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Improving the Educational Landscape in Montana by Addressing the Well-Being of Teachers

The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation awarded a $300,000 grant to the University of Montana Foundation’s Montana Happiness Project (MHP) to support mental health and well-being resources for Montana teachers. The mission of MHP is to work with people and organizations to support mental health, promote well-being and address the problem of suicide through professional education, consultation and supervision.

MHP helps teachers manage their own stress and distress and provides teachers with skills and ideas for implementing positive psychology interventions in their classrooms. MHP also provides retreats and high-quality, evidence-based training experiences to Montana teachers and students. Since receiving AMBFF funding in 2022, MHP has helped to move teachers out of distress, increase teacher morale and equip teachers with skills to improve student wellness and help students flourish.

An ongoing MHP initiative that closely aligns with the foundation’s Mental Health & Well-Being strategy is the “Happy Schools” project. In collaboration with the University of Montana Safe Schools Center and the foundation, MHP subsidizes a graduate-level, three-credit course titled, “Evidence-Based Happiness for Teachers.” The course techniques and resources include research-based positive psychology interventions that teachers can use on themselves, such as gratitude practice, acts of kindness, forgiveness, mindfulness meditation and more. The techniques are designed to increase positive affect and a sense of meaningfulness in life.

Based on the principle that whatever you pay attention to grows, MHP believes re-orienting school professionals and students toward happiness potential will provide an important supplement to the hyper-focus on depression and suicide screening.

“When we started this project with the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, we believed that Montana educators were in distress and underappreciated, and our data has proven this to be correct,” said Dr. John Sommers-Flanagan, University of Montana. “Our goal is to support teachers, and we believe that teacher well-being can have a positive effect on student well-being, morale, attendance and academic performance.”

MHP has offered classes and workshops to nearly 400 Montana educators, which has led to a decrease in significant depression symptoms amongst participating teachers.

Because positive psychology can sometimes be viewed as “toxic positivity,” MHP takes a clinically sensitive approach, never implying that course participants “should” be happier or that the curriculum will work for them. Instead, MHP asks teachers to try these practices and then come to their own conclusions.

MHP is working to transform education in Montana and will continue to offer low-cost happiness classes and workshops to educators, along with beginning to train at least 20 teachers, psychologists, counselors and educational leaders throughout Montana to help reach more schools, teachers and students throughout the state.

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