Happy students lead to better learning outcomes

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Teachers have to play the dual role of educators and mentors for students as they act as catalysts for cultivating happiness and hope, says Dr Heena Rachh, Principal, Global Indian International School, Abu Dhabi

A question that is crucial to today’s online, blended learning scenario is – ‘Has learning somehow become de-humanised and should it be re-humanised?’.  Several studies suggest that happiness can influence academic success. Happy students do not just have higher grades; positive feelings are actually known to support their schoolwork, mindset and thus, holistic growth. 

If you were to observe closely, students’ happiness is highly predictive of their school performance across multiple measures. For teaching professionals, it should be no secret that happier students are more engaged, which is evident in their behaviour in school and their sentiments about their school and everything they do there. More satisfied students are also more resilient, resulting in the ability to bounce back more readily in the face of academic difficulties.

Unfortunately, in the process of moving from small, personalized classrooms to physically distanced online learning and massive lecture theatres (which might appear to be the need of the hour), we seem to have lost touch with the real impact of teaching. As a result, the learning experience often becomes dry, dull and limited to the subject matter, with which students are not entirely happy. 

Students love the relationships they foster with their peers, teachers and support staff in schools – something that was suddenly taken away from them during the pandemic. Educators will have to take a more holistic and qualitative approach towards cultivating positive mindsets and sentiments in students. 

Against this background, it is clear that face-to-face learning plays a crucial role in ensuring that students receive the necessary care of the teaching staff. Furthermore, it ensures that they are provided with an opportunity to openly discuss their learnings and problems, which is vital for students’ happiness and satisfaction. 

Recognising who and what makes students happy or unhappy is also essential. A network of supportive relationships lies at the heart of happiness for most individuals and so with students too. Studies suggest that the quality of students’ relationships with their teachers and peers can predict and impact their happiness. Students with positive relationships are more likely to be happier. 

Teachers should not underestimate their influence on their students’ happiness. A simple gesture from a teacher can go a long way to motivate and make a student happy. Likewise, a negative remark can put a dent in their confidence and motivation to learn.

The power of face-to-face interaction cannot be underestimated – human interaction and working together is part of our DNA as social beings. However, in-class education alone is not sufficient.  It should be combined with developing teachers who take a holistic approach towards educating, supporting and inspiring students (and genuinely care for the student’s development). Teachers have to play the dual role of educators and mentors for students as they act as catalysts for cultivating happiness and hope.

Simply put, if students become unhappy when those around them, like their teachers, are unhappy, they will remain unhappy in their school time. Once students have been trained to de-couple their happiness from that of other people’s anger or unhappiness, it will considerably enhance their happiness and satisfaction. However, if teachers are also happy and in a positive mindset, it will benefit students immensely.

Sustainable happiness is of paramount importance in a student-teacher relationship. Teachers must ensure that students are happy by not exploiting them for their happiness and vice-versa. This notion of “sustainable happiness” emphasises the importance of teachers to become holistic educators. They have the vital role of being “drivers of happiness” and in order to achieve sustainable happiness, it is critical that student-teacher communication be open, honest and mutually beneficial. Regulating emotions helps reduce stress and anxiety and has also been proven to improve academic performance.

While genetics and the environment exercise a significant influence on the way people manage happiness, our brains can be trained to shift from negative to positive mindsets and increase happiness. The psychology behind this process is instrumental for teachers today. This knowledge can help develop cognitive strategies that can significantly assist students in recognising thoughts and beliefs that make them happy.