called for.

Three Ways to Show Genuine Gratitude This Thanksgiving

1. Show Gratitude for Actions and Behaviors, Not Results

Rather than thanking a team for achieving a goal, show gratitude for the actions and behaviors that contributed to the achievement. Letting a teacher know that a specific intervention seems to be helping a certain set of kids reveals your interest in her work. Telling an administrator that you appreciated the patience he showed while helping you problem solve is considerate. Sharing your appreciation for a talented colleague’s inspired unit design helps others feel valued for their unique talents. Thank people for more than what they do. Notice and celebrate how they do it.

2. Make Your Acknowledgement Public

Sharing your gratitude privately is better than saying nothing at all, but public acknowledgements are particularly powerful. Rather than calling everyone in a room to attention or blasting out an email to an entire group, consider time, place, and the potential to serve the recipient well. It’s best to mention a colleague’s talents to just the right people at just the right time. There’s nothing wrong with letting a group know how much you appreciate a friend or colleague. Your opinions create a ripple effect, though. Share them in ways that grow opportunities for the good people you’re grateful for.

3. Stop Fearing Complacency

People often withhold gratitude because they fear it will inspire complacency. If we tell people they’re doing a great job, they’ll coast, right? Wrong. When we show gratitude for specific actions and behaviors, people tend to repeat them. When we focus on performance alone, people often feel unrecognized or even used. Eager to motivate? Take time to tell people how they matter—honestly and specifically.

This month, as many begin inviting you to celebrate all that you’re grateful for, commit yourself to more than giving thanks. Pay careful attention to those who contribute so much to your personal and professional life. Notice what they do and how they do it. Tell them why it matters. Let them know you see and appreciate them.

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A former English teacher, Angela Stockman is the founder of the WNY Young Writer's Studio, a community of writers and teachers of writing in Buffalo, New York. She is also an education consultant with expertise in curriculum design, instructional coaching, and assessment. Read more from Angela at

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