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The Program That Made My College Happier and Kinder

December 10, 2022
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For many years, my district has made a point to monitor and improve our school culture. We regularly evaluate our strengths and areas for growth. We want to support staff well-being and ensure our students learn at their maximum potential as best we can. As an associate superintendent, I dove into the principles of positive psychology, which is a pillar of the MindUP program, by reading The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. The research around positive psychology has determined that our brains work significantly better at positive than at negative. Happiness is a choice, but in our role as educators, we can make that choice easier by providing curriculum that supports positivity and authentically improves our school environment.

As a district, we determined that this positivity would be extremely powerful in supporting professional growth and meeting student needs for support. I examined resources to best support student social-emotional learning that incorporated this research in positive psychology. I found MindUP, a neuroscience-based curriculum that develops SEL skills and mental fitness.

What is MindUP?

  • An evidence-based educational program to develop students’ knowledge and skills in stress management, managing emotions, positive relationships, kindness, and compassion.
  • Neuroscience, or the study of the brain, is at the heart of the MindUP program. Students learn that certain parts of their brain are connected to ways they think, feel, or behave. They discover that they have the ability to manage their emotions, improve their interactions, and become more successful learners.
  • Resources include 17 student lessons and activities that begin with a student-friendly introduction to the brain and how it functions. Plus, you’ll find videos and training for educators and school staff.
  • The program also includes The Brain Break: Core to the MindUP Program, a simple mindful breathing activity that children practice three times a day in the classroom. Regular practice of the Brain Break helps to train attention, which facilitates emotional balance and awareness.
  • MindUP is a CASEL SELect Program, a testament to the success and quality of this classroom-based program that promotes students’ social and emotional competence.

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Using MindUP lessons in direct instruction has led to a greater understanding of how to care for mental well-being.

Since implementing MindUP in the fall of 2018, we have witnessed the principles of positive psychology come to life in all 28 of our schools. We carve out time weekly for direct instruction of the lessons and have woven the topics across all curricular areas. The curriculum’s roots in in neuroscience, positive psychology, and social-emotional well-being have given students and staff an understanding of the brain and how to care for it. The program reminds us that our brain is like a muscle. The more you practice activities, the stronger it becomes! This, in turn, has helped us better care for our students.

Lessons have caused a positive ripple effect on staff, administrators, and their families.

The benefit of using the curriculum isn’t exclusive to our students. We’ve seen our staff better understand the principles of positive psychology and how happiness is interconnected. They apply these principles in the classroom and even with their families after the school day. As a leadership team, we’ve begun scanning for the positive things happening in our schools rather than solely the negative. Things like staff recognition: A Red Phone award is passed around at weekly staff meetings to recognize staff that created positive peak moments for students. MindUP has helped staff be their best in school and also bring their best selves home to their families.

Students have begun initiating school-wide kindness events.

If you walked our halls, you would see the Kindness Club meeting during lunchtime or Mix It Up lunches taking place in our junior high schools. You may see Post-its on classroom doors or students’ desks with positive affirmations. All of these are to create an environment where kindness is embraced and all feel welcome. You don’t have to scan too hard to feel positivity. This curriculum has brought inclusivity, kindness, and compassion to life within our schools.

Positive Post-It

According to The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor, positive mindset increases productivity by 31% and makes us 10 times more engaged at work. It helps ensure we live longer, become better learners, and live happier lives. We should prioritize this for students and staff now more than ever. The impact of positivity is both personal and professional and has improved our school culture tremendously. MindUP has served as a strong resource for bringing evidence-based, positive tactics right into our classrooms and hallways. Explore MindUP for yourself with an exclusive free trial of their resources.

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In full disclosure, my district’s foundation received a donation in compensation for my time to write this article. I was happy to write this piece—it is true to my experience with the MindUP program.

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