Happy, Resilient and Creative Learners –
THE HAPPINESS PROJECT

Annie Hamlaoui, UK


 The STORY OF THE HAPPINESS PROJECT

BACKGROUND

The Happiness Project was developed in Lydden Primary School in the county of Kent in England.  It started as a small project for 16 very special and very vulnerable children aged between 5 And 11.   The children were experiencing very strong negative emotional states which were affecting their ability to:

  • Engage in learning
  • Work co-operatively to share ideas and resources with others
  • Make and sustain friendships (over and above the normal fall outs)
  • Communicate  physical and emotional needs
  • Empathise and tolerate difference in others
  • Develop the qualities of creative learners

        

Over a period of months, Annie Hamlaoui, an Advanced Emotional Literacy Practitioner, visited the school and worked firstly with the 16 students in two discrete groups, then with whole classes and finally with parents and children.

 

The HAPPINESS PROJECT recognizes the power of positive emotions such as joy, hope, optimism, gratitude and of course happiness, and all the activities and processes were designed to notice, pay attention to and celebrate skills and strengths - encourage the development of the positive relationships that are vital for brain development and the important connection this has with learning.  Where appropriate, ‘theory’ was used to informed practice.

AIMS/OBJECTIVES

To explore ways of helping the children become more resilient, more able to manage their emotions and develop skills for learning. 

METHODS      

Dr Candace Pert wrote an excellent book called ‘Molecules of Emotion’.  In this book she says that our brains are hard-wired for bliss – so we hypothesised in the Happiness Project that the students would actively seek pleasure and enjoyment once the ingredients were put in place for them to do so. Humans seek pleasure and contentment to naturally raise endorphin levels, such as dopamine and serotonin. Two ways to raise endorphin levels are physical activity and positive social feedback, thus providing opportunities for students to play together and solve problems in small groups creates fun – and the right biochemistry, Practising the giving and receiving of compliments for instance, helped create a safe and comfortable learning environment (calm = serotonin). Working in harmony with this was dopamine which ‘brightens and highlights our connections with the world around us. It is essential for associating something that happens with the feeling of pleasure. Because it reinforces behaviours that make us feel good creating a learning environment where fun, success and security became the norm meant that the students began to associate positive feelings with learning.

RESULTS

Data was gathered at different points during the project to assess progress. Periodic ‘snap shot’ reviews were carried out in staff meetings. Meetings were held each term to discuss children with Special Educational Needs and these included many of the children in the groups and confirmed progress. All anecdotal evidence suggested that children were developing confidence and perhaps more willing to ‘have a go.’

 

Weekly recording sheets showed an improved attitude to co-operative learning. The categories recorded were: if the children showed an awareness of their own feelings and were able to articulate them; whether they appeared to have self confidence; were able to share ideas; were able to try out new ideas (risk take); whether they appeared motivated; and if they appeared frustrated, angry or anxious. Each aspect took a numerical score.  Regardless of how the weekly data was presented for analysis: individual students; groups; category measured, the overall effect was positive.

CONCLUSIONS

The Happiness Project had a lasting positive effect on the children.  Student behaviour has improved across the school – well beyond the few directly taking part in the Happiness Project. School Staff are less stressed because students are generally getting on better with each other and are happy to help each other.

The various measurements used to assess whether the project had succeeded: in raising self esteem and self confidence; increase ability to share ideas; and to form more positive and stronger relationships with each other, all show improvement. Objective test data was recorded at the end of the school year, 6 months after Annie’s intervention. In England annual testing occurs in most schools and the government encourages the schools to set targets (and to achieve them). All of the children in the project were at risk of underachieving however, the entire group at the end of the year, improved their scores. Many exceeded previous expectations!

 

Other schools are now adapting and running HAPPINESS PROJECTS and are particularly interested in the new work with parents.