In this episode, APU’s Dr. Bethanie Hansen delves into the many facets of gratitude and how to reach and teach online learners about gratitude.
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Bethanie Hansen: This podcast is for educators, academics, and parents, who know that online teaching can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding, engaging, and fun! Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen. And I’ll be your guide for online teaching tips, topics, and strategies. Walk with me into the Online Teaching Lounge.
Welcome to the podcast and thank you for taking this time out of your busy day to listen. The topics in our podcast focus on online education best practices, strategies to reach and teach online learners, video and media in your online class, and work-life balance while teaching online. Today, we look squarely at gratitude.
Gratitude is a best practice, and it is also a great way to reach and teach online learners. When someone approaches us with gratitude, we feel invited into their world. Gratitude is also a key element in work-life balance, in so many ways. Today we will look at what gratitude does for us and for others, and how to express appreciation in the online world.
What Does Gratitude Do?
Gratitude is an attitude or feeling of appreciation. It can be an affective trait, which is the general characteristic of having a grateful disposition. It can also be a mood, where gratitude is generally felt throughout the day. And, it can be an emotion, which comes from receiving what others offer to us.
When we feel gratitude, we view other people or circumstances in a positive light. We appreciate an opportunity, a sacrifice made, generosity, time, kindness, gifts, and help. And this appreciation may lead us to thank others for what we experience.
Feeling gratitude can improve self-esteem, reduce stress, and enhance relationships. It can go far to promote positive effects because it consciously turns attention away from what is missing toward something that is going well. Gratitude is a healing element that inspires us to bring our energy to a relationship or situation and let go of resistance and defensiveness.
In online education, where we might often feel alone, disconnected, or distant, gratitude connects us. Gratitude might look like thanks or recognition, and it can also come through respecting others and being responsive. When others express gratitude for our actions or characteristics, we might even feel that our impact is greater than we otherwise might believe. Gratitude helps the receiver to know they are making a difference. That they matter.
When we give gratitude to others and express appreciation, we build relationships and rapport. We enhance others’ experience and let them know that they make a difference for us. Gratitude has this wonderful way of taking perspective about the daily work and routines and bringing a different perspective to everything. When gratitude comes through showing respect and being responsive, it is a habit of making connection a priority and building trust.
According to the Dali Lama, “When we feel love and kindness towards others, it not only makes others feel loved and cared for, but it helps us also to develop inner happiness and peace.”
The field of positive psychology tells us that gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.
How Can We Express Appreciation in the Online World?
Feeling gratitude lifts us and improves our sense of wellbeing, and it is a feeling that invites us to share with others. You might be wondering what effective ways might be to express gratitude online, especially when you know a co-worker or a student virtually and have no other connection outside of that space.
One way to express gratitude is to say or write the words. This might be through a note or a letter. It might be through a creative expression of some kind. Another expression might be by giving a gratitude gift. Some people express gratitude with a face-to-face visit or by sincerely asking about others and listening. These are universal ways to thank others in any setting.
In the book “101 Ways to Say Thank You,” by Kelly Brown, we learn several ways to say thank you and appreciate others online. First, Brown states that e-mail is the least preferred way to send formal thank-you notes and that in today’s tech-savvy world, a handwritten note is always greatly appreciated because it makes an impact and has a lasting personal impression. I’ll start with a few tips for handwritten notes and then follow with some tips for e-mails.
First, regardless of whether you’re writing or e-mailing, send a thank-you message immediately so that you don’t forget. If someone has done you a favor or sent a gift, a thank you message should be sent within two weeks of the event or the gift. If you have received a message from the other person connected with whatever you’re grateful or appreciative of, you might set it on your desk or print it and tape it to the mirror to avoid forgetting to send the thank-you message. Another option would be to add a reminder to your electronic calendar or mobile device that will help you send the note in a prompt timeline. According to Brown, even if you offer appreciation with a phone call, a follow-up message is still important to send with your written message.
Second, write out the date. For example, if it is December 1st, you should write the whole word “December,” then the 1, a comma, and the four-digit year. After the date, write a salutation or greeting. It’s ok to begin with the word “dear” on this if you like.
Third, write the body of your thank-you message. And Brown advocates the use of glowing superlatives and energetic adjectives. These are words like amazing, extraordinary, marvelous, outstanding, and splendid. And last, write a closing. This might be something like “sincerely,” or “gratefully,” followed by your signature.
The most effective and personal way to write a handwritten thank-you note is to do it in your own handwriting. This might take a bit of practice if you’re used to typing all day in your online work and do not spend much time writing or using cursive. It might even be helpful to write a draft before putting it onto the note or onto the card you’re sending.
If you cannot send a handwritten note and plan to use e-mail, Brown tells us that this is a good method when thanking someone in casual business and casual personal communications. For example, if someone shares something online, in an e-mail, or even in the online classroom, a thank you note sent electronically works well. While this is true, I’ve received hand-written thank you notes from others with whom I work online, and I have found them to be memorable and meaningful because that person took the time to consider a note away from the computer. It made a huge impression on me.
Sending an e-mail thank-you note is simple and doesn’t have to be formatted as formally as a hand-written note. After you’re sure that you have the right e-mail address, include a few words in the subject line to let the person receiving it know what your message will be about. Then, in the body of the message, begin with a salutation like “dear,” or you could even begin with “good morning” or “good afternoon.”
In an e-mail, the body of your message can look a lot like what you might write in a handwritten, classic thank-you note. Be brief, check spelling and grammar, avoid acronyms and profanity, and end with a closure and your name, even though it’s an e-mail. If it’s less formal, emojis and GIFs might be fun to add, with exclamation marks and lots of expressive words like brilliant, excellent, generous, fabulous, surprising, unbelievable, and vibrant. It can also add depth to your e-mail when you include an image related to the appreciation and mention it in the message so the person you’re thanking doesn’t miss it.
The main idea today is the incredible power of gratitude and expressing appreciation. It can bring positivity and connection in your online work. In my own experience, I’ve received a few handwritten cards from colleagues that I’ve mostly worked with at a distance through the online university where I teach. This kind of note surprised me and made me feel seen and valued. And one single message like that lasts a long, long time.
So, who would you like to appreciate today? It could be a course developer who spent countless hours getting your online class set up just so. Or an online leader who regularly cultivates an inviting, caring culture at your institution. Perhaps there is someone you regularly work with who you have not yet had a moment to stop and appreciate. Today’s the day. Thank you for being with me for this episode of The Online Teaching Lounge, and for the part you play in our online education profession. I’m grateful for the incredible colleagues I’ve worked with over time, the students who choose this type of learning, and the amazing miracle that we are all able to connect anytime, anywhere—all over the world. And with gratitude, we at American Public University wish you all the best this coming season.
This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. To share comments and requests for future episodes, please visit bethaniehansen.com/request. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey.