Check out all the resources in our free Back-to-School Bundle!

Educators know the first week of school is crucial for setting expectations and creating a positive and productive learning environment that will grow throughout the school year.

Whether it’s a quick brain break on Day 1 or a daily practice like journaling, it is helpful to have ready-to-go activities in your back pocket, so why not frontload the school year with the skills of happiness? 

You and your students can reap the benefits and start the school year on a positive note with these five simple activities! You can print each activity one by one or print the entire bundle for a week full of activities centered on the skills of happiness. 

Activity 1: Identify Your Character Strengths 

The skill of identifying character strengths centers on the question of “What is RIGHT with me?” and “Who am I at my BEST?” Focusing on what is uniquely right with you and your students promotes engagement, strong relationships, and increased wellbeing. 

For educators: Complete the VIA Character Strengths Survey (less than 15 minutes) and encourage other staff on your team and in your school to complete the survey as well. Print and post your rank order of strengths somewhere you will see them every day (your refrigerator, workstation, or digital desktop). Then, explore and reflect on your Signature Strengths with this Shine a Light on Your Signature Strengths worksheet. Becoming aware of your strengths and the strengths of others is a great way to start the school year shining the light on what’s RIGHT! 

Looking for additional resources on how to practice character strengths for yourself? Explore here

For students: Have students complete the VIA Character Strengths Survey in the first week of school. This is a great way to get to know your students, and is an opportunity for them to get to know each other when they share their signature strengths with their classmates. There is a Supplement for Use When Supporting Youth with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities to Complete the VIA-Youth, for students who need differentiated support. 

Activity 2: Start a What Went Well Journal

Pausing to ask yourself, “What Went Well?” trains your brain to focus on the good each day. Learning to focus on gratitude enables you to be more resilient while facing challenges and live a healthier, happier life. 

For educators: Journaling about the good in life is a great gratitude practice. Starting the first week of school, set aside 5-10 minutes each day and ask yourself, “What Went Well?” These can be small wins or big accomplishments. Your list can include the obviously positive (e.g., positive feedback from a boss), the silver lining moments (e.g., I hit traffic commuting but got to catch up with an old friend on the drive), or the absence of the negative (e.g., no one engaged in dangerous behavior in my classroom today).

For students: On one of the first days back to school, have students share What Went Well for them over the summer. Use the What Went Well Journal (writing option and drawing option) and/or these teaching slides. This could be a classwide share, a partner share, or an individual reflection. You can also lead a What Went Well activity at the end of the first week of school where students can share what’s gone well in their first week back at school. 

Activity 3: Make Your Jolts of Joy List 

Science shows that joy-inducing activities transform the way we think, perform and respond. Jolts of Joy are small, intentional actions that inject positive emotions into our day and help us take control of our wellbeing from moment to moment.

For educators: Jot down 10-15 quick and easy activities that induce positive emotions for you. Aim to identify triggers for EACH of The BIG 10 Positive emotions — joy, amusement, interest, awe, gratitude, pride, serenity, inspiration, hope, and love. Post the list where you will see it frequently and be reminded to boost your positivity by accessing regular Jolts of Joy. Set alarms on your phone that remind you to practice one of your Jolts of Joy up to five times per day.

For students: As a class, create a Jolts of Joy Class Poster to help students intentionally and mindfully access each of the 10 positive emotions throughout the school year. Ask your class: As a class, what do we want to feel? What are things we can do as a class or individuals to help us feel positive emotions? Give students time to brainstorm in groups and then design Jolts of Joy to add to the class poster. 

Activity 4: Start the Year with Strengths at Back-to-School Night 

For educators: At Back-to-School Night, have parents complete the brief VIA Strengths Survey to identify strengths they believe their child displays. Bring the group together and have a few parents report how they believe their child’s strengths will be displayed during the year. Revisit their survey at ALL parent/teacher conferences.

Use the Identifying Your Child’s Strengths worksheet with definitions of each of the 24 Character Strengths to help guide conversations. 

Activity 5: Gratitude Brainstorm

For educators: Spend a few minutes doing a Gratitude Brainstorm to get your gratitude baseline. For individuals new to this practice, it is common to focus on only one or two areas of gratitude. This resource will help you broaden your view of gratitude across multiple aspects of your life. Many find it helpful to revisit this activity once per month to see the impact of integrating What Went Well into their daily or weekly routines.

For students: Have students complete a Categories of Gratitude Brainstorm worksheet, where they explore a variety of things they are grateful for in several categories (e.g. family, health, vacations, interests, etc). You can also lead this as a class-wide activity using these teaching slides, where you can add examples from the class into bullet points on the slides for each of the 12 categories. 

Be sure to download and print the free Back-to-School Bundle so you can access all 5 activities for your first days back at school. Wishing you a flourishing school year ahead.

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