1. Model positive body language: Have you ever noticed that when you smile at someone, they usually smile back? How about those people that seem so happy to see you - don't you get excited to see them too? For those of us with dogs, think about how happy your dog is when you come home - aren't you happy to see your dog too? We tend to mirror the body language that we encounter. If we see our boss happy and smiling and walking towards us, we feel good. Imagine, however, seeing your boss looking upset and walking towards you - wouldn't you shut down, walk away, or try to avoid your boss? It's the same in the classroom. Start by smiling, a genuine smile. Have an open body position - avoid arms crossed and a frown, welcome students with a smile. You can even tilt your head with a smile - this is inviting - just notice how students respond to you! Often, I'll have students smile at me to show me that they're ready - at times I'll have them hold their smile for an uncomfortably long time, which often leads to some laughter. This is good - the mood has been lifted and you've just made the classroom feel a bit happier.
2. Use an appropriate sense of humor: I had to add appropriate, as it really depends upon the grade level and subject you're teaching. It's important to know students' development and realize what jokes are appropriate and whether or not sarcasm is an appropriate or a demeaning form of humor to use in the classroom. I tend to avoid sarcasm as I don't consider it to be friendly and I also think it sets a rather negative tone in the classroom. I also don't mean knock knock jokes, but rather a playful sense of humor to break any tension or to lift the mood in the classroom is always enjoyable.
3. Be playful: For instance, when I was teaching fifth grade, we decorated our pencil sharpener - gave him eyes, hair and even a mustache! We called him Mr. Mustachio. The students thought it was hilarious. When Mr. Mustachio's eyes were closed that meant we couldn't bother him to sharpen pencils. Instead, we would place our pencils in the pencil hospital and retrieve another pencil that was already sharpened. But sometimes, Mr. Mustachio was awake and those were the times to sharpen pencils. This set the procedure for sharpening pencils in a playful way and students were obsessed.
4. Get to know your students and what makes them happy: This seems obvious but often we forget that students make up 99% of the classroom! If you don't know what your students like, love, enjoy, or what makes them laugh, find out! Incorporate this information into tests, quizzes, homework assignments, and class activities - they will feel heard, appreciated and might really enjoy doing a math problem that deals with the number of Drake records sold. Or perhaps, they would be excited to receive a secret mission to complete that relates to their interests while still tackling some core content standards.
5. Meditate and encourage moments of quiet/stillness: Students are coming from some place of chaos before they come to your classroom - a great way to get them all settled is by taking some moments to breathe together, to meditate, to even practice some yoga together, whatever works to get them all calm, settled, and realize they're in a safe space where they are cared for, where they are valued, and where they will have fun while learning. I do this frequently in my classroom and it's amazing to feel the difference shift from some anxiety, negativity, and wild behaviors to a calm and happier balanced classroom. Try to start your classes this way or also close out in this way before they share their learning take-away and you dismiss students from your classroom. This will set the tone for your classroom and they will know that no matter what they experienced before they came to your room, they'll have the chance to take a breath, slow down, connect with themselves, and be fully present. My 8th graders often ask that we start class this way and they smile when they hear the meditation music - because they have a moment to just relax and breathe.
What's worked for you to foster a happier classroom?