Happiness is Who You Are - Promoting Life Satisfaction in Schools

  • Written by Erica Peterson, Campus Manager, Dartmoor School, Woodinville
How can we make our kids happy?

It’s a question that has stumped many parents and teachers alike.

Oftentimes, our answers revolve around giving kids things that they want, like the latest electronic gadgets or the funding and freedom for adventures with their friends. We imagine that they will be happy later on in life as long as they have steady jobs, stable families and nice homes with at least two cars each. We pack them off to school and agonize over grades in the hopes that our efforts will one day pay off in the form of jobs, responsibility and social standing.

The image of the happy American adult is so ubiquitous that it can be a shock to discover that, statistically speaking, typical markers of success such as marriage, homes and jobs don’t have a very big influence on people’s reports of their satisfaction with life. It’s true, and researchers at the London School of Economics have added another study’s worth of data to back it up. They studied life satisfaction ratings from over 8,000 Australians who reported their levels of happiness twice, once at the beginning of the study and again four years later. Researchers wanted to correlate positive changes in life satisfaction with changes in other life factors to discover what makes people happy.

The results pointed to one primary life factor: personality. People whose personalities changed over the span of four years gained a lot more in happiness than their peers who merely changed jobs, got married, and bought houses. Specifically, participants had to gain positive personality traits, such as becoming more agreeable, more conscientious, and more open to new experiences. Equally important were reductions in neuroticism—a personality trait describing how strongly participants respond to life events with negative emotions.

Such personality changes strongly predicted gains in happiness.

It’s a finding that surprises many and prompts a reconsideration of the role of school in the life of young people.

There’s no doubt that education is essential for financial stability later on in life, but what if schools could contribute even more to students’ wellbeing?  According to Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development, school years are seminal to the development of personality and personal identity, particularly the years when most students are in junior high and high school. Because they contain students who are already primed for personality formation and ready-made social groups ideally suited for personality practice, schools powerfully influence how students develop.

And if school experiences are already formative for students, they may as well be constructive.

We need to reconsider how our schools affect the development of our students’ personality traits, and how we can create opportunities to foster positive growth. Are teachers modeling positive traits like warmth, respect, and willingness for social participation? Do students who struggle with anxiety, anger, and other negative emotions have sufficient access to counseling services and other venues for help? Are our students taught about the importance of character and how it can influence happiness?  We can maximize the benefits of school when we keep in mind that happiness is not about what our students have, but who they are.

Leaders Have Imagination

  • Written by Mauren Schmidt, M.Ed.

Being an effective leader requires immense imagination.  As leaders we must envision the person who is not yet there; the situation that has not arrived; the community that is to be formed.

As leaders we must imagine the human potential, and this is no small or easy task.  We have to have vision and curiosity.  We have to empower others to use their imaginations and find their way in the world to life a life that only they can imagine.  We have to imagine and believe that what we do is making a difference.

A recent story in The Oregonian about the founders of Sseko Designs highlights the imagination of leadership.  About four years ago Liz Forkin Bohannon, not long out of college, decided to do a four-month trip to Uganda, to see what she could see. What she found through some volunteer work were college bound girls unable to go to college due to not having the $5,000 a year to pay for tuition, and not having a way to earn the money.  The opportunities were not there.  Unimagined human potential being wasted.

Bohannon, not married at the time, thought that starting a charity might help. But a Ugandan friend suggested that finding the students work – helping them to help themselves – would be the way to go.

An idea of making a flip-flop type of sandal appeared along with three students who were struggling to raise college tuition. Bohannon made a commitment to the students that if they worked on this sandal-making project, she would guarantee the nearly $15,000 they needed for college.

The three students and Bohannon, now married with her husband on-board with the challenge, made and sold enough sandals for the three to go off to college in 2009.

In 2011, Sseko Designs sold over 10,000 pair of Ugandan made shoes, with 10 students working their way to college.  One of the original three students is scheduled to graduate in a few months with a computer engineering degree.

Liz and Ben Bohannon with their imagination of leadership envisioned college graduates who could work their way to college and enrich their lives and communities with their experiences.

Leaders need imagination as they innovate, grow, listen, and respond with enthusiasm to the needs of the people around them.

Our challenge as parents, teachers and other adults is to see in a child an adult who is not yet there, to see an opportunity waiting to be discovered, and to envision a world we all will be making together.

New vision skills boost student performance

  • Written by Dr. Mary Baker, Behavior Optometrist at Overlake Family Vision

We all want our kids to succeed in school, but hidden barriers to learning can trip up even the brightest students. Twenty to thirty percent of all school age children have a vision problem that is significant enough to interfere with learning.

Often these problems aren’t detected by school eye exams which typically test only for 20/20 vision at a distance. The typical school vision screening detects only 5 percent of all vision problems and is often done by a parent volunteer. School screenings aren’t equipped to check for important visual skills that are necessary for reading and using the computer. For example, they don’t determine if children can coordinate both eyes as a team, track print across a written page without losing their place, or comfortably adjust focus when looking from near to far away.

