But I'm more interested in the ways that we can help to support and elevate a child's happiness more generally. How do we inspire happiness in a kid who doesn't feel unhappy, but whose mood is not yet determined? How do we create an environment that promotes happy moods?
What Disney Does
The experience that started me on this thought-tangent was riding in the car with my children, listening to a Disney playlist on my iPod. The kids were all singing along (I was, too), and I was struck by how many songs had positive, life and self-affirming messages. This led me to think about the many times I've found myself happily singing along to Disney standards at Downtown Disney. The songs they pump through the speakers there (as well as the live music offerings) all have the effect of elevating mood. This isn't surprising, of course. We've known for a long time that music can affect mood. This is the reason you won't walk into a retail store or restaurant without discovering a carefully curated soundtrack for your shopping or dining pleasure. What makes the Disney version of this so pronounced is that the music is not only happy in meaning and tone, but it is also associated with happy memories the listener has with the narratives (rides and movies) that the music represents. Taken all together, a playlist of Disney songs becomes a potent mixture of memory, verbal cues, and musical reinforcement.
If you don't believe me, spend a little time with this playlist:
I'm sure I could go on, but these examples alone make it clear that Disney has been very thoughtful and thorough when it comes to promoting happiness among its guests. To some, this type of skewed emotional messaging can come off as saccharine, but Disney is so complete in their approach to this that it's hard to fight the effects over time. They don't call Walt Disney World the Happiest Place on Earth for nothing.
How Can We Do This In Education?
While I recognize that the Disney folks have an amazing set of resources at their disposal to put into that work that schools typically do not, I do think that as educators, we can take a critical look at how we shape our environment and our interactions with kids to enhance their mood and prepare them for learning. I'd encourage any educator to go through the following exercise and see what it reveals about the emotional messages we are sending to kids:
- What do my students hear in my classroom/school, and what impact might that have on their mood?
- What messages are visible in my classroom/school, and what is the tone of the language in those messages? What are the key words that students see throughout the day in my classroom/school?
- What do my students see in my classroom/school? What colors are there? What shapes? Is there variety? Is the environment whimsical or stark? What are the implied messages of what my students see in my classroom/school?
- When I or my colleagues talk to students, what does that sound like? What is the tone? Am I/are we contributing to an environment that feels comfortable/safe/happy? What types of voices are my students hearing everyday?
- When I look at my students, do I see evidence of happiness? Do my students look stressed? Depressed? Engaged? Excited? What messages are my students sending me about my classroom/school?
- To what extent is my students' happiness a priority to myself, my colleagues, my school? If it is, what is my evidence for that? If it isn't what is my solution to that?
- If my students drew a picture of my classroom/school, what would it look like? And what would that tell me?
- What can I do to make sure that the learning space I am responsible for represents my hopes for kids.
In the end, I feel certain that we all want students who are happy and ready to learn, but I also realize how difficult it is to ensure that for a majority of students daily in an environment that prioritizes other things. We're human, and the work can be frustrating. But I also feel certain that when we are purposeful in how we create the messages we want to send, we are more successful than when we don't pay attention to these details.
photo credit: Scott Smith (SRisonS) via photopin cc
photo credit: ~Beekeeper~ via photopin cc
photo credit: mickeyavenue via photopin cc
photo credit: @edrethink via flickr cc