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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

In my last post I suggested that equitable schools are those that contribute to happiness in children. Now I'd like to offer some suggestions for actions that school leaders and teachers can take in order to cultivate happier schools.

1. Slow Down

When we slow down, we notice more, we appreciate more, we take stock of relationships, learning, and goals. Everyone can benefit from slowing down: students, teachers, and administrators. There's a direct correlation between our levels of contentment and the pace at which we live our lives. In the classroom, this might look like spending more time in a morning meeting with students, or lingering over a read aloud, or taking an extra 10 minutes to engage kids in a game outside after recess.

2. Get Outside

Being outside, even for just a few minutes a day, can heighten our state of well-being. We breathe fresh air, feel the elements on our skin -- the warmth of the sun, the sting of wind, the moisture of rain -- which connects us to the natural world. Even when it's cold out, or when it's warm and glorious, we can take our students outside for a quick (5 minute) walk, or we can do silent reading outside and our feelings of happiness might increase.

Furthermore, when the weather is comfortable, why can't we have some of the many meetings we all have to sit in outside? Last year I took my instructional coaches to the forest for one of our professional development days. In addition to hiking, we read, talked, learned, and wrote -- all of the activities we usually do in our office.

3. Move Your Body

We all know this already, but I'm going to remind you anyway: Moving our bodies increases our happiness. Even if you can't take your kids outside, you can incorporate stretching breaks into their days, play quick games that get their hearts pumping and their energy out, or put on music and dance. During the rainy winter months when my son was in preschool, his teacher regularly played "I like to move it," (from the movie, Madagascar) and the kids danced and wiggled all over their tiny classroom. In any meeting that I facilitate, if we're together for more than two hours, I schedule ten-minute "Walk and Talks" for participants. Moments of movement are great and our brains start producing the endorphins that make us happy right away.

4. Blast Good Music

Music in a fast tempo and in a major key can make us feel happy and it has a measurable positive impact on our bodies -- it can even boost our immune system, decrease blood pressure, and lower anxiety. Playing music as your students enter the classroom can be welcoming and can create a positive atmosphere. Those of us who facilitate learning for adults can also do this. Imagine coming into an early morning staff meeting to the sounds of salsa or to Johnny Nash singing, "I Can See Clearly Now." You probably feel happier just thinking about this.

5. Sing

Now sing along with those tunes, or sing in your car or in the shower -- and see how you feel. Singing requires us to breathe deeply, which makes us happier. Singing along to some of our favorite music makes our brain release endorphins. If you teach elementary school, then it's easy to get your kids singing every day. Teach them a simple song and start the day with it. Use singing during transitions or to signal the end of an activity. Find songs that connect with the content you're teaching -- they'll remember it better -- and they'll feel happier. And if you teach middle or high school, then I challenge you to get your kids singing.

6. Smile

Even if you're not a smiley person, try smiling more often -- aim for authentic, genuine smiles, but if you can't produce one, go ahead and fake it. Yes, even fake smiles can move you along towards a more content state of being. And more than that, they can have an affect on those looking at you. So teachers, administrators, just see what happens if you smile more often at the people you interact with on a daily basis.

7. Incorporate Quiet Time

My new email pen pal in Bhutan, a teacher in a school for boys aged 6-18, describes how all students in Bhutan practice meditation. Of course, this makes sense given that this is a Buddhist nation. He describes this as a primary way in which his country works to build a happy populace. There's an abundance of evidence about how meditation causes changes in our brain chemistry that produces feelings of calm and wellbeing. In our country, some schools are incorporating mindfulness meditation, but I also think we could work towards similar ends by simply incorporating more quiet time into our daily routines.

There's so much more to say and do on this subject, but I hoped to start with some simple and actionable ideas. What ideas do you have about integrate activities that cultivate happiness in schools?

Comments (23)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Jojo Zhong's picture
Jojo Zhong
Early Childhood teacher from China

I like your ways to cultivate happiness in schools. I will use them for my future teaching plan and try to establish a happy classroom environment. Besides that, I think we can still do some more simple activities to cultivate happiness in classroom for young children:
1) Plan a special field day that encourages families' participation.
2) Collaborate with another teacher to develop an activity that will be mutually beneficial to both groups of children (for example, older children reading to younger ones or a pen-pal program).
3) Add a few new toys or books that will interest children.
4) Get a classroom pet.
5) Invite parents or other visitors into the classroom to share their various expertise areas.
I believe that teachers who possess enthusiasm for learning and spark children's renewed interest can cultivate happiness in school and in classroom.

chemtchr's picture
chemtchr
chemistry

Elena, Jojo, Catherine, and Linda: I'm so glad to meet you all. The most important idea you are upholding here is that a child's happiness has value, and SHOULD be cultivated in schools.

