I feel incredibly lucky to work in a place that makes me so happy. With 645 middle schoolers there are countless humorous and heart-warming moments that occur over the course of a week. The David Cluster's
Talentless Talent Show
last Friday was a celebration of silliness. The "my pet recycling bin" bit had me in stitches. I regularly tell Mr. Benzie how much I love watching students frolic on the recess field. Whether it is an 8th grader who breaks into dance, a pair of 7th graders engaging in a funky choreographed handshake, or a 6th grader who eagerly shares a funny story, they consistently make me smile. There is no better sound than the laughter of children. Although my job can be full of significant challenges, I actively work to recognize and appreciate the joy in my work and in my life. When I shared the WMS philosophy with you at Back to School Night the closing component was "Teaching and learning should be joyful." I truly believe that choosing to dwell in the positive makes life so much better. It turns out the research supports this too. Happiness expert Shawn Achors writes,
"Most companies and schools follow this formula: if you work harder, you will be more successful, and then you will be happy. This formula is scientifically backward. A decade of research shows that training your brain to be positive at work first actually fuels greater success second. In fact, 75% of our job success is predicted not by intelligence, but by your optimism, social support network and the ability to manage energy and stress in a positive way."
It is time we consider ways to mitigate the negativity that can inhabit our lives and our world and train our brains to seek out positivity.
While some students are more naturally upbeat and see the glass half full, others tend to dwell in the worry and focus on the negative. In a world that is inundated with images of death, destruction, and terror it is not hard to see why. Planes are shot down, people are stabbed, and homes are broken into. I cannot stomach watching the evening news, which often seems to relish in the shock and awe factor. Don't get me wrong, I do feel it is important to remain informed about the events of the world, but I typically choose to get my news through the radio or by reading. That can be tough enough without the images to haunt me. Experts encourage us to limit children's exposure to graphic images of violence and to take the time to process with them what they do see. Help them recognize that for every person doing harm there the many wonderful people who dedicate their lives to helping others, such as the nurses, firefighters, and teachers of the world.
I found the happiness research so powerful that I dedicated precious time at our opening faculty meeting to show Shawn Achors' TED Talk with staff: The Happy Secret to Better Work. In it, Achors shares a number of strategies we can use to train our brains to become more positive. In this holiday season of giving, I offer to you his suggestions as a gift to bring more happiness into your lives and the lives of your children.
Three Gratitudes - Write down three new things each day for which one is grateful. Research by Emmons and McCullough in 2003 shows that dedicating two minutes a day for twenty-one days to recording gratitudes leads to physiological changes in the brain. This trains the brain to scan the world for the positive first. Another study out of the University of Pennsylvania found that writing a gratitude letter and delivering it in person caused the giver's happiness levels to jump dramatically and have lasting effects for up to a month. Give it a try.
Journaling - Journal about one positive experience each day. In 2006 Statcher and Pennybaker's research showed that journaling allows your brain to relive that positive moment. My daughter is committed to this strategy each evening before bed, and it allows her to feel cheerful before falling asleep at night.
Exercise - Exercise teaches your brain that your behavior matters. (Babyac, et. Al, 2000). I know the elation I feel after an exhilarating run or playing soccer with my kids. The sixty plus students who begin their school day with AM wellness know it too. The endorphins have a lasting effect.
Meditation - Meditation allows our brain to center and focus on the task at hand. Carol Dweck's research in 2007 supported that conclusion. Our 6th grade counselor Dr. Amy Parker just received a meditation grant from the Wayland Public School's Foundation, which provides training for our teachers around how to meditate and lead meditation with our students. Those teachers who have been implementing meditation in homeroom or at the start of classes share stories of how helpful students find it and how committed kids have become to this centering practice.
Random (or Conscious) Acts of Kindness - When you write one positive email a day praising or thanking someone in your social support network you send ripples of positivity outward. (Lyubomirsky, 2005)
Engaging in acts of kindness is truly heartwarming. The 8th grade house just spent Friday's house block engaged in community service. Our students read to elementary school students, played games with seniors, wrote letters to soldiers overseas, made origami crafts for children in the hospital and cooked meals for Parmenter to distribute to local families in need. It is empowering and fulfilling to see how we can make the world better.
Achors' overarching message is that we have the power to train our brain to seek positivity and through our conscious choices have happier and more successful lives. You might consider a joint New Years resolution and commit to one of these happy building activities together with your middle schooler. In the spirit of positivity and gratitude, I close by thanking you, our amazing parents and families with whom we have the privilege of partnering on this roller coaster journey of the middle school years. You are the rocks in your children's lives. You bring them to lessons and practices, you help them with homework, and you are the shoulder to cry on when a friendship has fractured. Thank you for loving, accepting, and supporting these ever-changing adolescents who bring me such joy every day.