Cultivating Happiness in the Classroom
This project is a requirement of the GOA Abnormal Psychology Course. Using the process of design thinking, a challenge in the world of mental health was identified, interviews and research were undertaken, and a solution prototype was developed. Below you will find information about the identified area of concern and my proposed solution. Please feel free to provide feedback on this prototype, using questions such as “How might we…”, “What if….?”, “I wonder….”, “I like…”, and “I wish.” Keep the comments positive, please. For more information on the process of Design Thinking, click here.
My project began with an idea to catalyze change at my school surrounding suicide prevention and depression. I wanted to find a way to change the curriculum to make students more aware of suicidal behavior and reduce the stigma around depression. Since, I have come to realize from peers and teachers that the best way to institute permanent and real change in a community is with small, inclusive, and recurrent steps.
School curriculums are setup to prepare students for exams and jobs; not to promote our well-being and happiness. Many students may find happiness in their careers later on, but what toll has the stress to get there had on their mental health? I believe there is a better path for students to follow that will not only help them achieve their dreams, but lead them to a happier and healthier state of mind. This is where the idea for my project emerged, and the heart of it’s purpose lays.
My challenge is to change my school’s curriculum to integrate happiness, creativity, and well-being into all aspects of the classroom. I have read countless studies that have come to the same conclusion; schools are no longer promoting student’s well-being over grades and test scores. Since middle school I have noticed this problem, but it was not until this past year as a senior that I realized the stress and sadness school places on students. School is bound to be stressful, but there are ways to alleviate that stress and promote happiness that schools are lacking to acknowledge and implement. The first step is making schools aware of this problem, and the next step is implementing these ideas into schools curriculums. Student safety, health, and well-being should be schools’ first priority, no questions asked. My school has tried to promote mental health, but it has yet to be fully implemented in our curriculum; which is where my project comes in. Cultivating happiness in the classroom will not occur overnight, but I believe through the small steps listed below, it is not only attainable but essential for the world of mental health.
Happiness can not be instilled in students as textbook facts information can. This does not mean there is no process to promoting happiness in education; in fact, there are many. Below are some steps to integrate student well-being and spark creativity into our schools curriculums. My initial idea for this project was to have an entire day devoted to mental health and specifically suicide prevention. After thinking through this idea, I came to realize that cultivating real happiness in a day is not realistic, nor fair to students. Instead, happiness needs to be promoted through creative, inclusive learning, and integrated into every curriculum in the classroom.
We all have creative impulses but this is where our education system is failing us; we are not being given the opportunity to explore our creative minds because we are trained to seek good grades, not try new things. Students are not given the opportunities to access their creative minds in school, which is directly affecting their mental health and well-being. Creativity is not just for artists. It is an essential part of student and human development that our education system is failing to include.
"Creativity is now as important in education as literacy" ~ Ken Robinson
Ken Robinson is an influential speaker and international advisor on education of the arts to government, non-profits, and educational boards. He led the British government’s 1998 advisory committee on creative and cultural education, a massive inquiry into the significance of creativity in the educational system and even the economy. His TEDTalk on how schools are creativity killing machines is one of the primary reasons I initiated this project. Robinson’s ideas have revolutionized the education system and brought hope to students worldwide. He speaks to the idea that “our education system has minded our minds” and we must “rethink the fundamental principles on which we are educating our children” in order to promote students overall well-being and mental health. His ideas have sparked a new, creative way of thinking, and has influenced many other knowledgeable speakers to take stand. One of which is George Land, a general systems scientist and well renowned speaker whose “creativity test” has paved the way for an education integrated by creativity.
"You need to take that first leap. Turn your inner five year old on and tap into that imagination that every one of you has. Only that can make the future extraordinarily brighter." ~ George Land
George Land expresses his frustration of the lack of creativity within today’s generation and our society. He speaks to how our educational system was designed during the Industrial Revolution, which trained us to be good workers and follow instructions, not creative and innovative thinkers. Today, some 200 years later, our education system is following the same path as those workers. There is no progress, and there will not be any until we start integrating creativity in our schools and promoting students well-being over the number they score on a test. Land conducted an experiment in which he used a “creativity test” on a sample of the American population ages 5-15 and 280,000 adults to find what percentage of each age group has the mind of a “creative genius”. These are his findings from the test:
His research indicates how creativity diminishes as we get older, revealing that creativity can be untaught, and stricken from us as we age; which is where our education system is failing today. Land’s results sparked an new idea in him that “through well thought out projects and classroom activities, with well designed briefs, enhanced thought provoking content, encouraging guidance and frequent feedback, in conjunction with external influences such as media input, guest speakers and excursions, we can begin to reverse these figures”. His research also led to the foundation of his Transformation Theory, a theory of transformation that integrates principles of creativity, growth, and change; all of which I am hoping to transform in our education system, too.
