I am a big believer that happiness is one of the best measures of a school’s success. To some, this may sound simple, juvenile, or perhaps trite. After all, schools were designed to educate, not to increase happiness. And yet, I believe happiness matters most.
Let’s start with why:
The number one wish of parents world wide is not about test scores, monetary gain or even health. When parents are asked “What do you wish for your children?“, the number one answer in all cultures is happiness. The science of happiness (the field of positive psychology) has now proven that happiness is much more than a social nicety. Happiness is success. According to Happiness Expert and Harvard Professor, Shawn Achor, happiness yields some pretty impressive results:
In schools, we see similar results. When students are happy, their attendance improves, anxiety decreases, friendships are easier, health improves AND students start to perform better in school. In fact, when students feel their social and emotional needs are being met, they have an average of 11% improvement in their academics. When teachers are happy, students can pick up on it and the classroom becomes lighter, calmer and more creative. When students and teachers are happy at work / school, the foundation is set for optimal learning.
Thing of the last time you had a really bad day. Perhaps you were sick or feeling anxious or depressed about something. Did your employer get your best work that day? Did you even feel like going to work? Similarly, kids don’t bring their best selves to school when they are not happy. A rough morning at home or a fight with a parent in the car on the way to school can set a child off for the entire day.
So, what can we do to create happy schools? Here are some simple steps to increase happiness throughout the building:
- Start with the adults. Create a happy work environment. The ripple effect is contagious.
- Get rid of late slips. Replace them with ‘Welcome to School Slips’.
- Greet students (and staff) at the door and say good morning.
- Have older students sign up to be door greeters opening the doors for students and parents.
- Play music over the intercom before the welcome bell.
- Start with a ‘soft start’ in classrooms or school wide where students begin with an activity of choice. (yoga, fitness, building, reading, etc)
- Give students choice with each assignment
- Have a buddy bench for students feeling alone to sit on, signalling the need for a friend to come along
- Design clubs or intramural based on student interests.
- Host an identity day for students AND staff
- Host a multicultural day where student and families can share their history and food from their culture
- Host a welcome back BBQ for families
- Don’t plan your lessons for the year until you meet your kids. Let their passion be your guide and begin a journey of inquiry together.
- Find the strengths in each child (and each adult).
- Make positive phone calls home.
- Get to know staff on a social level too. Plan staff events such as potlucks, soup days, gift exchanges, treat days, team building nights (escape rooms, pub nights, outdoor adventures)
- Recognize birthdays of students and staff
- De-clutter. Reduce stress but reducing the amount of distraction in classrooms, hallways or the office
- Add positive signs throughout your school. Let your foyer give a great first impression.
- Get moving! Exercise is like an anti-depressant for children and adults.
- Complete random acts of kindness
- Spend time outside
- Take time each day to practice gratitude
- Replay the best part of your day
- And my favourite – when you are feeling down – reach out and help someone else.
Here’s to happy children, happy teachers and happy schools! Have a great year!