When I was in the fourth grade, one of the most popular songs was “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin. My school held a lip sync contest and I adorned a sideways Yankee cap, pinned a giant smiley face to my oversized green sweatshirt, and lip synched my way through the song. I won first prize! Everyone agreed it was quite the show-stopper. But somewhere in the 27 years since that performance, I’ve let go of that wise advice. I worry. I stress. I overcommit. I feel myself making to-do lists while sitting with my children and then feel annoyed that I am stuck playing blocks when I need to be attacking the bulging work bag I’ve brought home. I become resentful that I have no time for myself and the result is a grumpy, out of balance, exhausted, overwhelmed person, full of worry, not so much the “happy.”
The Counting Crows sang about “A Long December” and that sums up last month for me. The month began with feeling completely stressed trying to prepare standards-based report cards and then, in the height of the holiday craziness, my beloved Grandmother became ill and passed away. At 89 years old, she lived a beautiful life and fortunately did not suffer much at the end, but the loss was still devastating to me. While putting together a collage of pictures to display at the wake, her life came into focus. The celebrations, the smiles, the laughter. My grandmother had a happy, optimistic view of life. She let go of grievances and focused on the love. She took joy in cooking and preparing meals for those she loved, playing with her great-grandchildren, sitting on the porch, chatting on the phone with her friends. Of course there were difficulties and sad times, but her happy spirit always shined through.
On December 18th, during that long and dark month, brightness did come as I attended the Literacy Leaders’ Forum at Cantiague Elementary School in Jericho, New York. JoEllen McCarthy, Dr. Tony Sinanis, Glen Eschbach, and special guest Chris Lehman led discussions that were uplifting and inspiring, centering around the idea of leading with joy and love. I found my One Little Word for 2016 while sitting in a session with Dr. Tony Sinanis, who is the lead learner (principal) at Cantiague Elementary School. Dr. Sinanis said, “Happiness is critical to success in schools. Kids avail themselves to learning when they are happy.” This school year, Sinanis has declared it the #YearofHappy and tweets from Cantiague include that hashtag. He spoke about tons of research that connects happiness to academic achievement. I googled it and he’s right. The research is in- happier students learn more. I’m betting that happier teachers teach more effectively, too.
My fourth grade self’s advice, my grandmother’s influence, participating in the Literacy Leaders’ Forum, and even a Facebook quiz and a fortune cookie have all pointed me in the direction of my One Little Word for 2016…HAPPY. I created a Thinglink for links to articles that discuss the connection between happiness and achievement, as well as videos that make me happy, and links to happy pictures and quotes. I hope to add to it through the year. I’ve read and loved Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project and Happier at Home. I am now reading her book, Better Than Before, hoping to learn more about the habits that I can develop to become happier in all aspects of my life.
Personally and professionally, there are things I will work on to add more HAPPY to my days. Here are some ideas I have for bringing more happiness into the classroom:
- Try new greetings each day in our Morning Meeting. The Morning Meeting Book, by Roxann Kriete, has some great suggestions to try.
- Make time for a Go Noodle brain break at some point each day. It’s a great chance to move and laugh!
- Penpals! My friend and fellow third grade teacher, Aliza Werner, and I have connected our students and they will begin sending letters to each other this month!
- #MindsetMonday: Share videos, poems, stories, or articles about keeping a positive mindset.
- Try our own class hashtag to emphasize the happiness of learning. (#happyhere)
J.M. Barrie said, “Those who bring sunshine to the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.” This year, I hope to bring the sunshine. Please share in the comments any happiness resources or ideas you have! Also, please share your own One Little Word for 2016. It would make me happy.