“If I try to be him, who will be me?”
Most, if not all schools, will say somewhere in their marketing literature that happy children learn better. I don’t think many of us would disagree. Our challenge is to ensure we are providing the environment and culture to create a climate where children can be happy. This isn’t necessarily as simple it seems. So how do schools foster a spirit of happiness?
In a recent article written by Richard Cairns, Headmaster of Brighton College, to improve the happiness of his pupils he wants them to be first class versions of themselves, not second class versions of someone else. He teaches them that Hebrew proverb: “If I try to be him, who will be me?” In his words, too many teenagers spend so much time wishing they could be like someone else that they lose sight of who they are. A step in the right direction towards feeling happiness must surely be for children to feel happy with who they are.
Children needing to be comfortable with who they are takes confidence and courage. It also takes a school to encourage and celebrate differences. If we can teach our children at school that it’s alright to be different where everyone accepts who each-other is, then we have achieved one of our fundamental moral responsibilities as educators.
My first assemblies at Knighton have focussed on the importance of kindness and generosity of spirit. I reminded them of the story of the starfish which had been washed up on the beach being thrown into the sea by a little boy who determined to make a difference to as many as he could. Small acts of kindness go a long way to help instil a culture of happiness in pupils. Who doesn’t want to be treated with kindness?
Lastly, ‘first world problems’ should be consigned and ridiculed for what they are. Improving the happiness of a school cannot possibly be achieved if all the wrong things are given an over inflated sense of worth, time and importance over what really matters. What ultimately matters are the children; lose focus on them at your peril.