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What is GiveThx?
Michael Fauteux, Co-Founder
A sense of belonging is a core need for everyone. This is particularly true for students at school. Everyone worries if they belong. While different identities, backgrounds, and experiences can be sources of strength, they can often be used as a means of division. Equitable belonging at school means each learner feels safe participating as their whole self. Creating school culture and climate where this is the case for all students and staff is an imperative for equity, wellbeing, and achievement.
School culture and climate involve a lot of different pieces. Chief among them are positive behaviors and relationships rooted in the community's values. How a school goes about nurturing these behaviors and relationships matters if it is to be safe and equitable for all students.
Many schools lean on teacher-centered, punitive systems that focus on students being compliant. This type of approach, however, is flawed. Implicit biases and a reliance on punitive methods lead to inequities. An example of this is the significantly higher suspension rates for black students compared to white students in the United States, where black boys are 3 times more likely and black girls are 6 times more likely to be suspended than white boys and girls, respectively (U.S. Department of Education 2012). Schools need an equitable, sustainable, and effective way to build and maintain community where everyone feels belonging and wellbeing.
GiveThx nurtures positive behaviors and relationships for all students by using peer-to-peer gratitude and reflection. Its theory of change is rooted in gratitude and positive psychology research. Simply put, recognition develops positive behaviors and relationships. Expressing thanks is a natural type of recognition. Students and staff sharing recognition responsibilities is more equitable, engaging, and effective.
Collectively using positive recognition for behavior and relationship development is deeply intuitive. Everyone naturally understands the value of thanks. Being thanked means being seen and appreciated. It forges a connection between people and reinforces the action or reason for the gratitude. Having all students and staff participate mitigates the impact of implicit biases and the difficulty of equitably and sustainably recognizing students when responsibility rests with the teacher alone. It is also authentically engaging for students who care deeply about connecting with both peers and teachers.
Schools define the behaviors and character strengths they believe most speak to their community values. Teachers then integrate the giving and reflecting practices into their classes. Current practices of positive feedback and reflection become enhanced. Teachers have students send digital thx notes and complete reflections in minutes, making the practice sustainable and effective. Schools monitor the positive behaviors, coordinate learning, and identify isolated students to intervene with. Those who wish to go deeper also anchor the routine in advisory-type periods where students can explore a series of research-based mini-lessons to develop socio-emotional skills using gratitude as the access point.
Maria* was one of the first users of GiveThx when it was prototyped at a school in Oakland, California. While speaking with her about it she began to cry and said, "I didn't know some of these people even knew who I was. I feel like they see me and appreciate the things that I do." Belonging is a fundamental need for everyone. Nurturing healthy behaviors, relationships, and self-esteem with gratitude is an effective way to build strong communities and the culture and climate necessary for wellbeing and growth to flourish.