All Articles Education Voice of the Educator Engagement, resilience and the link between happiness and success: Educators share what works

Engagement, resilience and the link between happiness and success: Educators share what works

ASCD23 keynote speakers discuss how to better connect with students, help them develop grit and create spaces where success can flourish.

5 min read

EducationVoice of the Educator

Forming connections with students, helping learners develop grit, and exploring the impact that happiness has on success and education are just some of the topics keynote speakers will address at the 2023 ASCD Annual Conference in Denver. Presenters Brandon Fleming, Michele Borba and Shawn Achor sat down with ASCD editors to give a preview of their upcoming discussions. 

Fleming is an author and the founder and CEO of The Veritas School. Borba is a best-selling author and educational psychologist. Achor is a researcher and the author of “The Happiness Advantage.” Here are highlights from our conversations.

Connect and engage

Engaging students begins by meeting them where they are, says Brandon Fleming, teacher, author, debate coach, founder and CEO of the Veritas School of Social Sciences, a college-preparatory institute in Atlanta, Ga. 

“Companies completely fashion themselves according to the interests of the people that they are trying to reach,” says Fleming. “Educators don’t always do that, unfortunately. We don’t expect ourselves to meet people where they are. We expect people to come to us. And that’s not how businesses thrive.”

Find ways to present yourself to students so they connect with you, Fleming advises. He gives the example of his high school teacher Mr. Mills, who, with his diction and style of dress, upended Fleming’s stereotypes of Black manhood. 

“I had internalized stereotypes of Black males that associated us with violence, drugs, alcohol, and athletics—that’s who I thought we were. He disrupted that for me because he showed me something that I had never seen before,” says Fleming. 

The experience ignited Fleming’s imagination and drove his desire to become a scholar. 

“Mr. Mills’ ability to present himself in a different way created a point of connectivity for me,” says Fleming. “That’s what engagement is all about. Engagement is about our ability to create different connecting points.”

Read the full interview on ASCD’s blog.

Building resilience

Helping students develop resilience means coaching them to better manage their stress, according to Michele Borba, educational psychologist.

We know that their stress level is high,” Borba. “And unless they can reduce that stress, it will wreak absolute havoc.”

Help students learn how to identify their stress signs, Borba advises. She recommends giving students index cards for their desks and having them note their body’s signals when stress begins to mount. “It may take students a couple of months of reflection and practice, but they will start to notice what their body is doing before they have a meltdown,” Borba says.

Another suggestion: Have students take a one-two breath – stretching the exhale to twice as long as the inhale – when they feel stress creeping up. “It’s one of the fastest ways to get people to relax. I love this practice because it can be done with kids of any age—from 4-year-olds to 18-year-olds,” Borba says. 

Our students are well-educated and bright, according to Borba. What they need now are tools for developing toughness to handle the rigors of life. 

“We have to do a reboot. Our children have been primed for good test scores—and they’re doing quite well,” says Borba. “[B]ut their skillsets in terms of handling the next bump in the road aren’t. This generation is going to need to be resilient.”  

Read the full interview on ASCD’s blog.

The myth of success

Achievement and success are not guarantees for happiness, according to Shawn Achor, researcher, lecturer, and author. 

“There is a myth that success will yield higher levels of happiness,” Achor says. “If that was the case, the happiest people in the world would be professional athletes, billionaires, or celebrities—and that’s not the case at all.”

As it turns out, happiness is the foundation upon which people can move toward success, Achor says, citing his research. “We found that if we could raise levels of social connection, gratitude, meaning, or purpose—in other words, happiness—only then did educational outcomes improve dramatically,” he says.

Achor talks about a 21-day study he conducted during which subjects wrote a two-minute note of appreciation– an email or text message – to someone they know. Subjects quickly ran out of people to write. “[T]hat is the important day because that’s the day you have to ‘scan’ your ‘mental map’ of people you know,” says Achor. “When you dig deep, you realize there are all these people you could write a text message to. When people do this, their mental map of social connections lights up—they realize they have a rich network of people they know.”

Social connections are critical to achieving happiness, according to Achor. “[I]f there’s a secret to happiness, it’s the breadth and depth of meaning in your social relationships—and you can improve it literally with a text message each day,” he says. 

As people cultivate happiness, it has a ripple effect of success in their lives and those around them. This is key for educators looking to drive student success, Achor maintains.

“As educators’ levels of happiness, optimism, and gratitude grow, students’ educational outcomes can improve dramatically—the entire ecosystem flourishes,” he says. 

Read the full interview on ASCD’s blog.

Kanoe Namahoe is the director of content for SmartBrief Education and Business Services. You can reach her at [email protected]