Coaching for Happiness and Well-being | Steve Barkley

Coaching for Happiness and Well-being

A lot was shared and written about well-being as schools were in the midst of the quarantine. As I interact with teachers, instructional coaches, and administrators today, I’m convinced we need a continuous conscious focus on the topic. Consider these findings prior to the pandemic.

A 2018 report by the International School Counsel shared:

  • Teacher well-being is important for motivation and longevity in the job
  • An increased level of teacher and staff well-being results in increased academic performance and student well-being (Research by Hattie and Yates in 2014 states “Student achievement suffers when teachers become burned out because their focus is on their survival.”)
  • Teachers are less vulnerable to stress if they have practices that enhance their well-being

This quote about happier people from The Guardian certainly suggests investing in encouraging teacher happiness.

“But perhaps most importantly of all, people who are happier are more likely to make a positive contribution to society. In particular, they are more likely to vote, do voluntary work, and participate in public activities. They also have a greater respect for law and order and offer more help to others. There is even evidence that happiness is contagious so that happier people help others around them to become happier too. An extensive study in the British Medical Journal followed people over 20 years and found that their happiness affected others in their networks across “three degrees of separation”. In other words, how happy we are has a measurable impact on the mood of our friend’s friend’s friend.”

So, I pondered, “To what extent can coaching relationships support happiness in teachers?” From my earliest work in coaching, I have been promoting that one of the rewards of coaching is celebration. Years ago, I suggested that teachers build celebrations of perseverance into their classrooms. When a student or students persevered and succeeded, the teacher would throw a 30-90 second celebration. (High-Five, Class Cheer, Teacher Dance). The purpose is to reinforce for students that effort and perseverance generated the success. I realized that most teachers, working in isolation, never get the opportunity to celebrate their effort and perseverance with a colleague who appreciates what they just accomplished. Coaching is an opportunity for that shared celebration.

Martin Seligman, a key researcher in the area of positive psychology, identifies three areas of happiness that I believe can all be addressed through coaching.

  • Positive Emotions – Having positive moments and being able to savor them. Coaching can assist in savoring those positives that we experience in classrooms with our students. Paul Jose shared that savoring is enhanced when we can: talk to others about how good an experience felt, laugh, and giggle about it, tell ourselves how proud we feel. I think that when we can “show off” our students’ success we are savoring our own. Something the performing arts instructors and coaches get to do more regularly than classroom teachers. Coaches’ observations generate savoring opportunities.
  • Engagement and Flow – While flow doesn’t happen in the coach’s presence, as it occurs in a more unconscious form, I think coaching can set the stage for a teacher to engage in ways that promote the possibility of flow. “The state of flow is created by activities with a specific set of properties: they are challenging, require skill, have clear goals and provide immediate feedback. The key to success here is setting challenges that are neither too demanding nor too simple for one’s abilities.” (PositivePsychology website) I am currently coaching teachers who are designing professional growth plans around a hypothesis they have formed for a positive impact on student success. Within the coaching conference, I can hear the teacher setting the stage for deep engagement in their learning. An opportunity for flow.
  • Meaningfulness – “When work is perceived as meaningful, people have a sense of fulfillment and purpose that provides a psychological sense of well-being. The experience of meaningful work and well-being then spills over into the other life arenas and contributes to the overall sense of an individual’s life purpose.” (Happiness and Well Being at Work) I find that it’s easy at times for teachers to get into the minutia of the curriculum, standards, and assessments. At these points, coaches can generate reflection and vision focusing teachers further out into students’ futures. When students are in a university psychology class and asked to write a gratitude letter to someone who has impacted their life and they pick a teacher, it’s unlikely to be because of the course curriculum.

I do think that coaches can increase teacher happiness and well-being. The rewarding part is that the coach will be increasing his/her own. Happy coaching!

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