Recently, as I was pouring over the news updates for NPR, the title of an article caught my eye and I was immediately intrigued. The article by Kat Lonsdorf (October 16, 2016), was titled “How A Happy School Can Help Students Succeed.” As I have long been an advocate of squeezing more fun activities into a school day, I was hopeful that the article was supportive of some of my observations as a teacher. The article describes a daily ritual at Wiener Elementary School where each morning there is a dance party followed by a brief morning assembly. The whole idea is to “create a sense of community and happiness—part of what experts call school climate.” Three significant takeaways from the article are (1) a scholarly journal cited in the article suggests that “school climate is something that educators and communities should prioritize;” (2) that social and emotional connections between the students and faculty can help with academic success; and (3) that the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) “requires states to include non-academic factors – like school climate – in how they gauge school success.”
I believe that every educational leader could learn from the lesson provided by the staff of Wiener Elementary School. In my opinion, many schools have seemingly placed too large an emphasis on behavior management at the expense of creating a more positive learning environment. In some schools, school activities are few and far between and there is very little going on at the school except what occurs in the classroom. Yes, academics are and should be the priority. But it is my personal experience as an educator, that there are benefits to be gained from developing bonds between school staff and the students through participation in extra-curricular activities. I have found that when students see teachers at school events, a beneficial bond is added to the student-teacher relationship. Students begin to see their teachers as less an adversary and more an important part of their academic experience.
As school leaders we should consider the importance of striking a strong balance between a consistent behavioral management system and the emotional needs of both the students and staff. Working in a school that is all about managing behavior can be exhausting for teachers and stifling for students. Yes, there are budgets to consider, required precautions and procedures, and academics schedules to follow. But in the end, it may be that happier students are likely to be more successful in the classroom.
Lonsdorf, K. (2016). “How A Happy School Can Help Students Succeed.” NPR post October 16, 2016. http://n.pr/2eTK1jH