The Gratitude Project

By Tim Needles, posted on Feb 12, 2024

The best mindfulness projects are the ones that impact the culture in a meaningful way; the Gratitude Project is one such project. A few years ago, my school district implemented a social-emotional learning program that had a direct influence on my teaching. One aspect of the program focused on the importance of gratitude and how being in touch with what and who we are grateful for keeps us in a positive mindset, concentrating on affirmations rather than anxieties. I wanted to bring this learning into my classroom, so I instituted what became known as the Gratitude Project.

One student's orange and black artwork with the word gratitude in the center, and another student's digital poster design with words and images of gratitude, from The Gratitude Project art lesson.
Left: The Gratitude Project originally began with a more tactile, traditional printmaking lesson. Right: Mike M., finished work from our first digital Gratitude Project, grade nine.
Two students' colorful, digital poster designs that include images and words expressing gratitude, from The Gratitude Project art lesson.
Left: Arvin C., circular digital Gratitude Project, grade eleven. Right: Soraya M., digital Gratitude Project, grade twelve.

Project Beginnings

The project began when I used gratitude as the focus of a printmaking lesson and encouraged students to include words and iconography to reflect the things for which they are grateful. We used gel printing plates to make a series of artworks that express gratitude and discovered that not only did the work have a positive impact, but sharing the prints in the school and community amplified the positivity in a fantastic way.

The following year, we expanded the project and invited the entire school to participate. We concentrated on projects throughout the month of November and invited all students and staff to take part. This had a beneficial effect throughout the building because the teachers participated along with the students, and everyone left with a newfound appreciation for the arts.

Going Digital

During the pandemic, we used digital tools to keep the project going, as it was an especially important time to focus on social-emotional learning and gratitude. We used Adobe Express to create gratitude posters using a simple template that allowed students to replace words and images from the copyright-free collection within the program or with images of their own. Students chose ten things they were grateful for and could highlight or resize their text to emphasize each word. They added images and could easily layer in effects to colorize them, as well as simple animations to turn the poster into a GIF.

Students could also resize their final pieces and use them as backgrounds for their cell phones or laptop screens, serving as a daily reminder of their gratitude. The images were also shareable and helped spread the Gratitude Project on social media, resulting in a larger ripple effect.

Project Variations

It’s been interesting to see how the project results change with different media. The conceptual focus is always centered on student gratitude, but the work has evolved to include added depth and layers in its digital incarnation. Our digital tools have also advanced, allowing us to add elements like audio and animation.

One of the most successful versions was made with the help of the free StoryCorps app. Students used questions from The Great Thanksgiving Listen to record an interview with a person and discuss the various things they were grateful for. Students then used Adobe Express to create an animated typographic version of their gratitude poster that included the audio interview.


The ripple effect of our school’s gratitude work spread throughout the community when we brought the project to our local nursing home. Students from the National Art Honor Society taught residents how to make prints, and the seniors were overjoyed to have the students visit them.

This project is always a profound experience, no matter how it takes shape. Students and staff keep a small printed card or digital image on their desks as a reminder of their gratitude and to keep us grounded and positive.

Tim Needles is an art and film teacher at Smithtown High School East in St. James, New York, and the author of STEAM Power: Infusing Art into Your STEM Curriculum. TNeedles@smithtown.k12.ny.us

National Standard

Creating: Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work.


The Great Thanksgiving Listen

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