Posted by: mrlock | May 15, 2008

Leading a Happy School

“Happiness – A state of harmony with oneself and others around us”

This definition was supplied at the start of Dr Anthony Seldon’s talk today at a conference titled above. I had to fly to Belfast for it and though there were some specific case studies I didn’t enjoy or find useful, I want to write about what I did find useful.

I’m going to plagiarise Seldon a bit, because he said it better than I can, the next 25 points made are his, but since I’ve written at least two previous blog posts on happiness, I feel obliged to comment;

So, Why do we want Happy Schools?
1) We don’t live sufficiently in the present. We live constantly in the past or the future. The point being that this increases anxiety and worry. Funnily enough, one of my colleagues has been talking about starting a meditation group – I actually would go after today – and it was only a small experience.

2) Obsession with examinations is distorting what we as educators know it means to be educated. This is self-evidently true and something written about extensively by other educators who have blogs.

3) We are preparing people to lead a good life. And part of that has to be the skills that make people happy.

4) We want to prepare people to lead a whole life – so to focus on all intelligences.

5) Young People need to take control of their own lives. A life lived in control is a life that is productive and free of dependancy – on drugs, alcohol, or other things. I wonder what it means that I’m having a glass of wine while I write this!?

6) Childhood depression or anxiety, by any measure, is unacceptably high in our relatively prosperous society. I can’t be bothered to look for figures – I think most educators will recognise this as a reality.

7) There has been an associated rise in adult depression, fear and anxiety

8 ) The development of the field of positive psychology, began by Martin Seligman asked why is psychology overwhelmingly focussed on depression, neurosis, and anxiety. Why can’t we use psychology for good things. Even in the last ten years, we know much more than before about maximising the well being of children.

9) Every Adult Matters – this would raise a cheer in the staff room. But we should be enhancing the worth and lives of every adult.

10) Intelligent communities are about far far more than league tables. In intelligent communities, and I want our community to be one of those, dissent and difference are tolerated. Respect is present for all. Acceptance is prevalent, and there is a wish to flourish. Decent, humane values permeate. This starts with the Senior Leadership Team.


1) Will
2) Time
3) Knowledge
4) Resources (though the core change is a change in attitude)
5) Leadership

Aspects that schools should adopt:

1) Our relationship with technology. Given the interface with students and technology daily – and all parents and most teachers will be very aware, for example, of the influence of myspace, msn, and so on. How can we make students the master of this technology rather than it’s servant?

2) Relationship with the environment. I’m going to keep my office tidier from now. It makes a difference to happiness. This also involves the planet and so on.

3) Relationships with others. High quality respectful relationships with others – this is what makes us human and what makes life worthwhile

4) The relationship between the self and the body – we are good at getting across the virtues of exercise, being a sports college. Also good on food/ hydration and perhaps not so good on helping all people to know and be able to relax. Why don’t we teach students about head massage?

5) Emotional Intelligence

6) Adoption of a positive outlook – see the positive. Eliminate the destructively critical.

7) Mindfulness and stillness

8 ) Challenge students – both out of school and in school. Meeting challenges is what helps students, and staff, to grow as people.

9) Take control – what do they want to achieve for them?

10) Goodness – Selsdon says that the iron law of selfishness is that the most selfish act is to do good to other people. Fundamental of human life – the “sovereignty of good” (Iris Murdoch)

So I was up for the happy school stuff, to walk the walk, and to really develop it as a priority in our school. Then Dr Carol Craig left me with thoughts, pitfalls, and worries – and it was one of the most interesting presentations I’ve ever heard. I also spoke to her over a break. I’m going to save that for my next blog post as I’m hungry!



  1. can’t wait to hear more on the happy schools, as i go from school to school i often wonder why some seem to have that happy vibe and others don’t, i know that this can be about the environment, and wonder if we need, as educators, to start thinking about the space we provide, RJ talks about space, time and permission for creativity, perhaps we also need this for happiness?


  2. Now I’m feeling ultra guilty about the state of my office!
    Wine, not beer?


  3. wow the happiness course must have been good news to you. I have heard Sessdon and soem of his staff before and have been equally impressed (thopugh it has not yet made any impact on the most untidy office in the university). tHE THING I keep saying to my teacher education students is that we (those who are responsible for thje school education of children for the next 40 years) need to maximise on what makes us as humans distinct from chimpanzees and computers.

    If we dont start identifying what distinguishes us from those two beings, we will either return to the state of simply being another animal or rapidly become wholly replaced by machines. for me its as simple as that.

    My granddaughter (at 2) has taught me what it is to be distinctly human, she shows me that we are Social, we are Meaning-seekers, we are Intellectual, we are Lauguage-users, we are Emotion-led and highly Sensory. This spells SMILES which I think summarises those essentail differences


  4. […] a fan of Seldon, largely since I saw him talk at a conference on teaching happiness in Belfast a while ago. I didn’t dismiss his ideas immediately because he is Tony […]


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