6 Ways to Spread Happiness in the Classroom

It’s an exciting day here at Teacher Habits Headquarters! We have our first guest post! Paul Ellsworth (aka Profe Pablo) is a high school Spanish Teacher and a writer. He loves trying “out of the box” classroom management techniques to create a fun and productive classroom. He writes about his classroom at ProfePablo.com. There you can download his Top 25 Teaching Tricks or even tune into his podcast Schooled Radio. Today, he writes about spreading happiness in the classroom, a subject near and dear to my heart, and, not-so-coincidentally, the subject of my next book, Happy Teacher, available on Amazon by the end of the month.

6 Ways to Spread Happiness in the Classroom

When analyzing the classroom often we look at test scores or students’ grades. Grades are important, but what if grades were not a true indicator of success?

Instead of looking at the grades first, what if I asked you about your students’ happiness?

You would think I was crazy.

However, in his book The Happiness Advantage, positive psychology expert Shawn Achor proves that success doesn’t lead to happiness, but happiness leads to success. Instead of looking at results and asking our students to simply try harder, maybe we should prime them for success through happiness.

To have a successful classroom, the question then becomes, “How happy are your students in the classroom?” and equally important, “How happy are you in the classroom?”

Here are 6 ways that you can spread happiness in the classroom.

#1 Smile more.

Just by smiling at the students, you are showing them that you are happy to be with them. You are also tapping into students’ mirror neurons. These neurons tell the brain to copy what you see. Furthermore, your body language and your mood are so intricately connected, that if you smile (even if you are not happy), your brain begins to release dopamine, endorphins and serotonin, which are the “happy” neurotransmitters of the brain (Psychology Today) .

#2 Give control to the students.

When students feel in control, they feel safer and happier. My favorite examples come out of a program about classroom discipline called Love and Logic. Love and Logic tells parents and teachers to share control with the students by offering small choices that you feel comfortable with. Here’s an example: “Would you guys like to take the quiz right now or at the end of class?” By doing this you’re letting the students know that they have a voice in the classroom and some control over their environment.

#3 Pump up the jams.

I cry at the end of the movie Rudy every single time. As moving as the story is, I don’t think I would react that way every time if it weren’t for the music. Music directs human emotions. Can you imagine your favorite scene of a movie without the background music? You can use music to move your students to happiness. Do you have an extra Bluetooth speaker lying around? If not, it will be worth the $20 investment. Play energetic music as the kids enter the classroom or play calm music to help them de-stress.

#4 Change your greetings.

Another way that you can spread happiness is by changing how you greet your students. Usually we say something like “What’s up?” or “How’s it going?” Instead of doing this you can tweak your question to lead the students to think positively about their day. I learned this from the book Broadcasting Happiness by Michelle Gielan. For example, I could change my greeting from “How’s it going?” to “What’s the best thing that happened to you today?” The answer requires the students to think of something positive.

#5 Offer anticipation.  

In a study done with 44 doctors, those primed with candy diagnosed twice as fast as those not primed with candy. Do you know what’s crazier? They weren’t even allowed to eat it until afterwards!  I tried the same thing in one of my Spanish classes. I handed out Jolly Ranchers which sat on the edge of the students’ desks until the end of class. By doing this I’m giving the students something to look forward to. You won’t believe how many students beg me to go ahead and pass out the candy at the beginning of class, just so they can know it is waiting for them. This anticipation of happiness increases productivity.

#6 Breathe deeply.

Sometimes, I will notice that my students seem stressed in the classroom. Instead of pushing through the stress (and therefore adding to it), I tell my students to close their eyes. Then we practice 4-7-8 breathing. This kind of breathing hijacks the adrenaline system and slows it down. By doing this, you are placing the students back in logical thinking mode instead of “fight or flight” stress mode. Less stress equals more happiness.
All the above-mentioned hacks require energy, action, and attitude on your part. It is going to be hard to spread happiness if you are not happy yourself. Make sure that you’re doing things for yourself as a teacher. We spend a lot of time thinking about our students. Make sure that you are doing things that make you happy. What’s a hobby that you’ve let go of that you really enjoyed? Have you taken time just to just to sit down and relax and watch your favorite TV show? Take time for yourself and then spread happiness freely in your classroom.

7 Replies to “6 Ways to Spread Happiness in the Classroom”

  1. #Give Control to the Kids & #4 Change Your Greetings

    I am a teacher in Singapore. As a protocol, the class stands up and greets their teachers with a “Good morning/afternoon Mr/Ms/Mrs XXX.” It is a very boring routine that plays out at the start of every lesson every school day.

    Years back, as an English teacher, I changed the routine and asked the students for a word to describe the day or their mood. Only two rules. 1. No repeating words used. 2. It must be a neutral/positive word.

    This little trick did wonders to the mood in the classroom and there was no turning back. The kids are more energized, they learn a few new words over time, they learn to observe not only the weather, but their feelings/moods and once in a while, you would get the crazy ones; using another kid’s name to describe how they feel. They tag certain attributes to their classmates.

    It’s good to read the article and feel affirmed that I am doing something right.

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