Over the last three years of the pandemic, schools have gone through major changes in how they deliver curriculum. From every student going home to learn online, to a partial return with hybrid learning, and then to a full return. Although teachers stepped up to provide this bridge to uninterrupted learning, students suffered with learning loss and social emotional dis-regulation. Schools had to change from a rigid attendance format for learning to a hybrid—both in person and online—delivery of curriculum. Weathering the pandemic was accomplished but student learning as measured in achievement and happiness decreased.
Schools and Happiness?
Most of us assume that schools are happy places to learn, but learning is hard and depends on student willingness to learn. Happiness helps students do the heavy lifting of learning. His holiness the Dalai Lama emphasizes that compassion is at the heart of how happiness is associated with openness and willingness to hear other ideas:
“Many years ago, I wrote, ‘if you want others to be happy, practice compassion, and if you want yourself to be happy, practice compassion.’ The Buddhist tradition has, like many of the world’s great spiritual traditions, exhorted us to live our lives compassionately. These spiritual traditions teach us to feel connected with our fellow beings and with the world we live in. They celebrate service to others as one of the highest virtues. Today, growing scientific data confirms this insight. Researchers on human happiness identify compassionate service to others to be one of the key characteristics shared by many of the world’s happiest people” (The Art of Happiness. His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, 1998, from the new preface by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama).
Compassionate Service to Others
In thinking about how schools will change in light of the learning loss, a set of common attributes that we all share is important for us to remember:
“There is a set of basic beliefs that act as a substrate for all his (or her) actions. A belief in the fundamental gentleness and goodness of all human beings, a belief in the value of compassion, a belief in a policy of kindness, and a sense of commonality among all living creatures” (The Art of Happiness. His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, 1998, p. 8).
I think this means that schools have a very important role to play going forward in this era of change. That role is to build inner discipline in thinking that leads to happiness:
“Yes. I believe that happiness can be achieved through training the mind…When I say training the mind, I am using the term in the sense of the Tibetan word which has a much broader meaning and includes intellect and feeling heart and mind. By bringing about a certain inner discipline we can undergo a transformation of our attitude, our entire outlook and our approach to living…that is the way” (The Art of Happiness. His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, 1998, p. 15).