Bringing Happiness Back to the Classroom

By Joanna Sozio

As I was watching a morning news show the other day, the topic was happiness, and the news anchors were interviewing “happiness researchers.“ When asked about the definition of happiness, the researcher replied:

“Happiness is the joy we feel growing toward our potential.”

This statement resonated with me as I work with teachers, coaches and school leadership teams in guiding and coaching them through shifting their practice to move towards preparing students for a transformed economy with the use of team centered classrooms that reaches equity for all students.

Often, I hear from teachers the joy of teaching is nonexistent. Often, I see students merely being compliant learners (sitting in rows or furniture groups) in classrooms that only have the ability to reach the middle and above learners. If I relate both scenarios to the definition of happiness stated earlier, they don’t match up.

Students of all ages are compliantly moving through school, not having learning experiences where they are acknowledged for what they already know or get to collaborate and learn from their peers. Students aren’t being put into learning situations where they are growing towards their potential. By putting students into teams, having them learn from each other, collaborating towards a common goal is the ground work for equity; not to mention bringing happiness back to the classroom.

Traditional Approach

Teachers were once seen as the epicenter of the classroom. They were doing all the planning, gathering of resources, teaching the lessons, grading the assignments and then being disappointed when all of that hard work didn’t pay off! When at the end of this process, teachers were not sure what the students learned and were able to apply until the assessment (pick one- common assessment, end of unit, benchmark, state standardized).

No wonder teachers say that happiness is no longer existent in teaching. Pouring your heart and soul into a well-developed unit to have only 45% of your students perform at proficiency and to add all the other “teacher responsibilities” on top of that is soul crushing. Now to add insult to injury, the district has added another “standardized” assessment that cuts down on even more instructional time. The only guarantee in this cycle is the daily learning gap continues to grow. To bring this back to the happiness definition, teachers lose sight of their potential in this viscous instructional cycle which translates to unhappy teachers. Teachers feel like they have no say, no voice and their expertise is not valued.

Let’s look at this from the student perspective

My teacher has been talking for 35 minutes, he/she lost me 20 minutes ago, and there is no time for me to ask questions. I now have to fill out this worksheet or workbook page to show what I don’t know! I don’t even know how this worksheet connects to the learning target written on the board. Sometimes my teacher asks us that question. I was just as lost with yesterday’s lesson so I can’t even use that to help me solve these problems. I’m going to fail another test (pick one- common assessment, end of unit, benchmark, state standardized).

Students who are put in these traditional classroom situations never experience growing toward their potential, especially when students are constantly being defeated. Which breeds compliant, non-engaged learners of all ages.

Team-Centered Approach

How do we go about shifting from traditional teacher-centered classrooms to team-centered classrooms where autonomy is celebrated and everyone’s potential is evident, thus bringing happiness back to teaching and learning?

This happens when teachers learn the power of “letting go!”

  • They cut their direct instruction down to 10-minute segments and release their students to process this information as a team (Scaffolded Learning).
  • Within this student team we provide the students with structures for them to collaborate responsibly (Team Talk/Team Ownership/Supportive Teams).
  • Teachers provide the teams with structures to solve conflicts and ways to learn from each other.
  • Last but definitely not least, teachers provide students with a task or activity where productive struggle occurs and students learn through it (Purposeful/Rigorous Task)!

As teachers are verifying that the students are learning, they are gathering evidence (formative assessment) as to whether the students need more support with the topic or if the students are ready to move forward and go deeper with the content. Teachers are taking action in the moment during core instruction, thus closing that daily achievement gap.

Let’s bring this back to the happiness definition

Teachers are not exhausted from being the only ones who hold all the knowledge; teachers are seeing the potential of their hard planning in action. They’re exercising their expertise as they verify learning to inform their next steps. Most importantly, they’re closing that daily achievement gap—and by being able to predict student performance on any assessment (pick one- common assessment, end of unit, benchmark, state standardized). Now the joy and happiness has been integrated back into teaching!

How do students see student teams in the classroom?

  • Students are now able to express what they know
  • Students have opportunities to teach others on their team
  • Students can now rely on their peers to collaborate with and to learn from them
  • Students are experiencing learning opportunities where their thinking is being pushed and their potential is being noted and documented

All students, no matter their label or title, are engaged in this learning; providing equal access to everyone all at the same time. Thus, bringing happiness into learning and driving away compliant learners. Students will ultimately drive their own learning!

Happiness plays a critical role in our classrooms from both the student and teacher perspective. Also, teachers have the ability to own their happiness as they let go of traditional teaching methods and embrace a team-centered approach to teaching and learning. As teachers shift from the traditional approach to teaching, they consistently say they now get a clear picture of what students know and what they are able to do. Now, they can see their students’ potential, and they feel like their expertise is valued.

Happiness in the classroom is the joy teachers and students feel together, as they are constantly growing toward their potential.

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