“Happy Teachers = Happy Students”

two algae covered turtles

While reading through a text for my own personal development, I paused on the quote “happy employees have happy customers” (Herb Kelleher, former CEO Southwest Airlines). It immediately called to mind a meme I see often on Facebook, Instagram, and all the other social media sites: Happy wife, happy life. (I’m not sure who to credit with that particular statement, but I can assure you that wives all over the world ensure that it is, in fact, a true statement 100% of the time!)

While it is easy to view this maxim as true through the lenses of business and home life, is this necessarily true for education? Can schools be seen and function as places of business, teachers as employees of these public “Fortune 500 companies,” and students, parents, and the community as our customers? Is it a foregone conclusion that if we make our teachers happy, our students are guaranteed to learn and to be excited about doing so?

Let’s examine some of the research.

Peter DeWitt, author of Collaborative Leadership: Six Influences that Matter, links teacher “happiness” to teachers’ feelings of self-efficacy (DeWitt, 2017). According to Tschannen-Moran and Hoy (2000), teacher efficacy is powerfully related to student motivation (happiness) and achievement.

Theodore Coladarci (1992; 2010) found that many school-level variables (i.e., small class sizes, principal’s conduct, and relationships with students and other staff members) affected teacher’s feelings of happiness and thus, their commitment to teaching.

Do you mean to tell me that after more than 30 years of research on school improvement, all we have to do to improve our schools is make teachers happy????

In short, no. Making teachers happy is not ALL, we have to do, but teachers’ happiness and sense of self-efficacy play a large role in successful schools. John Hattie (2014) identified the effect size of collective teacher efficacy at 1.57, meaning we can get almost FOUR YEARS of improvement in one single school year if teachers, as a collective unit, that they can effect change in student achievement! If THAT is not mind-blowing in itself, read on.

How can we make teachers happy?

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to helping to improve teachers’ commitment to teaching, there are approaches any leader can take so that they can find their own answers to this question.

  1. Build a motivational and open school climate. Be approachable and flexible.
  2. Be likeable! Seek thoughts and opinions without being judgmental.
  3. Provide opportunities for teachers to feel and BE more effective!
  4. Be a partner, not a boss.

In a recent (non-scientific and VERY informal) survey, I asked educators that I know personally: What makes you happy? Overwhelmingly, the response was knowing that they had had some impact on students’ lives – whether it be through direct contact years after the student graduated or the immediate feedback of seeing a student “turn on” in class.

Teachers need to know that they are (if they are not yet, then that they can be) the most important factor of a student’s success. Because, after all, happy teachers = happy students = successful schools!

(For more details on teacher efficacy and making teachers happy, keep reading my blog!)


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