Children who are struggling with undetected vision problems often fail to progress well in school.  What are the clues that your child may have a learning-related vision problem? Some of the signs include slow reading, difficulty copying from the chalk board, skipping words or lines, losing their place when reading, and reversing words and letters.

Fortunately there’s something that can be done to correct the vision problems and make learning enjoyable. We recommend having your child’s vision checked by an optometrist who tests for visual function as well as eye health and visual acuity. Look for an optometrist who specializes in vision therapy. This type of therapy has been very successful in improving vision skills with exercises that may use lenses, prisms and filters. The therapy usually involves regularly scheduled office visits and home therapy assignments.

When kids have better vision skills, they are better prepared to learn in school. In our program, when kids achieve better visual skills, grades start to come up, self esteem improves and so do relationships at home and at school. The best thing about vision therapy is that since good vision skills are learned, the results of vision therapy usually last a lifetime. These skills have a significant impact on your child’s success and can even affect whether or not your child goes to college!

Is it ADD/ADHD or Sleeping Difficulties?

  • Written by Roxanne Fernandez, MOT, OTR/L, Occupational Therapist at BPandHT
“Forgetfulness, struggling to pay attention in school, aggression — it may sound like textbook attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Turns out those are also the signs of certain sleep problems, according to research from the New England Center for Pediatric Psychology.  In a recent study, children who had no set bedtime or sometimes slept in their parents’ bed were eight times more likely to exhibit symptoms that mimic those of ADHD. When these behaviors were corrected, the problems went away in two to three weeks in kids who didn’t actually have the disorder.”

–Article from Family Circus  Magazine

Many parents ask the important question of whether their child’s sleeping difficulties may be contributing to his/her behaviors. The answer is, DEFINITELY! According to research, it is important for children 5 to 12 years of age to get at least 9 hours of sleep a night for optimal functioning in their day.  Kids under 5 need more than 9 hours of sleep.

Inform your doctor if your child has a hard time falling or staying asleep.  Also, let your occupational therapist know if sleeping is an issue for your child.  They can provide suggestions on finding calming strategies for your child and assist in creating a routine for bedtime. A bedtime routine is critical to helping your child wind down, preparing his/her body and mind for sleep.

How do you know if your child is getting enough sleep? If waking him/her up in the morning is a battle, then your child may be going to bed too late or may not be sleeping through the night.

General recommendations:

• 30 minutes of quiet activity prior to sleeping helps with winding down.

• No screen time 30 minutes prior to bedtime (no TV, video or computer games, cell phone texting, etc.).

• Keep your child’s bedroom cool and low lit or dark.

Isabella’s ideas

  • Written by Isabella Diefendorf, Special to the Weekly

Isabella2I am 10 years old.

I have moved four times; the first was when I was about six months old.. I moved from New York to the Pacific Northwest, where I would spend the next nine years, growing, learning and raising chickens.

Then we moved to the Bahamas, which was an educational experiment that failed.

The plane ride to the Caribbean was brutal, almost two whole days on three different planes behind crying infants and fat men who took up two seats. (I would not recommend the experience).

But all the while I persevered; the destination was worth it, I thought.  My sister, Sofia, and I were going to attend school there for one whole year. My family had built a house and all was perfect. In the morning I would bike about a half mile to school, come home for lunch and go back at 1:30 for the afternoon sessions.

I was tricked by the teachers time and time again.

“Study your notes,” they would say and continue with “hint, hint, there’s a special something tomorrow!” So we would all go home and study and the next day, no test!

Then, a girl in Sofia’s  class actually got smacked with a ruler.

My parents were appalled and we only stayed two months.

Then we caught the plane to Florida.

My last move was the  most recent, from the Bahamas to Florida. I can tell you, the two are VERY different. My teacher doesn’t threaten fictitious tests and smack little girls.

I like Florida a whole lot better.

Also, my new school is better than I could’ve ever hoped for. It’s the size of a college campus with swimming pools, soccer fields and all.

They don’t stop there, they have crazy electives like TV production in an elementary school, for instance.

Compared to the soccer players of Washington state, the players in Florida are a bit wimpy.

Most don’t even go outside when it’s only slightly misting. That’s nothing compared to what we Northwesterners are used to.

Speaking of soccer, I want to say hi to my old team, The Blue Cheetahs!

Hi, coach Chuck and hi Sarah-Ann and Mackenzie and Alaina and Emilys A, B and E, and hi everyone! I miss you all.

One of the things I don’t miss is shivering at the bus stop on a cold winter’s morning in Bellevue.

Instead, I am basking in the warm sun like it’s summer. Ahhhh. In fact we are going through a cold front in Florida right now. Sixty degrees! Everyone get your ski jackets and mittens out! Sixty degree cold front.

People in Florida surely do NOT know what bad weather is. Not like us.

But I do miss the towering, snow-dusted evergreens and the grass that sparkles with frozen morning dew.

I love Florida and Washington both.