With a career in education spanning over 23 years and 11 children of my own, I have come to respect and recognize that happiness is paramount in education. Unhappy high-achieving students have similar struggles to their unhappy underachieving peers as they navigate through life after high school. Yet happy children (and adults) are more productive, healthy and successful. They earn more money, live longer, get and stay married longer—and yes, achieve more. Educationalist and philosopher Nel Noddings sums up happiness best for me when she says, “Happy people are rarely mean, violent or cruel.” Let’s fill our schools (and homes) with opportunities for our students and adults to be happier and healthier. Here’s how we can use technology to maximize our efforts.
Habits are the basis of action in all of our lives, positive and negative. A common characteristic of truly happy people, and highly successful people, is practicing gratitude. Well, that sounds easy enough! At Sarah Pyle Academy (SPA) in Wilmington, DE, we have used our Google Apps for Education Platform (GAFE) to build this habit with our #SPAinspires students.
Not a GAFE school? There are countless apps that you can download for gratitude habits. My new favorite to use this year is Voxer, a walkie-talkie app for iOS and Android that creates a social media community. I plan on having my staff join and share messages on Voxer describing “What is Right in Our SPA World” to inspire our gratitude.
Modeling gratitude and happiness starts with you, spreads to your staff and flows into your students. Don’t forget to build your staff’s capacity. It sounds simple, and it is. This one habit will yield large returns. November is the perfect time to start or build a gratitude habit.
Online communities will never replace the connection we get from physical community interaction. Leverage the reach of your existing tools to extend your building’s walls and expand your community. Video conferencing (Google Hangout, Chromecast, Zoom, Facebook Live) for student-led conferences gives your families an opportunity to connect and engage when they are unable to physically enter your building. Bring equity to engagement and connect families to their child’s classroom. It is not uncommon to stream student award ceremonies, parades, and student presentations, so why not progress these goal-setting opportunities?
Don’t forget about former students! Boost your alumni connections—start a social media group for your alumni. Give alumni space to post about their accomplishments and struggles, and to continue their happiness habits. Post a weekly or monthly question or chat. Be sure to engage in the community, too.
Mindfulness is defined by mindful.org as “the basic human ability to be fully present, aware where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.” Sounds blissful! But shouldn’t we put away the devices to achieve that? Not so fast.
#SPAinspires leverages our GAFE platform to create lessons in a Google Classroom for students to select activities that guide them through tools for mindfulness and self-regulation. Lessons on how to understand our reactions to different stimuli—foods, sounds, stress, or trauma—and their impact on our emotional reactions have been eye-opening for all involved. Using online tools to create a vision board, set shared goals, and practice reflection are other intentional strategies to increase mindfulness.
Does mindful mean mediation in your world? There are many apps that can help your staff and students establish a routine of mindful meditation. We really dig Smiling Mind as it consists of programs with a series of mindfulness meditation routines grouped by age and tailored to the social and emotional needs of students. HeadSpace; DreamyKid; Stop, Breathe & Think; and Take a Chill are also kid-focused.
Don’t forget to engage your staff and students in the process of what and how to use technology to build your school happiness agency. The more voice in their “happy”, the more “happy” you will see!
What does happiness as a goal look like in our schools? What ways could you use technology to build your school happiness agency?
Kristina MacBury is principal at Sarah Pyle Academy in Wilmington, DE. She is an author, speaker, leadership coach and advocate for school happiness agency. She is a 2018 NASSP Digital Principal of the Year and in 2017 was named a Top 30 Technologist, Transformer and Trailblazer by the Center of Digital Education. Follow her on Twitter @MacBuryKristina and visit her blog, educate4hope blog.