Chasing (Educational) Happiness

I’ve still been trying to catch up on my Educational Leadership reading. While I was pregnant with Ruby last year, I slept a lot and got way behind on my reading of scholarly literature. Since you all know how much I love to read these types of things, you’ll not be surprised that I’ve been reading like crazy to get caught up.

I’ve been fascinated with the concept of school culture for a while now. I’m interested in the way culture is built. I’ve been learning about the difference between culture and climate, both of which need positivity to thrive the way we want.

A few months ago, I talked with a friend about her dissertation. She is focusing on school culture. She asked me to send her anything that I ran across that she might be able to use. Of course, when she told me that, I went gung-ho looking for articles. That’s when I realized just how behind I was on my Educational Leadership reading!

Anyway, one thing that I’ve started to notice while reading all of this professional lit is that almost everything is connected to culture. The way educators use data to make decisions is directly impacted by the culture of the school. Classroom management, too, is tied to the overall school culture. Happiness of stakeholders depends greatly on the climate and culture.

Let me take a moment to explain the difference between climate and culture. Climate is more like the temperature of the school. It can be changed more easily than the actual culture. It is like changing the thermostat a few degrees to make it cooler on a hot day. The climate of the school can literally change day to day, week to week. The overall culture, though, is something deeper. It oozes from the walls. It is that ingrained way of doing things that develops over time. It is much harder to change culture. It can be done, but takes time, commitment, and focus.

I’m interested in everything that impacts climate. I'd like to see America's teachers and students benefit immediately from positive school climates. But, because I am who I am and I think the way I think, I am the most interested in sustaining this happiness long term. I am interested in how culture grows and changes. I am interested in how the theories behind climate and culture in a school looks in practice.

This concept of happiness is important, and everyone should be talking about it. I promise you I hear people actually question why anyone needs to be happy. I’ve even heard curmudgeons- excuse me, people- say that they don’t care if the teachers are happy as long as the kids are learning.

WOW! So, okay, I agree that the number one priority should be student learning. Learning, though, doesn’t just mean academic learning in my opinion. There are a lot of things students learn at school that wouldn’t be considered academic. They learn how to eat at a table when they haven’t been taught that at home. Many learn to tie their shoes at school. They learn to have conversations with others. They learn to listen to others. They learn to take care of their belongings and the belongings of others, etc. Those things are essential just as academic learning is essential. This is called Whole Child Education. I’m a fan!

Now, I’ve established that I agree that student learning should be top priority, but I’d like to also offer the idea that the human beings at the school deserve to be happy. The students absolutely deserve to be happy. They are human beings. They are our top priority. The staff at a school should be happy as well. Staff morale is important to the climate and culture of a school.

The article that made me start thinking about this is called Chasing Happiness in the Classroom from Education Update, which is published in tandem with Educational Leadership. The article talks about the tiny nation of Bhutan, which measures its success as a nation by the happiness of its citizens. (We mostly measure our success by the economy.) Bhutan actually tracks the happiness of citizens and has a goal of 100% happiness according to the article.

The article offers the idea that classrooms should be modeled after this notion of happiness as the premium indicator of success. There was a study in 2014 that found that emotional health in childhood was a major predictor of life satisfaction in adulthood. However, the article explains that happiness cannot necessarily be taught. Skills that lead to happiness can be, though. The article also defines what it means to be happy. It isn’t that giddy, high feeling you get when you win something. It is something deeper. It is about positive well-being and the “sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.”

The article goes on to talk about ways teachers can set the stage for happiness. My favorite strategy mentioned is just to talk about feelings. I love this because I teach art, and art can evoke so many different feelings. Works of art are such a powerful teaching tools for discussion around feelings. And, guess what? You can integrate your discussions about works of art with language arts and math. Kill two birds with one stone, baby! Effective teaching of the whole child? Yes, please! (This is what I write about all the time. Arts integration. Follow and connect with me and you’ll learn to do this in your classroom.)

The final point from the article that I’d like to share is something the author calls “The Kindness-Happiness Loop.” There is a strong correlation between happiness and kindness, research shows. In other words, being kind makes you feel happy and being kind makes others feel happy. When you feel happy you will be kind. That’s a loop I’d like everyone to get stuck in!

Now, I want to bring this back to the happiness of staff. If “The Kindness-Happiness Loop” exists, and I think that it does, then it would apply to the teachers AND their students. I think teachers can and should absolutely be talking about feelings and using some of the other strategies from the article with their students. I’ve written about how using the arts to teach impacts morale and happiness. (Here, here, and here.) I believe happy people are more successful, and I’m pretty sure there’s research on that.

Happy Teachers=Happy Students=High Levels of Success
This is what Whole Child Education is all about!

That’s my opinion, and I’m sticking to it!

What do you think?


Here's to you my friends. Hope you have a good week!