There are two types of teachers in this world: those who believe in the value of teaching wellbeing and those who don’t. That’s according to Adrian Bethune, a primary teacher from London, who became aware of the dichotomy following a recent interaction with another teacher on Twitter.
"He’d looked at my Twitter bio and seen that I wanted to put happiness and wellness at the heart of education, whereas he believed it should be knowledge and learning,” says Bethune.
He recommended some positive psychology literature to explain where he was coming from.
The response came that the person did not get into teaching to teach "intangible nonsense" like teaching happiness.
In Bethune’s view, there’s nothing “intangible” about teaching children to be happier. He believes it is an important component of a well-rounded primary education that can be incorporated into lessons with a few small tweaks — and without sacrificing subject knowledge.
Speaking recently at the second Festival of Positive Education, held in Fort Worth, Texas, Bethune offered the following tips for teaching happiness.
1. Take time to notice the positives
Every Friday, Bethune asks pupils to reflect on three things that have gone well for them over the course of the week. The children write these things down on a post-it note and add these to a ‘What went well?’ display.
He stresses that this is not about teaching children to “ignore the bad stuff” or about “making things up”, but rather “taking the time to stop and notice the many good things, small things, that happen every day.”
Over time, he says, this activity has the potential to reduce children’s “innate negativity bias” and hardwire their brains to think more positively.
2. Help students to step out of 'panic mode'
By practising meditation with his pupils, Bethune believes that he can reduce the negative effects of stress, even if children arrive at school feeling anxious.
Every morning after the register, he leads his class through two to three minutes of meditation exercises.
“By getting children to adopt a strong, confident posture, by getting them to tune into their in breath and their out breath, they can find their sense of calm in the classroom,” he says.
3. Cut class short in favour of exercise
Physical activity releases “happy hormones” such as endorphins and dopamine, which lower levels of stress and anxiety. Research has also shown that aerobic exercise can improve cognition, and therefore make pupils feel more alert in lessons.
Outside of children’s usual PE sessions, Bethune suggests setting aside ten minutes each day and dedicating this time to physical activity.
“Exercise is one of the best things we can do for our physical and mental health,” he says.
4. Promote random acts of kindness
Studies have shown that generosity makes us feel happier. For this reason, Bethune’s school held an “it’s cool to be kind week” in which every child was asked to perform “random acts of kindness” for other people in their community.
One example, Bethune says, is “the eight-year-old boy who baked cupcakes and went with his dad to a local train station in the evening to greet tired commuters with his treats.”
Encouraging children to give their time to others in this way teaches a particularly valuable lesson: “Kindness not only feels good, but it does us good. And we can always choose to be kind.”
Helen Amass is reporting for Tes from Fort Worth, Texas, at the Festival of Positive Education. She is deputy commissioning editor at Tes