According to the Fall 2017 Student Gallup Poll, 34% of all students feel stuck and 20% feel discouraged relative to Hope (the ideas and energy students have for the future.) That is over 50% of all students feeling less than good about their future - I am not digging those odds! If we are looking for a true measure to indicate the health of our schools, I think we found it. Yet, nationwide we are divided, fighting over everything we can, modeling anything but healthy, happy living. There is an intense debate on how to de-arm our children, remove their access to guns in the interest of protection; what children collectively need are strategies, arming them as they face our imperfect world that inevitably presents them with adversity, they need tools that arm them with happiness resilience.
Let’s dig in deeper into happiness. “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence” – Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics. As parents and educators, if pressed, our deep down desire is that our children will grow-up to be healthy and happy. From a baby’s first smiles and giggles, to when we recognize an activity, career change or promotion, or loving person that makes us feel truly fulfilled and happy- the ability to BE happy greatly shapes how we live our lives. Happiness is literally in our genetic makeup, it is hard wired into us all and is relatively an easy lesson to grow as we develop. Happiness is a hallmark of successful people and thriving companies. Happiness resilience allows for people to overcome adversity and failure.
Happiness can be developed, cultivated and learned the same as reading and writing. In fact, like other skills, it needs to be developed with intentional practice. As educators we must recognize that the ability to be happy is not fixed. We are not born with a set threshold, or ability to demonstrate happiness. Yet recent violent incidents across the country, the extreme rise in rates of childhood depression, bullying, and suicide as well as the results of the 2017 Student Gallup Poll, makes me wonder what messages we are sending our children about the importance of happiness and how we are cultivating happiness in our schools.
Do schools have the capacity to “arm” students with the ability to choose happiness, to be happy, to be healthy? I KNOW we do and I certainly don’t plan on waiting for more tragedies as indicators to establish an urgency for happiness training, positive well being, call it whatever you want - a complete overhaul, reset to the core purpose and intent of our nation's schools… as Nike says- Just DO IT. At educate4hope we have come to call this School Happiness Agency.
School Happiness Agency
School Happiness Agency (SHA) is the ability to create, influence, encourage and assume responsibility for the actions that will enhance the experience of joy, overall well-being, connectedness, sense that one’s life is good, and meaningfulness. This sense of agency is essential in the development of the school community’s social-emotional capacity to take control, increase motivation and respond to the environment in a healthy, meaningful, happy manner. Our ability to take action is not in the form of control- it is in the creation of the purposeful structures and intentional opportunities that build the culture, skills and tools in creating a mindset where happiness is the ultimate goal for all.
Schools have an ongoing and active role in establishing, as well as continuing to cultivate the level of School Happiness Agency for each community. SHA can manifest itself in physical environment, value of relationships, meaningful reflections, outcomes and goals, equity and fairness, diversity in activities, opportunities for service and voice.
How can we focus on happiness?
Here are some research linked ways to increase school happiness and arm your staff and students with tools toward being and feeling happier:
In the Classroom
Writing Prompts and scenarios focused on what is right in a particular situation instead of identifying conflicts
Incorporate Mindfulness activities to start a class period or even as a separate strategy
Opportunities for student voice to shape activities and choices: Personalized learning plans for students, student-generated digital citizenship projects
Expectations for Intentional Happiness Journaling/Reflection for Staff and Students to build happiness resilience
Identify, Callout & Celebrate Sportsmanship and Wins: If you give certificates or trophies for Best Athlete, Champions and the like, consider celebrating at the same level students that portray characteristics of Good Sportsmanship, Love of the Game
Create opportunities for staff, students and communities to eat meals together as often as possible: Culinary Foods students cooking meals for the elderly/ shut-ins to eat breakfast and break bread with students. Creating common opportunities for staff and students to share lunch
Start Meetings with “Focus on What is Right in Our World” and have everyone contribute something that is right or working. Make this a practice before meetings, classes, assemblies
Set and stick to routine of spreading happiness - Identify 3 Staff and 3 Students to shout out during the daily announcements for how they added value to your school happiness culture
A few summers ago, reading Shawn Achor’s book, The Happiness Advantage, was a pivotal moment for me as an educational leader. Instantly, I knew I must do and be better for all of my children. The research rich ideology that building a culture of happiness can perpetuate nothing but positive results was overwhelming, yet natural. The more I looked, the more research I found that supported the positive effects of a happiness framework. Research more than suggests that reducing anxiety and depression, developing positive self perceptions, setting constructive goals, building skills to manage emotions and cope with adversity and even academic performance can all be affected positively with a focus on happiness. How can we afford to not lead with happiness in our schools?
Join educate4hope in our pursuit for all schools across the country to implement the tenants of School Happiness Agency! We want to hear from you, please share your stories and practices of how you build happiness resilience in your school community.
#ed4happyschools TwitterChat Friday March 30th @ 5:30AM EST (grab your coffee, tea or favorite early AM beverage and join us!)