"Simple Ways to Cultivate Happiness in Schools" by Elena Aguilar
Recently, while scouring my newly created RSS aggregrator (a neat tool in and of itself) I came across an opinion piece written by Elena Aguilar (link above). That this piece even exists is evidence enough that school is not always a happy place for some students- this can be for any number of reasons, and is not the focus of the article. Instead, Aguilar offers seven strategies that can help teachers and members of the school community increase happiness, and by extension, improve the culture and climate of a school. While some of these strategies are admittedly geared for elementary students, there are a few that I would like to highlight for possible use in a secondary classroom.
One strategy that Aguilar offers is to "get outside." She offers the following logic- "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." Oftentimes, I find my self anxious about being cooped in the school building for an entire day- it is certainly natural that students might feel the same. Therefore, where safety and comfort permit, I would find it beneficial to conduct parts of (or even an entire) class outside. Many of the same tasks accomplished in the classroom (reading, writing, and speaking) could just as easily be accomplished on the soccer field's bleachers or under the shade of a treeline. The weather might also be useful as a teaching tool- discussing Washington's time at Valley Forge might certainly be augmented by a brief exposure to the cold. Expanding the learning environment outside of the four walls of the classroom can certainly have benefits for student learning and well-being.
According to Aguilar, students may also find it beneficial to "move your body" for this reason- "Moments of movement are great and our brains start producing the endorphins that make us happy right away." Truly, having experienced the longest of all possible staff meetings and professional developments, I frequently appreciate the opportunity to move by body- students should be afforded the same opportunity during our lessons. Not all kinesthetic movement has to be learning-related in my opinion- sometimes, it's just helpful to engage in silly songs or dances to help expand students' comfort zones and build a more cohesive classroom environment. In my experience, these moments have also helped to refocus students, and sometimes leave them wondering when the next "wiggle break" might occur.
Of the remainder of Aguilar's ideas, I don't know that I'd much want to incorporate them into my classroom. However, these two simple sorts of activities can certainly be useful in improving school culture and climate. I am fortunate to have an administration that supports these, and students that welcome the opportunity. I will continue to use these skills in my educational practice.
Article Citation: Aguilar, E. (2013, October 10). Simple ways to cultivate happiness in schools. www.edutopia.org. Retrieved October 15, 2013 from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/simple-ways-cultivate-happiness-schools-elena-aguilar