Recently, I came across an old journal that I kept as a teenager. Among the typical entries about boys, friends, and parents, there was one about what I wanted to do when I grew up. With the infallible wisdom of a 13-year-old, I had written that I wanted to teach people—particularly children—how to live happy lives.
Little did I know that many, many years later, I would get to do just that.
I am absolutely thrilled to be joining the Greater Good Science Center as its first-ever Education Director, where my primary responsibility—much to the delight of my 13-year-old self—is not only to help people live happier, more meaningful lives, but to teach them how to teach others these same skills. This is a rare and special opportunity, and it enables me to build on the ideas that have spurred my career in education.
During my tenure as a teacher and school administrator, I maintained that school was not just about academics but about learning skills for getting along with others, managing emotions, and creating a life of meaning and purpose. I realized that kids could achieve all kinds of professional and financial success and still be miserable if they lacked basic social-emotional and other life-skills—and that, quite often, those skills are a key to success in school and beyond. But I wasn’t entirely clear myself about what those skills entailed and how best to teach them.
Then I discovered Positive Psychology. At last, here was a science-based approach that identified and gave practical applications for what constitutes a happy life. Research was showing us that happiness is dependent not on material success but on things such as developing close relationships, giving to others, being grateful, and creating meaning in our lives. Eager to learn more, I enrolled in a doctoral program in education and Positive Psychology. I remember sitting in my first Positive Psychology class thinking, “We have to get this into schools.”
Fast forward to my new role at the Greater Good Science Center. My plan as the GGSC’s new Education Director is to create a vibrant, caring community where education professionals from all over the world can get the latest research-based, easy-to-use resources for bringing more compassion, flow, resilience, mindfulness, laughter, and other positive qualities into their work and their own lives. I’m especially excited that the GGSC focuses not just on personal happiness, but on altruism, empathy, forgiveness, and gratitude—all of which lead to better relationships, including the all-important relationship between teacher and student, and stronger communities.
Some of the offerings of the GGSC’s new education program will include:
- Articles and lesson plans that translate cutting-edge science into practical ideas teachers and administrators can apply in the classroom and school setting in general;
- “Teacher Care” articles on how educators can deal with the stress from the awesomely challenging work they do;
- A weeklong summer institute for teachers and administrators that explores the benefits of social-emotional learning (SEL) and other GGSC topics for their students and for themselves, through an in-depth, hands-on experiential curriculum;
- Ongoing professional development opportunities, including webinars and workshops;
- Collaboration with other educational organizations to infuse their curricula and other materials with Greater Good science;
- Recommendations of books that you and your colleagues might want to discuss.
I invite all of you to be part of the international conversation about how we can shift the educational landscape. I’d love to hear your thoughts, ideas, suggestions, needs, and experiences related to our new education program. Please sign up here to get our monthly newsletter so we can stay in touch.
Together, I believe we can improve the well-being of students, teachers, administrators, and schools in general—a vital step toward nurturing a more compassionate and resilient society.
Welcome Vicki! I’m excited that you’re joining the staff and
I’m really looking forward to what’s next on the horizon for
the Center. I work in Higher Education and oversee
professional development, wellness, and other programs for
our staff/faculty. I have been working on how to integrate
the concepts of Positive Psychology into our work and would
love to help you all with this in any way I can, and obviously
I want to learn more from you all along the way. I am a
member, so feel free to contact me if I can be helpful.
Lorea Belle Seidel | 1:19 pm, August 16, 2012 | Link
Hi Lorea! Thanks for the welcome. I’d love to hear more about how you’re incorporating Positive Psychology into your work. We’re always on the lookout for great ideas!
Vicki Zakrzewski | 5:17 pm, August 16, 2012 | Link
Please let us know if we can be of support to you as you develop your new educational programs. We have a resource center and free downloadable activities for teachers. Humane education helps teachers/educators incorporate compassion, empathy, mindfulness, critical thinking, joy, giving and gratitude into their lives and teaching, in the context of the world we live in. If you are interested in broadening some of your lessons and resources to include global issues we would be happy to help. Our website is http://www.humaneeducation.org. Look forward to connecting with you.
Institute for Humane Education
Sarah Speare | 8:05 am, August 22, 2012 | Link
Thanks so much for getting in touch! I’m looking forward to learning more about the work of Humane Education. Sounds like a wonderful and much-needed service for schools! I look forward to connecting with you soon, too.
Vicki Zakrzewski | 6:24 pm, August 22, 2012 | Link
This is an excellent addition to the GGSC. I am excited about the various threads that are developing to support the integration of positive psychology and mindfulness within our schools.
Best of luck with this new venture!
Assistant Superintendent for Student Services CUSD 303
St. Charles, IL
John Knewitz | 12:08 pm, August 23, 2012 | Link
Thanks for reaching out!I’m very excited to see there’s interest in these topics at the district-level! I’d love to hear your feedback as to what kinds of Positive Psychology topics might be most helpful for school administrators.
Vicki Zakrzewski | 9:44 am, August 24, 2012 | Link
I would love to share my thoughts with you about this topic but they are too numerous to put in a comments section like this. I believe you have access to my email from my registration to this site and if you would like to send an email to me, I will respond.
john knewitz | 6:32 pm, August 26, 2012 | Link
I hope that your work will put a particular focus on this kind
of education in the early years, when it has the greatest
life-long impact with the least effort and expense.