According to the International Design Conference of 2006, “for our students to be creative and innovative, and to become leaders in their fields, teachers must develop the best climate to stimulate innovation, execute the processes that spark innovation, and deliver maximum results”. One way to do this is to encourage failure and give students permission to be wrong. This in itself will change the course of education because it will push students to think outside the box. The number one reason most of us never live up to our creative potential is from fear of making a fool out of ourselves. Education systems are instilling in students that the letter on our grade report is more important than the creative minds in our heads. This is flat out wrong. Educators should be teaching us how to fail and get back up, not stay down. Teachers need to reinforce and encourage student’s radical thinking and promote higher levels of creative behavior; “enriching their thinking skills – critical thinking, problem solving and decision-making”. Through well thought out and unique projects and classroom activities, “with well designed briefs, enhanced thought provoking content, encouraging guidance and frequent feedback, in conjunction with external influences such as media input, guest speakers and excursions, we can begin to reverse these figures.”
Meditation is a simple way to promote students well-being that can not only be integrated in primary education, but should be in secondary as well. There are countless studies that find meditation to be a great way to reduce stress, refocus, promote happiness and boost your mental health. Imagine if teachers started their class with one minute of meditation every day; students would be more focused and more happy.
Remember back in elementary school when your teacher had you write in your journal silly stories, memorable moments, and funny cartoons? Studies have shown how expressive journal writing can directly boost health. The study indicates that expressive writing reduces intrusive and avoidant thoughts about negative things in your life and improves overall mental health. By encouraging students to collect and write down their experiences and stories through journals, diaries, photographs, and drawings, you are giving them a new filter and catalyst for breakthrough, innovative thinking. This is a small, but effective addition to secondary education that will promote students well-being and spark creative thinking.
Community Conversations was integrated into my school’s curriculum over two years ago now, and has uplifted and inspired countless students through the conversations. At least once a month, students are placed into random groups and facilitated by their classmates in a discussion ranging from current events around the globe to small issues in our school. These conversations not only spark interesting debate, but rather new ideas and questions. It provides students with an opportunity to voice their opinion and stop worrying about right and wrong. Community Conversations is not graded in any sense, thus allowing students to unlock their creativity and engage in an innovative and insightful conversation. This is a simple way schools can encourage creative thinking and from that, cultivate happiness in the classroom.
Happiness from the outside in
Show students that there is more to life than sitting in a desk, memorizing dates. Open their mind to the outside world early on in secondary education. School curriculums have merged teaching methods into one so that students tend to do the same things over and over. Change in the classroom is necessary to break this cycle and keep students invested and smiling. Challenge students with controversial and out of the box articles, resources, and assignments to push them out of the repetitive rhythm school is revolving around. Expand their knowledge of outlandish ideas and have them build off them to create their own innovations. Introduce students to new people and new things. Invite members of the community from the outside into the classroom. People are extraordinary beings; all of which have something to share and something to learn. Instead of teaching students how to draw, show them; aim to inspire, not to control. The more educators do these things, the more new experiences students will gain, and the more ideas they can draw from in the future. Not only will this promote their success later on, but it will reduce their stress and enable happy, creative minds.
Questions and feedback are always appreciated. My Abnormal Psychology course has demonstrated to me that the best way to provide feedback with Design Thinking is through asking yourself these three questions: “What if….? How might we….? I wonder…..?” When you are reviewing my project, I would encourage you to ask yourself these three questions; and I hope that you would ask or present me with them afterwards, as feedback plays a crucial role in implementing real communal change.
My project can not be implemented overnight. I have shown many of my teachers this project, and communicated to them my concern regarding our education system and curriculum. Most teachers have agreed. Some have even started implementing my ideas into their class. Therefore, I believe my project is already on it’s way to changing the path for students at my school. Now it’s time to start integrating these fundamental principles into classrooms globally; and that starts with you.