What Went Well Today? Cultivating a Practice of Gratitude in the Midst of Challenges

April 16th, 2021 – by DeVita Scott

This is hard.

Let’s be honest, we can’t begin an authentic conversation about gratitude without acknowledging the tough stuff.

Few will dispute that this school year has been full of challenging experiences for everyone. This way of teaching, learning, and leading is uncharted. While venturing into uncharted territory can bring about innovation and flexible thinking, there’s nothing easy about diving head-first into the unknown. So, how do we continue to thrive? How do we find the bright spots in the midst of extraordinary challenges?

I’m no expert, but I can share these five practices that are working for me.

1. Give space to the tough stuff.
2. Find your people.
3. Adjust your language.
4. Be intentional.
5. Listen to the little people.


Give Space to the Tough Stuff

Don’t be afraid of difficult emotions.

It may seem counterintuitive to entertain difficult emotions while working to cultivate gratitude, but it’s necessary. In fact, solely focusing on the positive and suppressing the tough stuff is unhealthy. The key is to give those difficult emotions space while not allowing them to consume the entirety of the space.

Find Your People

Who are your people?

They are the people in your life who genuinely share your struggle. They listen without judging. They never respond to your pain with, “It’s okay.” They understand that, in that moment, it’s not okay for you. They offer a shoulder or an ear and give space to the tough stuff along with you. They let you feel the difficult emotions, while helping you refocus on the bright spots.

Adjust Your Language

Words matter. The nuances of language can profoundly influence our internal response.

So, don’t “be grateful.” Practice gratitude.

The phrase “be grateful” implies a state of being, which can be perceived as a constant. Gratitude is not a constant. Gratitude is a practice. It takes thought. It requires discipline. It involves reflection and change.

Admonishing ourselves to be grateful can unintentionally bring on feelings of shame during those especially tough moments.

Encouraging ourselves to practice gratitude is empowering. The practice of gratitude is a continuous endeavor which we have the power to design, nurture, and grow.

Be Intentional

Find a way to express gratitude with intention each day. Make an intentional choice to seek out bright spots in the midst of challenges.

This practice will look different for each individual. I find it helpful to record moments of gratitude. I have a gratitude corkboard in my kitchen. I keep a journal.

The corkboard is a highly conspicuous, visual reminder to reflect on the good and capture something new. The journal is a written record of all the bright spots, great and small. It’s an anthology of simple, meaningful moments over the years.

Listen to the Little People

Finding bright spots comes naturally to young children.

At the end of the day, my class of first graders and I come together for a moment of reflection. We ask ourselves the same question each day…

What went well today?

When you have a hard time finding the bright spots in any day, just ask a six-year-old, “What went well today?” They have a way of finding the good in any situation.

When all I see are the technical glitches that seemingly ruined a math lesson, I’m humbled to hear…

Math went well today, because we worked hard and no one got frustrated.

When all I see are the limitations in using books on a computer screen to teach young readers, I’m humbled to hear…

Reading went well today, because we all read with expression.

These types of reflections happen every day.

Of course, not everyone has a group of little people in their lives to point them to the bright spots each day, but we all can learn from their innocence. We can take note of their ability to zoom in on the good and not sweat the small stuff that causes the grown-ups to lose sleep.

As we cultivate our practice of gratitude, perhaps we can start by taking on the innocence of a six-year-old before we ask ourselves…

What went well today? It’s a powerful practice.


DeVita Scott, M.Ed., serves as a first grade teacher with the Greenville County Schools Virtual Program. She has fifteen years of experience teaching children at the primary level in the U.S. and China. She is currently a Competency-Based Learning Fellow with the SC Department of Education Office of Personalized Learning.


The Elevating Teachers blog is a platform designed to elevate educator voices! It’s a space to share stories and tips for maintaining a sense of purpose and wellbeing in and out of the classroom.

We’re calling for May blog submissions NOW! May’s Theme is I used to think, but now I knowReflection as a daily practice to build awareness of how our thinking evolves over time.

Submissions due by May 1st.


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