Below are some research finding summaries around kindness, happiness and mindfulness in schools, the impact of those, and their relationship with learning and education.
Let’s face it, that relationship is pretty obvious and doesn’t need official ‘proving’, but we share research here to offer objective findings for any interested.
Either way, even without any existing connection found between well-being and educational performance, we believe that well-being should still be a paramount priority within schools and the education system for the holistic care of children in general.
Kindness in Schools
Random Acts of Kindness (www.randomactsofkindness.org/kindness-research/2140-random-acts-of-kindness-teaching-kindness-in-schools)
In the ‘teaching kindness’ study at the above link, teachers were asked to report what changes they had seen in their students at the end of the school year. Nearly 40 classroom teachers and paraprofessionals responded to the end-of-year survey and 63% of them indicated seeing increased social emotional development in their students. Many of the teachers and staff who observed social emotional growth in their students indicated that RAK’s instructional materials were helpful tools with which to teach the Colorado P-12 Social Emotional Learning standards.
Kind Schools: We All Do Good Things (www.peopleunited.org.uk/kindschools.php) is an arts programme celebrating kindness in schools. The first phase of the project made a lasting difference to the way primary school children feel and act towards other people.
- Children who took part were significantly more willing to care for and help members of their community and felt more positive about other groups – even several months later according to research from the University of Kent
- 3 schools, 1,800 pupils, 100 staff, 19 artists and 2,000 parents and members of the community were involved in the first phase of the project.
- 500 stories, a series of regional radio items, a 32-page book, a full-colour magazine, 2 public performances and 3 community exhibitions arose out of it.
- Kent County Council distributed a “Kindness Guide” to every primary school in the district following the project’s early successes.
Happiness and Education
Research with teenagers has revealed the importance of happiness in school as well as in the home and community (Huebner, Gilman, & Suldo, 2006). Students that reported greater happiness showed more appropriate classroom behavior, higher school grades, better peer and teacher relationships, better physical health, and greater participation in classroom and extracurricular activities.
Conversely, students who report low levels of happiness are more likely to report mental health problems, peer victimization, poor relationships with parents and teachers, and a variety of risk behaviors (e.g., alcohol and drug use, risky sex behavior, violence-related behavior, eating problems, suicide ideation).
Longitudinal studies indicate that unhappiness is an important risk factor for depression and loss of social support from peers and parents as well as disengagement from school. In the face of stressful life events, unhappy students are more likely to develop future behavior problems. Such outcomes are all related to school success underscoring the importance of the happiness of students in school.
Noddings (2003) summarizes, “Happy students learn better than unhappy students…. and happy people are rarely mean, violent, or cruel”.
Noddings goes on to suggest that student happiness should be a major aim of education. She is not suggesting that students must be happy all the time, but rather that they should develop an overall enduring sense that life is ok, despite the setbacks and challenges of everyday life.
Same goes with adults. In a meta-analysis of the literature by Lyubormirsky, King, and Diener (2005) found that happier individuals lived longer, earned more money and were more productive at work, and reported more satisfying interpersonal relationships.
Although much, but not all research, has been done with college students and older adults, Lyubormirsky (2007) summarized a variety of intentional, daily-activity-level interventions that might be useful in the school setting. Such techniques relate to the promotion and fostering of gratitude, optimism, prosocial behaviour, positive goal-setting, problem-focused coping, flow, and physical well-being.
Lyubormirsky, S. J. (2007). The how of happiness. New York: Penguin Press.
Lyubormirsky, S. J., King, L. A., & Diener, E. (2005). The benefits of frequent positive affect Does happiness lead to success? Psychological Bulletin, 131, 803–855.
Huebner, E. S., Gilman, R., & Suldo, S. M. (2006). Life satisfaction. In G. Bear & K. Minke (Eds.), Children’s needs III (pp. 357–368). Bethesda, MD: National Association of School Psychologists.
Noddings, N. (2003). Happiness and education. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Diener, E., & Biswas-Diener, R. (2008). Happiness: Unlocking the mysteries of psychological wealth. New York: Blackwell.
Mindfulness, Children and Education
There is a lot of research around the positive impact of mindfulness on children and education. We’ll be sharing some separate examples of these for you here shortly.
As a summary of a huge compilation of studies made about mindfulness in schools, MindfulnessInSchools.org presented research evidence for the following benefits for kids:
- reduced depression symptoms
- reduced somatic stress
- reduced hostility and conflicts with peers
- reduced anxiety
- reduced reactivity
- reduced substance use
- increased cognitive retention
- increased self-care
- increased optimism and positive emotions
- increased self-esteem
- increased feelings of happiness and well-being
- improved social skills
- improved sleep
- improved self-awareness
- improved academic performance
There were also numerous reports of benefits for teachers and staff, including:
- increased personal qualities of open-minded curiosity, kindliness, empathy, compassion, acceptance, trust, patience, and non-striving, and the skills of focusing, and paying and switching attention
- improvements in physical and mental health that tend to follow the learning of mindfulness, including conditions particularly relevant to the teaching profession such as stress and burnout
- improved teaching self-efficacy
- improved physical health
- increased ability to give more appropriate support for students by through being more motivated and autonomous
- decreased stress
- increased work motivation
- improved spatial memory, working memory and sustained attention