About 2 months ago, I had a conversation with ten students from Gunn High School and asked them to write on post-it notes: 2 things you like and 2 things you dislike like about school. They read the post-it notes and collectively, the students organized these in columns of similar thoughts. The longest “like” column was “friends.” The longest “dislike” column and the longest column of all, was “feeling alone and incompetent.” 

The responses “friends, feeling alone, and incompetent,” relate to the students’ social positioning and the desire for more positive emotions when in school. 

Before the summer, a parent called me to say her young teen daughter (who is in a Los Altos public school) was feeling very lonely and too shy to make friends in school. She asked the teacher to help her daughter make friends but the teacher said she was not always present at recess.  Understandably, teachers are overworked with huge class sizes and with no assistants. 

Loneliness and stress are conditions that affect one’s sense of self as much as hunger affects our physical selves. In fact stress causes as many heart attacks as cholesterol. Social connection is a fundamental human need—along with food, shelter, and clothing. Yet we as a society define student success only in the form of number or letter grades for academic excellence. We don’t give as much value to creating conditions to cultivate social connections that result in positive human emotions. 

Recent studies in educational psychology tell us that positive emotions allow us to see more; to take risks and be more creative; fuel resiliency in the face of adversity; build trust in oneself; and results in better academic performance. Learning in school, sitting in classrooms, tackling every project, filling up worksheets, and doing homework are as much emotional as academic experiences.


When you go home tonight, have your children write in post-its (No more than 5 words):

  • 2 things they like about school
  • 2 things they dislike about school
  • 2 things they like outside of school
  • 2 things they dislike outside of school

Then engage them in a conversation, “How can we make school experiences and everything else better and happier?” Make sure every member of the family contributes a solution. Write the solutions on a piece of paper and make copies for the kitchen and every room in your home. Agree, as a family that every individual’s happiness is the most important goal of all.