Whilst studies have long established that happiness leads to better workplace productivity, researchers have only recently begun exploring whether promoting happiness in the classroom leads to better overall achievements. Not surprisingly, the current body of research indicates a connection between a nurturing school environment and higher levels of student engagement.
Research Schools Initiative partnered with St. Andrew's Episcopal School and the Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning to investigate the relationship between happiness and achievement. Researchers surveyed 94 per cent of St. Andrew's students to determine how happy they were and what contributed to their positive feelings. They also looked at these students' grades.
The study revealed a significant correlation between happiness and achievement. Happiness was associated with higher grade point averages for students in Grades 4-12. Furthermore, students reported that strong relationships with teachers and peers were the largest contributors to their sense of well-being in school. One of the leading researchers, Christina Hinton, Ed.D. of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, reported that: "In this study, we found that a network of supportive relationships is at the heart of happiness. If schools want to support student well being and achievement, they should take seriously nurturing positive relationships among teachers and students." Children are especially likely to succeed when they feel accepted, and when learning is enjoyable and meaningful.
Factors which Impact Well-Being
In another study, British researcher Carmel Rodgers examined the relationship between a healthy school environment and academic success. She discovered that these three factors contributed strongly to student happiness:
- Emphasis on supporting well-being and relationships among teachers and students
- Collaboration amongst staff
- Encouraging children to express their views
According to Dr. David Rock, co-founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute, happiness is associated with higher dopamine levels in the brain, facilitating the engagement and interest that are integral to critical thinking and problem-solving. A safe environment empowers children to take risks and explore new ideas. Students also collaborate better when they are confident that their insights will be respected.
Glenn Whitman, director of the Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning, observed that when students feel supported in their learning, they're able to handle more rigorous coursework. Happiness researcher, author and speaker Shawn Achor has found that our brains work 31 per cent more effectively when we are happy.
Whilst research in this area is still emerging, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that happiness does have a considerable impact on learning. Schools that support whole-child development retain carefully selected teachers who support their vision. Educators who facilitate holistic learning create a vibrant classroom environment which inspires children to reach their highest potential.