Teaching Happiness

Posted by Laurel Shockley - 25 February, 2013

Recently, Cindy Shaw, Kim Simpson, Melissa Tucker and I had the good fortune to be able to attend the Learning and the Brain Conference in San Francisco.

Learning and the Brain Conference

At this conference, we were able to hear from leading researchers about the latest discoveries in neuroscience and neuroeducation. The focus on brain-based learning, teaching, interventions and curriculum, both confirmed many of our practices and beliefs as educators in the Lower School, and also gave us many new ideas and ways to take some of our practices further.

Experts suggest, and Randolph believes, creativity is an essential skill students will need to succeed in the 21st Century. As we embarked on our conference trip, one of our objectives was to learn more ways to cultivate and allow for creativity in our students. Although we were delighted with the presentations by many of the speakers, one in particular really impressed me.

Raising-Happiness-Paperback-Cover-ImageRaising Happiness

As soon as Christine Carter began to speak, we realized that her way of taking what psychology, sociology, and neuroscience have proven and applying it to educating young children fit our needs perfectly.

Christine Carter, Ph.D. is a sociologist for UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center. After experiencing her presentation, I quickly purchased her book, Raising Happiness. I began reading the book on the plane during our return trip. After I unpacked and hugged my family, I began reading Dr. Carter’s blog.

Dr. Carter builds her book around the research of Carol Dweck, PhD. As a faculty, we had read Dweck’s book, Mindset, a couple of years ago. Dweck posits that there are two basic types of mindsets: fixed and growthThe difference between a fixed and a growth mindset is based on a person’s belief about intelligence and ability.

In a fixed mindset, the view is that talent and intellect are a limited, known quantity that must be managed. Once smart, always smart. This mindset is about succeeding at all costs, with no option of failure.

The growth mindset sees talent and intellect as something to be developed and nurtured. Life is full of learning experiences and failure is just as beneficial as success (maybe more). For a child with a growth mindset, it’s the effort that matters more than the result.

In Dr. Carter’s book, Raising Happiness, she shows how happiness and a growth mindset go hand-in-hand. Rather than undervaluing the role of effort in the learning process as a fixed mindset person would, a growth mindset person believes that innate ability has little to do with why people go from being good at something to being great.

5 Things that People Who Rise to Greatness Have in Common

In her book, Carter identifies the five things that people who rise to greatness tend to have in common.

  1. "They practice hard, in a specific way."
  2. "Very successful people practice consistently."
  3. "Elite performers gain experience over the long haul."
  4. "What kids need is passion to stick with their deliberate and consistent practice for upward of 10 years."
  5. "Great performers have been shown to believe that their persistent effort will lead to success; researchers call this self-efficacy."

Carter goes on to emphasize that happiness, and all the positive emotions that come with it (gratitude, forgiveness, optimism, etc.) are what allow children to have a growth mindset. And happiness, Carter reveals, consists of a set of skills that can be taught.

Teaching Happiness

A child who has the skills to cultivate happiness is able to be more resilient in the face of failures, cope with stress better, and build the relationships that lead to success. A child who is happy can be more creative because she is not worried about failure.

Dr. Carter shared a video clip of a young child who is displaying her happiness:

This kind of self-efficacy, while absolutely adorable, is also incredibly valuable to this little girl. The strong positive emotions she is displaying will be a tremendous advantage in a world that emphasizes performance.

On average, happy people are more successful than unhappy people at both work and love. They get better performance reviews, have more prestigious jobs, and earn higher salaries….happiness is not a fluffy or frivolous notion; it is the most important thing we can foster in ourselves and our children, for its own value and for its contributions to other things we value, such as professional and social success.

Mom with KindergartenerWe feel that our role as educators is so important in this goal of teaching our students a happiness skill set. Although our students may not remember later in their lives the specific content they were taught in Lower School, they will remember how they felt about learning. Enthusiasm and excitement for learning, emphasis on the process, learning from mistakes, finding creative solutions, and forming friendships are overarching themes that we are always striving to achieve in the Lower School. Now, we have even more effective ways to achieve these goals.

Students will internalize the feelings of happiness, gratitude, and optimism they experience in the Lower School. It is our belief that these positive emotions will lead them to success.

Finally, I’d like to share the video clip with which Dr. Carter chose to end her presentation. This time, you will see a very successful adult. In order to become successful, it is very likely that he was able to be persistent and cope with numerous failures along the way because of happiness.

To discover if your child's current education is healthy and challenging for him/her, read our eBook, Will School Challenge Your Child?

Will School Challenge Your Child Download Link

Topics: Academics, Carol Dweck, Christine Carter, creativity, Lower School, neuroscience, Off-campus, professional development, Raising Happiness, teachers, training

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