Saturday, 24 March 2012 17:45

Putting Happiness First, Part 3 (Teaching Tip #65)

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In this Teaching Tip I continue sharing the results of a new initiative I began two weeks ago. The idea was inspired by a TED Talk by Shawn Achor, CEO of Good Think Inc., entitled “The Happy Secret to Better Work.” A central point of this 12-minute presentation is that in our society people tend to believe that we should work hard in order to be happy. Achor suggests that this way of thinking could be backwards. He argues that happiness makes us more productive, creative, and successful. In short, happiness should come first. At the end of his talk, Achor shares some ways for people to focus on the positive aspects of their lives and become happier.

The Monday before last I tried one of his suggestions. At the end of our morning movement warm-up routine, I asked my students to think of three things in their lives for which they are grateful. I gave everyone a minute of quiet think time and then asked for volunteers who were willing to share one or more of their ideas with the class. During that first week students gave a variety of responses, and nobody seemed to have difficulty coming up with three new ideas each day, as I thought they might.

After the first five days of doing this activity, my students and I had each brainstormed fifteen things for which we were grateful. I know that my students are very young (8-9 years old) and that after one week I shouldn’t expect to observe significant changes in their behavior, but I was hoping to see some positive signs, and I really didn’t.   

This past week, however, positive signs began to emerge. One student, in particular, who has a tendency of pouting and complaining when things don’t go her way, stopped complaining. Of course, I can’t know for sure whether this activity caused this change in behavior, but it is certainly possible that it played a role.

There are three “teaching moves” I made that I believe yielded benefits. First, when I introduced the activity each morning, I started by announcing the “day number” and the number of ideas we had generated thus far. This past Friday, for example, I said that it was our tenth day and that we were thinking of our 28th, 29th, and 30th things for which we were grateful. That resonated with the kids, and I think they realized to a greater degree how fortunate we all are when we can think of that many positive things in our lives.

Second, on Wednesday morning, I told the kids that I was at a concert the night before and realized how happy I was to see one of my favorite bands. Right at that moment, I thought of three things about that night that made me feel grateful and I was excited to share them the next day in class. When the kids heard that I planned my list the night before, they seemed to like that, and they came in the next couple days with great ideas.

Finally, anytime during the week when I met one-on-one with a student who seemed to be sad or lacking confidence, I didn’t start talking with them about the task at hand right away. Instead, I first asked them to tell me their three things from that morning. Doing that seemed to bolster their spirits, and then we could address the school work.

I want to close by sharing some of the ideas mentioned during the week. My students were grateful for: art, pets, the protection offered by police officers and firefighters, surgeons, trees, technology, the Sun, a warm bed, medicines, the library, grocery stores, beds, tools, an efficient math system, and electronics.

I’m looking forward to week 3 on Monday.

New Teaching Tips appear every Sunday of the school year.