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Does happiness play a role for K-12 students when it comes to learning? A recent study led by Christina Hinton, Ed.D., a Harvard Graduate School of Education neuroscientist and lecturer concludes that yes, happier students get better grades and do better in school.
The study, which surveyed and interviewed 435 students in grades K-12, found, on average, that students who reported being happier had higher grades, and that satisfaction with school culture and quality relationships with peers and teachers were a good predictor of students’ happiness.
“In this study, we found that a network of supportive relationships is at the heart of happiness,” Hinton says. “If schools want to support student well-being and achievement, they should take seriously nurturing positive relationships among teachers and students.”
Futures Academy is one school that has embraced the concept of student happiness as one of its four educational pillars, alongside transformative academics, connected community and pursue your passion, and is committed to developing a safe campus culture and to helping students build emotional intelligence and healthy, authentic relationships.
So, what defines happiness, and what can schools do to foster a sense of happiness and well-being in their students?
What is Happiness?
Daniel Gilbert, Ph.D., a Harvard psychologist and author of the book “Stumbling on Happiness” defines happiness as frequent positive feelings accompanied by an overall sense that one’s life has meaning.
But there is more to happiness than just developing positive emotions. Happiness has two other important components – purpose and resilience. A sense of purpose can help students stay centered and balanced. And resilience helps them overcome obstacles and negative emotions. A way to develop a culture of happiness in a school setting is to help students develop their emotional intelligence.
Psychologist Daniel Goleman first presented the concept of Emotional Intelligence in his so titled book in 1995. Since its release, studies continue to illustrate the importance of EQ over IQ. He estimates that IQ makes up only about 20% of factors that determine life success, while emotional intelligence plays a much larger role in predicting future success in relationships, health, and quality of life. According to Goleman, the four domains of emotional intelligence are self-awareness, social awareness, self-management and relationship management.
Cultivating Student Happiness in School
Developing the supportive and caring relationships essential to student happiness begins with a school culture where students feel physically and emotionally safe, and where they can easily bond with one another and their teachers.
Such a culture can be developed by providing interactive activities that allow students to learn how to identify and manage their emotions helps them to better cope with stress. When students learn how to identify the physical signals that relate to their own feelings, they can then learn to recognize those same signals in others. Teaching the importance of self-management, self-awareness and empathy for others fosters a culture of mutual respect where students learn to not only react to their own emotions, but to consider the feelings of others.
At Futures Academy, the influential research of Dr. Carol Dweck, Dr. Angela Duckworth, and Shawn Achor has been incorporated into a course called “Mindshift: The Science of Learning,” a required elective for full-time students that teaches the principles of learning and happiness. When students learn how learning works, they can improve their study habits, manage stress and overcome obstacles. Through additional workshops and learning opportunities, they not only learn how they learn best, but also how to adopt the habits proven to develop a growth mindset and to improve happiness.
According to the National Association of School Psychologists, “A school’s environment – and the degree to which students feel connected, accepted, and respected – heavily influences students’ academic achievement, mental health, and overall school success.” Essential components of a safe and supportive school environment include:
School safety – both physically and emotionally
Positive behavior expectations and interventions
Positive discipline practices
Open communication between school and home
If your student is not happy in their current classroom, it may be time to evaluate if your current school is the right fit. First, make sure there are no issues at home that may impact your child’s happiness, and if you think there may be more serious emotional issues that need to be addressed, be sure to reach out for help. If you think your current school isn’t fostering happiness within its culture, maybe it’s time to consider a change. Many students who don’t thrive in the traditional classroom find 1:1 instruction and the small learning environment at Futures Academy a viable alternative.