The power of
in the classroom
When I started studying for my Masters in Applied Positive Psychology (the science of well-being) a number of years ago, one of the topics that immediately fascinated me was Positive Emotions. I still remember that feeling of excitement I felt as I started to explore the work of Professor Barbara Fredrickson on the benefits of 10 specific Positive Emotions -
love, serenity, humour, kindness, gratitude, zest, inspiration, awe, hope and pride. It turns out, that when we experience regular, micro-moments of these emotions on a daily basis, our minds become more open to learning and we are more creative in our problem solving. Our working memory improves, we feel a greater sense of connection to others and we can also show higher levels of resilience in the face of stress. We actually need to experience at least 3 times the amount of positive to negative emotions daily to thrive, as negative emotions are stronger and impact us more strongly. On a neuroscience level, Positive Emotions release cascades of feel-good neurotransmitters in our brains – like dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin, which explain these positive effects.
This is true for children too – regular experiences of Positive Emotion help children to learn and can actually help to buffer them from stress and adversity. Of course, as a teacher, one of the first things I wanted to do after learning all of this was to start harnessing the power of Positive Emotions in my own classroom. I started to think about of the opportunities I had every day to value and boost the experience of these emotions - I no longer saw them as luxuries, but as necessities. And it was transformative – both for myself and the children. It was the start of my writing journey too – the Weaving Well-Being Positive Emotion programme was the first level of the programme I wrote. As I started to see and feel those benefits, I was so excited to share them with other teachers!
So, how can you start enhancing Positive Emotions in your own classroom? The first thing to do is notice and value all of the things you are already doing to boost positivity every day. Think of all of the things you already doing that cultivate kindness and gratitude, for example. Then, be sure to consciously and intentionally make time for them every day – so often, these little positive practices are viewed as ‘add-on’ to our day - we do if we can find the time for them. Instead, remember their benefits and start to view of them as necessities.
Here are 5 simple practices that formed the core of my own classroom practice – try them and see how they go!
1. Quote of the Day:
For homework, let the children write down two quotes which inspire them. They may wish to discuss this activity with their parents. Then allow them to write and decorate their quotes on coloured card. Collect the cards and put them in a special box or container.
Get each day off to a positive start by picking a quote at random from the box, reading it and discussing it. It can then be displayed on a poster entitled ‘Quote of the Day’. My class always loved the quote of the day – they were excited to see whose quote would come out! It also helped to create a lovely sense of belonging.
2. Music Breaks:
Allow each child to write down his/her favourite upbeat song on a slip of paper. Put them into a Music Break box, and select one to listen to at random times during the day, or at a particular time, for example while the children are eating lunch. My class always loved the Music Breaks and again the excitement of seeing whose song would be played was all part of the fun!
3. Three Good Things
Three Good Things (Seligman) is a Positive Psychology Intervention, which means that there is research to show that it has a positive impact on well-being. This activity involves writing down 3 small positive events from the last 24 hours – the smaller the better! It aims to build our appreciation and gratitude for the small things and moments in life that we so often take for granted. I adapted this activity in the Weaving Well-Being programme as ‘Rainbow Moments’ and my class each had their own Rainbow Moments notebook that they wrote in each morning. Sometimes, we would take time to share and discuss our Rainbow Moments – great for oral language too!
I am a huge fan of mindfulness and I’ve really seen the benefits of bringing it into the classroom. It really brings a wonderful feeling of tranquillity and peace, and even 5 minutes daily can give a much-needed chance to pause and re-set – for you as a teacher, as well as for the class. We alternated between a floor practice (with the children lying on their backs on the floor) -they brought in a cushion at the start of the year to use for this – and mindfulness colouring. For mindfulness colouring, I would print off a mandala and use the Tibetan bowl to get the children to focus before they started to colour. I also used an essential oil diffuser and played some relaxing music – 5 minutes of pure bliss!! There are so many resources for mindfulness available, including a whole section to accompany the Weaving Well-Being programme, including this body scan which you might like to try with your class: https://soundcloud.com/user-10491760/lesson-2-body-scan-on-the-floor
5. Class Birthday Cards
This is a lovely positive activity to do at the start of the year. Allow each child to create and decorate a generic birthday card, which you can keep in a special gift bag. Each child writes the message ‘Happy Birthday from all of your classmates!’ inside the card, and children chose a card at random from the bag when it is their birthday. My class loved this and it was such a lovely moment when they brought the bag over to me at my desk on my birthday and told me to pick a card too!
There are so many other ways to enhance Positive Emotions in the classroom – movement breaks, WOW Walls, creative activities, music and drama…the list is endless. By prioritising these opportunities, you not only help to nurture your students’ well-being, you actually help them to learn better and become more resilient. And I promise that you will start enjoying your own time in the classroom so much more too!
Fiona Forman, (M.Sc. Applied Positive Psychology)
Fiona Forman is an author, speaker, facilitator and trainer in the area of well-being and Positive Psychology.
A former primary school teacher, Fiona holds a huge passion for well-being and its place at the heart of school life. Fiona holds an M. Sc. in Applied Positive Psychology, the science of well-being, from the University of East London. She is the co-author of the popular Weaving Well-Being programme, a positive mental health programme for primary school children that is now in use in the majority of Irish Primary Schools.
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