I teach in a low-income high school, and all those ways of cultivating happiness will work there, too. There are so many
external factors that can steal happiness form children who are under life stress to begin with. I find that mine still have a child's ability to put those things aside, and be won over into happiness in the moment if we offer it to them. It even gives them wings again.

That's the real resilience they need, I'm convinced. Our administrators are now telling us we have to teach "grit", and that resilience in the face of adversity will be strengthened if we throw more stress and adversity at them.

We've concocted a scheme in our chemistry department to bring helium tanks for mole day, and let all the tenth graders fill balloons for experiments, and then take with them through the rest of their day. Wish us luck.

Lessia Bonn's picture
Lessia Bonn
co-founder I am Bullyproof Music
Blogger 2014

If I even begin to chatter around this subject I will leave a book on this page. Needless to say, your little blog post will get pinned quite a bit by this happy camper. Why am I happy? Because you spoke such truth. Just sayin'. Nothing wrong with a little happy harmony in one's classroom... especially when the lyrics are good. But one little thing; minor keys work too. Most kids love a little drama. Minor spells drama-- the good time when it's attached to deep lyrics.
And now I'm off to hug a tree. Oh- and I also love what Linda added!

Mel Buendia's picture
Mel Buendia
ESL teacher (High school & College), teacher educator, consultant, ed-tech fan, mother , MEXICO

I am so happy I found your articles! I completely agree with you. Learners,no matter the age,need to be hapy and feel happiness around, specially in a world that moves so fast. The real great moments in life are those in which you enjoy the present moment. I just changed my daughter to a new school for junior high because she was really stressed, and learning is smtg that should bring joy and hapiness. Today, she regained her curiosity, she joined the volleyball team and is very excited with her cucumber first harvest. As you said, for us mothers seeing our kids happy is a must. Thank you so much.
Greetings from Mexico.

Keith Heggart's picture
Keith Heggart
High School Teacher from Sydney, Australia
Facilitator 2014

Wow! I had no idea that there was such a drive to teach happiness in schools. I guess it's part of the whole social and emotional learning push - something which I completely support. Too often we are blindsided by the demands of national testing, and we ignore the emotional development of those children in our classroom. These tips are fantastic. I'm going to put them into use.

Catherine O'Brien's picture
Catherine O'Brien
I teach sustainable happiness.

It's tremendously important that we are starting to see the integration of positive psychology and happiness studies into education with recommendations for positive schools and positive education. I think it is also important to incorporate some "happiness literacy" because the media often portray happiness associated with material consumption - entirely opposite to what we have learned from positive psychology. Happiness literacy is one of the components of my sustainable happiness course. Other activities aim to help students understand that their happiness and wellbeing is intertwined the the wellbeing of other people and the natural environment.

zep's picture
zep
Education Specialist

Love the idea of facilitating sustainable happiness! A perhaps rhetorical question, is it possible for kids to be happy when they have no say over what subjects they learn, or on how long they spend on a subject? Can an unfree group of people ever be truly sustainably happy?

Catherine O'Brien's picture
Catherine O'Brien
I teach sustainable happiness.

I distinguish between "sustaining" happiness and sustainable happiness. Sustainable happiness is happiness that contributes to individual, community, and/or global wellbeing without exploiting other people, the environment or future generations. So yes, we an ask if education is contributing to, or detracting from, sustainable happiness. The answer is both but it could do much better with greater attention to integrating positive psychology with sustainability and other worthwhile perspectives such as health promoting schools, social and emotional learning, etc. We could be enhancing wellbeing for our students (and teachers) AND contributing to more sustainable societies. There are publications on my web site that explain this more fully: http://sustainablehappiness.ca/publications/.

Mary Jones's picture
Mary Jones
second grade teacher from michigan

Children are happy when they are learning new things.They are happy when they master a difficult task. They are happy when their thinking is acknowledged. Happy songs are okay, but learning is what schools are supposed to be about. And frankly, if I walked into a workshop and hear Johnny Nash or Roberta Flack singing, I'd wonder why I have to be subjected to Muzac everywhere I go.

Ahmed Hany's picture

I distinguish between "sustaining" happiness and sustainable happiness. Sustainable happiness is happiness that contributes to individual, community, and/or global wellbeing without exploiting other people, the environment or future generations. So yes, we an ask if education is contributing to, or detracting from, sustainable happiness. The answer is both but it could do much better with greater attention to integrating positive psychology with sustainability and other worthwhile perspectives such as health promoting schools, social and emotional learning, etc. We could be enhancing wellbeing for our students (and teachers) AND contributing to more sustainable societies.

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