Teaching parents, child care and Health care providers, and
teachers who work with young children about attachment,
respect for a child’s nonverbal communications, emotional
regulation, and emotional sensitivity to the whole child
makes a huge difference, but our culture and our national
educational and budgetary priorities often get in the way.
John Surr | 8:24 am, September 5, 2012 | Link
I am the middle school counselor at Menlo School. As part of my job, I also teach a class called Human Skills to 6th, 7th, and 8th grade which focused on social and emotional learning. There are several other independent schools out there that are addressing a life skills curriculum and may be a resource to your endeavor. Please feel free to contact me if I can be any help.
Laura McGourty | 1:16 pm, September 5, 2012 | Link
This sounds great. I teach at a progressive school in
the Washington, DC, area, and social-emotional,
“whole child” education is at the heart of our
teaching. I hope to be a part of the week-long
summer institute in the future. I look forward to
incorporating your work into my teaching. Best of
luck to you!
Burgundy Farm Country Day School
Henry Edwards | 4:46 pm, September 7, 2012 | Link
I am developing materials now to teach Happiness and Social/Emotional Intelligence at the San Carlos Charter School.
What materials do you have that I should leverage?
Marcy Axelrod | 11:25 am, September 11, 2012 | Link
Hi again Vicki,
Wanted to make sure that you knew about our upcoming PD course for educators. Thanks for helping to spread the word!
“Teaching for a Positive Future” is a six-week online professional development course for educators offered by the Institute for Humane Education (IHE). The course starts on Oct 8 and is designed to help teachers inspire their students to become leaders and changemakers—for creating a healthy, peaceful, and sustainable world—and incorporate what they learn into whatever subject or grade level they teach. They get the support and motivation to teach valuable critical and creative thinking skills about our global challenges and learn how to help students nurture connection and embrace responsibility so that they can become “solutionaries” for a better world. CEUs available. The cost is $135 for individuals and $100 for two or more people. For more information: http://humaneeducation.org/sections/view/teaching_for_a_positive_future
Sarah Speare | 7:12 am, September 12, 2012 | Link
Thank you to all who have reached out by leaving
comments! I very much appreciate your ideas,
suggestions, offers of help, and information about
programs - everything that will help make this a very
rich resource for everyone in education (and not in
Vicki Zakrzewski | 2:23 pm, September 12, 2012 | Link
Thanks so much for your question about available
materials on happiness and social-emotional learning.
We are currently developing these materials and hope
to have them available some time in the next couple
of months. If you sign up for the education newsletter,
you’ll be alerted as to when they are available.
Vicki Zakrzewski | 9:23 am, September 17, 2012 | Link
Hi, Dr. Zakrzewski:
Thanks for heading the much-needed Education Program. I have been working as a bilingual school psychologist in the Bay Area for the past 12 years. I’m passionate about Positive Psychology and have been advocating for children’s social/emotional intellectual development in the Chinese community since 2002 via parenting workshops, etc. Currently I’m helping the highest academically ranked public Junior High in CA search for practical SEL tools for our teachers to integrate in their curriculum. Hope we have opportunities to collaborate in the near future.
G. Julie Xie, Ph.D.
G. Julie Xie, Ph.D. | 10:51 pm, September 18, 2012 | Link
Hi Dr. Xie,
Thanks so much for reaching out and letting me know
about your work! I love meeting people who are as
passionate about Positive Psychology and SEL in the
schools as I am. Please stay in touch!
Vicki Zakrzewski | 10:04 am, September 19, 2012 | Link
Everything that is in the works sounds very exciting! When will we hear more about the Summer Institute and the other opportunities for professional development for teachers?
Raina Cohen | 10:45 am, September 21, 2012 | Link
We are planning to post information about the
Summer Institute in October. Regarding other
professional development opportunities: we are in the
process of developing them and hope to present our
first one either later this fall or in the early spring. If
you haven’t already, please sign-up for the education
newsletter as that will keep you posted on everything
Vicki Zakrzewski | 11:40 am, September 21, 2012 | Link
What a great addition to the center. Thanks for what
you’ve already contributed.
I work for the Dept. of Education and look forward to
being part of the ongoing conversation about how to
bring the great resources of GGSC to the educational
Sepha Schiffman | 12:06 pm, September 22, 2012 | Link
Thanks so much for your message. I’m very excited to
have a voice from the Department of Education be
part of the conversation!
Vicki Zakrzewski | 9:45 am, September 24, 2012 | Link
Please be sure in your work that “education” includes
early care and education, ages 0-5. That’s when the
big changes happen that are so life-changing if they
are positive or so difficult to change later if they are
negative. A young child makes fundamental decisions
about his or her approach to life and the world he or
she will live in. We need your voice to join ours to
help young children to grow with love, care and
respect for who they are and what they need from us.
John Surr | 9:18 am, October 9, 2012 | Link
Thanks for your comment. I agree—those early years
are crucial for helping children develop a healthy
social-emotional life. We very much will be addressing
this age group, as well.
Vicki Zakrzewski | 2:55 pm, October 10, 2012 | Link