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Positive Education for School Leaders: Exploring the Effects of Emotion-Gratitude and Action-Gratitude

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 March 2015

Lea Waters*
Melbourne Graduate School, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Helen Stokes
Melbourne Graduate School, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Address for correspondence: Lea Waters, Melbourne Graduate School, University of Melbourne, 100 Leicester Street, Parkville VIC 3010, Australia. Email:
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This qualitative study describes the effect of two gratitude interventions designed to trigger emotion-gratitude (gratitude diary) and action-gratitude (gratitude letter) in school leaders. Case study methodology was applied to analyse reflective journals of 27 school leaders. The gratitude diary served to foster a more balanced view of the positive and negative events that occur at school, to engage in more appreciative problem solving (with respect to their role as mediators), to see the value in relationships, and to experience positive emotions such as hope, happiness and optimism. However, the gratitude diary also triggered a frustration in school leaders who were dealing with the paradox of having to look for things to feel grateful for at school when their role required an emphasis on fixing problems. The gratitude letter prompted emotional catharsis, a desire to invest in professional relationships, greater use of gratitude in leadership roles, and sparked reciprocated gratitude from staff and students (as reported by the school leaders). On the downside, the gratitude letter created feelings of vulnerability and concern for the potential ill-ease that the letter might cause for the recipient. Gratitude was not only used during the ‘good times’ of leadership but was also drawn upon to deal effectively with the difficult aspects, such as conflict. The results suggest that both types of gratitude interventions have value for school leaders and that leaders need to mutually attend to the emotional element of gratitude and the action element of gratitude.

Copyright © Australian Psychological Society Ltd 2015 

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