Happiness and childhood: do we need happier classrooms?

image In last Monday’s Yorkshire Post Maggie Stratton asked the question:

In a society obsessed by material gain, should schools be teaching our children the true meaning of happiness?

Her answer draws on the advice of two education experts who believe it’s time to get very serious about happiness at school.

Alas, say Smith and Jones, unhappiness at school is a problem

Educationalist Alistair Smith and Sir John Jones, headteacher for 17 years, believe in preventative educational medicine.

Smith quotes research that:

  • Children with a positive mind learn faster
  • The best indicator of adult happiness is childhood happiness
  • Children learn from the optimism or pessimism of adults around them
  • Irritated children tend to be more neurotic and unhappy as adults.

He says happy teachers and students boost children’s results and prospects and lower their risk of problems like violence, truancy and drug taking.

Jones is concerned about the pressure of constant testing. He says ‘Youngsters today are the most tested in the history of testing. I don’t think testing brings happiness’.

So what’s the solution for happier kids at school?

No dark sarcasm in the classroom

Smith and Jones run a conference called Winning the H Factor – The Secrets of Happy Schools. Their strategies include:

  • Assembly – have only positive messages
  • Weekly awards – for the person who cheered everyone up
  • Weekly staff lunch – served by pupils
  • Freedom of expression – allowing people to voice their grievances
  • Positive language – eg challenges versus problems, learning versus behavior and setback versus crisis
  • Focus on independent learning rather than test results – although of course tests can’t be altogether avoided.

Here’s how Jones sums it up:

‘What we are saying is let’s look at the culture, let’s talk about happiness. If pupils are happy they are less likely to come in and abuse or assault the teacher, they are less likely to drink too much on a Friday night or consider taking drugs under pressure from peers. If you build a community in which individuals are happy then they are more likely to be functional.’

Happiness strategies revisited

This ties in with the idea that being happy is good for you and everyone around you, as we explored in some of the early 101 Happiness Strategies, including

and summarized (good for a quick review) in

If you’ve got kids, this is a timely lesson – it’s never too early to start being happy.

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