Thriving in Your School

5 Things I Learned from My Own Teacher Happiness Project

This Is Me

Those of you that know me well, know that I read a lot. I also love to do off the grid DIY projects like make my own laundry soap or cook from scratch. I’m creative. I love 80’s music. I’m a game changer. The fact that I can now list these things off to you now comes out of some painful realizations that were a direct result of my own Teacher Happiness Project work. Let me explain.

I loved reading as a kid. Being read to, learning to read for myself, and poring over book after book once I could read on my own. I always had a book in my hand and I dreamed about the places I read about. As I grew and took on more responsibility, those desires just sort of fell away. Despite reading at school, with my own kids, and reading on my own, this process lost its purpose. It was just this thing I did like doing laundry or taking out the trash. Maybe it seems a trivial difference because, really, all the time I was reading. But if you think about it there’s a huge difference between reading with intention and just going through the motions of reading. The rest of my interests were the same.

At A Crossroads

Anyway, in 2016 I was at a crossroads with teaching after 28 years. I saw others around me who seemed whole and satisfied with their work and I knew with my whole being that I was just going through the motions of teaching-just like with reading. How did they get so happy? The harsh reality I saw staring me in the face was that I either had to master the challenges I faced as a special education teacher or I had to find a different career. Once that understanding hit me, things began to really change.

Having given myself an ultimatum, I no longer felt constrained by what I believed were “the rules” for functioning at school. I stepped way outside my comfort zone and applied and was accepted into a year-long GMWP(Greater Madison Writing Project) cohort, I stopped using programs I thought were bad for kids and I agreed to do some PD for other teachers along with some co-presenters. In the next 6 months, I realized something critically important–if I wanted things to change, I had to be the change. And of course, I read like crazy.

One of those books I consumed at that time was “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin. The book essentially chronicles a year in her life while she partook in monthly focused activities that she hoped would boost her happiness and her reflections of the process. She didn’t just make this up one day. She did her own research and learned what she could. She set purposeful goals, decided on a plan of action and then did it. She did not start out as an expert, she just had the guts enough to start. Why couldn’t I do the very same thing?  And so my Happiness Project began….

The 5 Things I Learned From My Project

The biggest thing I’ve realized over the past couple of years about being happy teaching is that you need to keep working at it. It may not come naturally in the beginning.  A host of authors have added to my understanding here, many of whom I will talk about in future posts. But for now, here are the biggest takeaways I’ve had from my journey through my own Teacher Happiness Project:


If you don’t know who you are as a person, you don’t know who you are as a teacher either. This may take some soul searching and some thinking. As part of the Writing Projects tasks, we all had to come up with a piece titled I Believe. This is where my beliefs about life and about teaching came to a clear understanding for me. I have this hanging by my desk so I see it when I walk in. You could design a motto, a crest, or an I AM image. Whatever reminder you need. Post it somewhere prominent.


Surround yourself with people who support your growth and make you feel like you are doing something good at school. This is not meant to be a Pollyanna approach, ignoring the bad that’s happening. But if you spend your time mired in negative talk and thoughts, you tend to stay there. Stay positive and promote a solution driven process when there is a problem.


Do things that you didn’t think you could do. The list is endless really. You should be a model for your students to try new things. Take on a role you haven’t done before. Do action research. Do a presentation at a PD session. Go see how another teacher does something you’ve always wanted to learn. Read a book or find a website that teaches you something new.


Don’t overfocus on time-waster type activities or just float by without some type of plan. Set priorities each day, map out when longer-term tasks will get done on other days and stick to your plan. You will feel more on top of your to-do list.


This goes without saying. Get good sleep, eat well, work out, meditate, keep a gratitude journal, read, get together with friends. Do whatever you have to do to keep up your health.

I will talk about each of these topics more in depth in future posts because they are all incredibly important to staying happy teaching. What do you do to stay happy teaching? Leave a comment!

Share your thoughts here.....

%d bloggers like this: