Shawn Achor: The happy secret to better work

We believe that we should work to be happy, but could that be backwards? In this fast-moving and entertaining talk, psychologist Shawn Achor argues that actually happiness inspires productivity. (Filmed at TEDxBloomington.) (Description from TED.)


This video got me thinking. It’s directed more toward the adult workforce; however, he does mention students, and the ideas readily apply to education.

I recently said to a non-teacher friend of mine, “Teachers are the worst students because they can be incredibly critical.” Now whether you agree with this statement or not, I do believe there is an inherent part of teaching that encourages you to be negative. We’re constantly evaluating students for where they fall short and how we can help them improve. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this; it’s our job.

How we present this data to ourselves and to our students does matter, however. There’s mountains of literature and research on motivation, feedback and positive classroom climate, so this topic isn’t new, of course. I guess this video just served as a chance to reflect once again on MY classroom climate and how I motivate my students.

I do promote the philosophy that working harder breeds success, and I try to help students celebrate successes along the way. I employ the “feedback sandwich” – positive feedback – negative/growth feedback – positive feedback. Or to be perfectly honest, I guess most of the time its more of a “feedback toast” – positive on top and growth feedback on bottom.

Research and common sense dictate that students need to hear growth-minded feedback (a nice way of saying, “This is where you’ve fallen short and can improve.”) So where does this fit in this video?

I can definitely see how incorporating Shawn Achor’s list of ways to foster happiness in the classroom could be quite easy:

1. 3 Things You’re Grateful For – Easily integrated into Community Circles in the morning
2. Journaling – Easily integrated into blogging time and writer’s workshop
3. Meditation – Easily integrated as “quiet moments” before beginning tasks or after tasks
4. Random Acts of Kindness – Easily integrated into Community Circles, Comments on Blogs, etc.

When it comes to giving feedback to students, that will be a bit more complicated. I teach fifth grade, and it’s a tough year. There’s a lot of fear on my part that I’m charged with making sure they’re ready for middle school. So far this year, this fear has been driving me to be a bit more negative than I was when teaching fourth grade. I thought I was giving them the growth-minded feedback they needed to improve, but I’ve noticed that in most students, the Check-Minus with ways to improve was less than successful in motivating change.

I’ve decided to try something new. Instead of the “check-minus” with suggestions for improvement next time, I’m going to students with questions instead. For instance, “Does this make sense to you? Why?” or “Reread the passage, do you still feel the same way.” I’m going to require students answer the questions verbally or in written form under the question. I have two hopes 1. The customary check-minus won’t shut them down to the feedback, and 2. Answering the questions will lead them to their own conclusions in how to improve next time.

In my opinion, giving students meaningful feedback is one of, if not the most important part of a teacher’s job. I’ll try this out. Who knows? Maybe it will work better. Here’s to trying something new!


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