Whenever I read or hear someone saying how important it is that the pupils in their school, or the staff, should be ‘happy’ with the associated lessons and training, it always gives me pause for thought.
We all need a measure of happiness in our lives, that’s for sure. I believe in the importance of joy – I certainly found it in my career, especially in headship here at Westholme. However, there’s something about the idea of ‘happiness’ as entitlement that makes me a little uneasy.
Over the years, I have had many conversations with parents who were concerned that something had made their children ‘unhappy’. Loving parents whose hope is always that whatever had led to the unhappiness could be reversed and joy restored. I’ve worked in 5 different schools and the range of concerns has included: friendship issues; the casting of nativity plays; a place in a sports team; student leadership roles; grade predictions or the setting of homework ….. too much or even too little!
I believe in the importance of working positively and constructively with parents, students and staff. Often it is not possible, appropriate, wise, or in the child’s or school’s best interests to reverse matters. I listen and am proud that staff adopt the same approach. Perhaps therefore rather than ‘teaching students to be happy’, sometimes the more important thing is supporting their capacity to deal with unhappiness or disappointment.
Our job, as caring parents and responsible schools, is to work together to try to equip young people with the resources they need to navigate their way through life, after they’ve left school and the care of their family home. That will involve dealing with disappointment from time to time. With staff, too, I hope that they find their role within the school satisfying, purposeful, rewarding and energising. But when, for example, we have new appointments to make, I’m always aware that for every successful applicant there were several disappointed contenders, who felt bruised, no matter how sensitively and transparently we attempted to manage the process. And, of course, there are points within the life of the school where everyone has to handle grief and, with support and understanding, emerge on the other side of it.
The World Happiness Report ranks 156 countries and the UK currently sits at number 15. Happiness and contentment can be nurtured and are helped by having a shared goal and sense of gratitude. There are many opportunities for enjoyment in the school. There is laughter. But I would never claim that for either the pupils, or the staff, ‘happiness’ is an entitlement. We should do all we can to ensure that those within our school relationships are positive and respectful, recognising that the wellbeing of all is a vital consideration. We should protect it to the best of our ability, in the way in which we treat each other, and in the demands we make of each other. However, we need to build resilience, too, and the capacity to cope with pain, with disappointment, and failure when those things happen. Because they will.
Lynne M Horner
Follow me on Twitter – @LynneMHorner