Happy school = Successful school
Happy Schools are also Successful Schools, because they are the ones that value, encourage and promote the learning of their students and staff in the most meaningful way. So, what makes a happy school?
Childhood is the most important development phase in the life of a human, and also the time of seminal learning experiences which determine the values and attitudes which shape one’s character as an adult. For ages, all humans have valued happiness as the fundamental goal of life and living, and have shaped the education system of our societies to further the goal of attaining happiness and fulfillment.
Considering, then, that is never a doubt that the goal of every human is to be happy, that children spend a major part of the working day, and the best and brightest part of their lives in schools, then it follows that it must be the aspiration of every school to be a “Happy Place,” where children particularly, and all the other learners – teachers, supporting staff and all others – realize their latent and developing talents in an environment of happiness and joy.
Elements of a happy school…
So then, what are the important elements that go into the making of a Happy School? This question is significant, because all too often, the school environment becomes for the student, a environment of unhappiness, stress, anxiety, and disappointment because some of us, though educationists, have allowed our skewered priorities to lead us away from the position of happy and fulfilling learning environments to ones focused on superficial learning, invested with stress on performance in terms of marks in examinations, memorization and cramming, which turns the whole process of education to a system based on fear – fear of failure, of not meeting expectations, of not attaining a college or career of choice, and so forth.
Positive relationships: The school Happiness Project of NDPS stresses on some of the important factors that transform the school in providing “environments of joyful learning.” The first and most important of these elements is the idea of “Positive Relationships.” The traditional relationships between adults and children in Indian schools sometimes unfortunately tend to range from the dominating to the patronizing. This has to be altered to a relationship of mutual respect, courtesy and appreciation. In an environment where there is respect, and intelligence and talents valued, happy children will fully realize their full talents, potential and abilities.
Stress-free learning environment: A critical transformation took place in Indian education system of the CBSE with the implementation of the CCE framework, which was a significant initiative to eliminate the debilitating stress which students were subjected to in a monolithic examination oriented system. This brings me to what I consider to be the second most important element that goes into the making of a Happy School – the children being allowed to learn in an atmosphere of freedom from stress, where there are myriad opportunities and platforms for success in learning things which reflect their own choices and preferences. This is because we have always maintained that education cannot be a rigid “one size fits all” model which expects standard and uniform outcomes from all students. Humans are defined by the fact that every person is unique, individualistic and exceptional in his or her own right.
Sense of well-being: A critical third factor is the strong emphasis that the school leadership must have, that every stakeholder, more particularly the student, ought to have a strong sense of well being in the school. This requires that we look into developing the myriad factors that sustain that sense of well being of the students and others, and there is no doubt that the list can be quite long, and never exhaustive. The sense of equality, fairness, founded of the premise that children have rights and a voice – the right to be heard, on a platform of democratic practice, is undoubtedly one of the most critical elements in this regard. There are others – freedom from the fear of being bullied or intimidated, that is, the sense of safety (for both children and staff), arrangements in the school to ensure good health, nutrition and sanitation, adequate and well designed learning and playing spaces, along with green spaces and an otherwise pleasing environment, ergonomically designed furniture and comfortable uniforms suited to the playing and learning, are aspects of well planned infrastructure that reflect the care and concern that the school leadership has in its heart for the students and staff who are the essence and soul of the school.
But all these can be easily rendered meaningless if schools choose to enforce obsolete and outdated models of so-called discipline and behavior expectations more suited to a Victorian era, by staff who could be sadly out of tune with students needs in terms of their well-being. Too often I have seen stifling classrooms, children sitting stiffly upright in badly designed chairs or benches, uncomfortable in ill fitting uniforms unsuited to the climatic conditions of the place or the activities they engage in. Add to this the arbitrary and pointless impositions on children such as an insistence on unnatural silence, restrictions on movement and communication, rejection of dialogue, and regimented movement along corridors and paths in school which negates their spontaneity and the very essence of being a child.
Curiosity, exploration, wonder and impulsiveness are the elements of learning that come naturally to a child, and if a school recognizes and encourages these elements, then it will be a happy place. At the heart of the Happy School is a creative and innovative curriculum which allow the children to learn and develop their full potential, taking into account the range of multiple intelligences and diversity of learning styles, so that not only does every child get the opportunity to do what he has the potential to achieve, but also learns in way that suits him best. School leaders must make it their duty to promote the happiness quotient in their schools. In the end, Happy Schools are also Successful Schools, because they are the ones that value, encourage and promote the learning of their students and staff in the most meaningful way.
Winston Gomez is a Post Graduate in Literature with a teaching degree and over 10 years of experience as a teacher in leading schools (the Doon School Dehradun and Siftung Lousienlund Germany). He also has almost 20 years of experience as a Principal and Project Director in diverse countries (India, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, UAE), having managed both Indian and International curriculums – CBSE, ICSE, IGCSE of Cambridge and the IB Diploma. He is currently the Principal of the New Digamber Public School, Indore and Director of the Tirthanjali Academy Playschool, set in 22 acre state of the art campus, the institution having a reputation for excellence in education for over 35 years.
He has a deep and enduring interest in Early Years Education programs as well, and in addition to implementing the London Montessori courses in South East Asia, has also closely collaborated with the Reggio Childrens’ Organization of Reggio Emilia, Italy, to establish a strategic partnership with them for Ambassador Education, Dubai, as well as the EYFS of the UK.
He has been a speaker at several Indian and International conferences. His interests include drama, writing as well as adventure activities. He has been a part of an international river rafting expedition down the rivers Tsarap, Zanskar and Indus in the year 1992.