How to create a ‘Culture of Happiness’ at a large international school

When Clare Johnstone and I took over the elementary division at Stamford American International School, one of the first things we agreed upon was the kind of culture and environment we wanted to create. We knew we would need to be intentional in our actions and behaviors to bring about change. We wanted our positive actions to resonate with our colleagues in the hope that they would spread throughout the community.

In the early days we spent time each week discussing staff wellbeing and happiness which involved the creation of things like a Sunshine Budget that allowed us to put on coffee, biscuits or treats for staff. These actions, to begin with, were small but we knew gratitude could be a quick and relatively easy win even with a simple gesture.

Increasingly, our staff’s actions are having a ripple effect with bubbles of positivity creating genuine energy, enthusiasm and sense of wellbeing. We are also seeing a level of synchronicity – our staff notice the impact of people doing nice things for others and they reciprocate these actions because it makes them feel good.

Many of our staff have taken part in sessions on cultural change, positivity and happiness with the ‘Art of Brilliance (AoB)’ and there is now a core group of staff who are looking to put their learning into action. The goal in the future is to have a group of ‘Student Wellness Leaders’ who start the ripple effect amongst our elementary students and families. There has been a definite increase in engagement and requests for professional development related to wellbeing.

What we have learnt is that, as a school, we are very much in charge of how we want ourselves and others to feel but recognize that things can get us down. The important thing is understanding that we don’t have to stay down. Our actions and the actions of those around us can have a marked impact on wellbeing, it just takes a little effort and a willingness to change.

– Mark Williams, Upper Elementary Principal, Stamford American International School

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