After the recession hit in 2013, it was evident that something was off at Mashburn Elementary School (part of Forsyth County Schools in Georgia). I watched teachers being laid off, and it was draining to witness. We had bigger class numbers than ever before, and our school culture and employee morale were at an all-time low. For us to pull our way out of this difficult time, we first had to take a closer look at building strong relationships between staff and students. We started by asking what it means to be happy in the classroom.
Happy schools start with happy teachers
As educators, one of the biggest challenges we face is learning how to put our health and happiness first. My first thought was that I needed to put the students’ well-being first, but I discovered that I needed to start with my staff instead. If we didn’t find out what educators are passionate about and connect them back into this building, we knew they would quickly burn out.
Inspired by the house system in the Harry Potter books and the Ron Clark model, we held house meetings once a month that focused on one of the 7 Mindsets. These mindsets come from Scott Shickler and Jeff Waller’s book The 7 Mindsets to Live Your Ultimate Life, and include affirmations such as “everything is possible” and “the time is now.”
The mindsets helped us develop a mental health strategy. We created a Positive Learning Environment (PLE) committee consisting of one person from each grade level to focus on one mindset a month and decide how were going to roll that out to the whole school. For example, during spring break this year, every teacher wrote inspirational messages for the students. We posted their messages on the walls so that when the kids came back from spring break, they all saw a special note to them on the wall of the school, written by their teacher. It was really cool.
Happiness is a conversation
We talk a lot about what happiness looks like and how to get there. I ask teachers questions like, “What do you want the school to look like?” or, “If you could change something—anything—about where you work, what would it be?”