“I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist … Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.” —John Steinbeck
The Barack Obama Leadership Academy (formerly the Timbuktu Academy of Science and Technology) is a K-5 Detroit public charter school with an African-centered educational philosophy and a mission to provide holistic academic experiences and resources for its community. The goals of the school’s educational philosophy are to infuse pride and self-determination in students, assist with their character building, and to produce well-educated students.
Since students’ brains are involved in learning, behavior, and emotions, teachers should know as much as possible about the brain. Implementing a brain-friendly, “happiness school” culture and informing teachers about how students’ brains react in various social interactions in the classroom have positive effects on student learning and behavior. Faculty and staff training sessions have been conducted in these areas, and periodic training is conducted throughout the school year on these subjects.
Brain research on how students learn and how students brains react in social interactions, shared with classroom educators, gives all indications that it is possible to change a school culture, improve student behavior, increase the focus on academics, and improve the overall functioning of an inner-city school. Faculty trained in brain education-curriculum designed and implemented a staff training session to build a brain-friendly happiness school culture, which consists of a caring, tough-love discipline approach, high expectations, believing in their students, seeing greatness in every student, and personally connecting and bonding with them. Experience has taught us that a caring, loving, and personal connection with each student is good for their brains, learning, and improving behavior.
In the training, faculty are also introduced to “whole brain teaching instruction” — how important it is to teach with the brain in mind, in terms of multisensory techniques. In addition, they are taught about how critical it is to know how various social interactions in the classroom impacts the behavior of students — and their willingness to be attentive and open to learning. One of the keys to learning, which is stressed in the faculty training sessions, is about a happiness school culture, and why it is important for their students’ brains.
Developing A Happiness School Culture
The happiness school culture encourages the faculty and staff to smile and maintain a positive attitude at all times. They are encouraged to praise and uplift students, greet students and parents every morning with smiles and warmth, and eliminate hostility and yelling at students. This culture is uplifting, and it seems to make the students happy.
A few of the happiness school tenets:
- Safe, caring, loving, and orderly school and classrooms are the norm.
- Make a powerful connection with each student by getting to know all students well.
- A happy smile on the face of everyone at all times.
- Always approach students in a calm, caring, and respective manner.
- The rights and comforts of others are valued and a way of daily life.
- A sense of humor is celebrated.
- The curriculum and teaching strategies promote student learning, happiness, health, self-esteem, self-confidence, and inner peace.
The new happiness school culture has a powerful positive effect on students’ brains, resulting in a positive impact on student behavior and motivation to learn, reducing discipline problems, and increasing success in the classroom.
It is critical for the administration, teachers, and staff to build powerful personal connections with each student, demonstrate they care and avoid expressing anger toward their students. Students seem to listen to teachers when they know they care. The power of personal bonding with students can help some students to shed their angry posturing and can lead to enhancing the internal motivation of students to learn and succeed.
Student motivation is further enhanced when others — peers and parents or guardians — acknowledge and recognize a student’s success. A teacher’s personal connection with their students, as well as their students being recognized for their successes, can lead to students feeling good about themselves. This combination can have a positive impact on enhancing self-esteem, self-confidence, and motivation to continue to learn. Eventually, students will get an “I can do it” attitude.