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Creating a Happiness Advantage to Educators Brings Positive Results to an Iowa School System

man in front of presentation with colorful cartoon frogs
Joel Pendersen, superintendent of Iowa's Cardinal Community School District, discusses The Happiness Advantage's Orange Frog Workshop. Photo by Paige Heller.

Joel Pedersen, superintendent of the Cardinal Community School District in Iowa, exudes excitement when he talks about his eight-year implementation of the Happiness Advantage in his school system.

plush orange frog hiding behind poll
Spark, the titular character of Shawn Achor's story that explains The Happiness Advantage, makes an appearance at a Friday workshop. Photo by Paige Heller.

Pedersen first learned about the Happiness Advantage from AASA. His district was subsequently featured by Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, in his keynote address at AASA’s 2016 national conference.

Pedersen has seen the difference it made for all of his staff, including bus drivers and other support staff. He credits this to the culture change the Happiness Advantage created. This was especially important during the pandemic when his district expanded its focus to Happiness 360. This extended the positive psychology reach beyond school staff to students and families.

man in vibrant clothes passing mic to other man
Greg Kaiser, co-founder and president of International Thought Leader Network, passes the microphone to Cardinal Community School District Superintendent Joel Pendersen at a workshop about Shawn Achor's The Happiness Advantage. Photo by Paige Heller.

Their results? Having happier kids and more trusting parents, now part of Happiness 360, led to higher open enrollment numbers and more revenue for the schools. Literacy outcomes have improved. They also found that including everyone in this culture change provided the entire school community with a common lens and vocabulary to talk about their programs and outcomes.

Another impressive result is they have been named a top workplace in the Des Moines Register for the past four years.

Pedersen noted that their school system is a great example of positive psychology principles working. He used an example with bus drivers who shifted their viewpoint of their job as an example of our ability to retrain our brain through learning and experience to create higher levels of happiness and success.

(Rebecca Salon is a reporter with Conference Daily Online and a disability policy consultant in Washington, D.C.)

Orange Frog's booth in AASA's exhibit hall during the 2023 National Conference on Education. Photo by Brianna Driver.
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