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Andy Cope on Being Brilliant! – PP100


The topic of the week is Andy Cope on Being Brilliant!

We loved speaking to the inspirational Andy Cope for episode 100. Andy trained as a teacher but quickly went into adult education. Then he realised he was ‘doing it wrong’. He discovered a subject called positive psychology which he describes as ‘the science of happiness and wellbeing’. He began a PhD in the science of happiness and has spent 10 years seeking out happy people and following them around for his research.

The Art of Being Brilliant

From this basis, Andy developed a series of business and school courses called The Art of Being Brilliant in 2005. Originally it was only meant for businesses but 5 years ago he realised that teachers needed to feel better as well so he developed products for them. Then 3 years ago he expanded the ideas to parents and children as well.

Andy’s ’embedded model’ is used in schools. The programme is delivered to the children who then develop their own happiness programme and deliver it themselves to the adults. The work has spread across the world and also been used across cities in England. Usually it is delivered to a cluster of schools. The children come up with a plan after some support and Andy’s team come back after 4 months to see how they are getting on.

How do you make teachers who are happy in their negative mindset happier?

Andy believes you can’t change other people but you can influence them. He believes if you can be the happy person who comes into the staffroom with a smile upon your face, then you can be ‘your best version of you’ then you there’s a chance others will catch it as well.

Andy (somewhat controversially) believes that the teachers are the most important people in a school because if they are not happy, then the children don’t stand a chance of catching it and being happy themselves.

There is a ‘ripple effect’ of happiness. It leaks out of you and reaches three degrees of people removed from you.

It’s a business statistic and is probably much bigger in schools but if you are upbeat and happy, everyone you meet in a day is going to be 16% happier as a result. This then transmits through those people 10% to the people they meet. Then it transmits another 6% to the people they meet. This ties in beautifully with Pivotal’s obsession with meet and greet at the door.

Andy mentions research which proves that when you are in a good mood your brain literally switches on and you see possibilities and become more creative.

How can teachers bring brilliance into their classrooms?

Andy says that most teachers are infected with ‘destination addiction’. This means that their aim n a Monday morning is to get through the week – or to half term. The average lifespan is 4,000 weeks so none of us has a long time on this planet. Destination addiction involves counting down those weeks and wishing them away.

The most striking common aspect of the happy people Andy has been surveying over the past 10 years is that they choose to be positive.

This sounds simple but it’s not very easy. Andy had to learn haw to do this. He began to take advice from a self help book which recommended waking up each morning and being thankful that you haven’t got toothache. He did this every day for 365 days. The conscious gratitude of not having toothache puts Andy in a better mood. This then transferred to his children via the ripple effect and he found he had the energy of two people. The next year he upgraded to kidneys. If teachers can do little things like this it will make a difference.

The 4 minute rule

It takes about 4 minutes for other people to catch how you feel. If you can maintain positivity for four minutes, other people around you will raise their game. So the first 4 minutes in the staffroom, the first 4 minutes of your lesson, the first 4 minutes of an after-school meeting can make a huge difference to you and the other people there through the ripple effect.

Andy points out that happiness is just thinking – it doesn’t really exist, it’s a mental construct, it’s a choice.

What can parents do with a relentlessly negative teenager at home?

It starts with the parents. For example, when Andy gets home he asks his children how their day has been – good fantastic or brilliant. Then he asks questions like ‘what was the highlight of your day?’ or ‘what was the most amazing thing you did today?’ These are much better ways into a positive response.

Andy also likes the Carol Dweck ‘8 positives for every negative’ approach. These need to be 8 authentic things you catch your child doing.

He advises that we should all arrange for the wifi to switch itself off automatically at 10pm every day so teenagers can get proper sleep – and it also benefits the whole family.

Ultimately, teenagers like all children won’t necessarily do you say but they will more likely do what you do – so it has to start with the parents.

What can we do to help headteachers be happier?

Everything Andy has been talking about is emotional leadership. If you as a teacher aren’t ‘feeling the love from above’ it’s very hard to be inspired. Andy thinks this is a difficult area for teachers to influence, other than being positive yourself, as above. Andy regularly tells headteachers that their job is not to motivate other people and they should stop trying to do so. Rather, he says:

Your job as a headteacher is to be motivated.

Regardless of how you really feel, you have to appear to be motivated. Then the ripple effect can happen and you can produce a happiness tsunami.

Andy also mentions a concept called ‘The Beautiful Ordinary’ from the science of happiness. The potential to be happy is with you always. If you think of the top ten happiest moments of your life, you will find that they are all to do with experiences rather than products and most of them will have been free. So if you can appreciate the ordinary things which happen – the smell of the coffee, the banter in the staffroom – you can tune into the moments of joy rather than letting the difficulties of life crush you. This is connected with the concepts of Mindfulness.

ToBe list

Rather than a ToDo list, Andy promotes the use of a ToBe list. It encourages you to think honestly about who you are being when you do certain things. Am I being world-class, a positive roll model for the students, full of passion and vivacious or am I being a bit ground down by a wet break or a child from year 9 giving me a hard time?

If you can be your best self on a more consistent basis there are lots of benefits.

You can get more of your ToDo list ticked off and be an inspiration to the staff room. If the staff room is buzzing, then that will transmit to the students.

School culture

Putting happiness at the centre of your school culture is crucial. Andy talks about the concept of the ‘Happiness Rainbow’. Happiness has generally been mis-sold to people as a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. It’s positioned tantalisingly ‘over there’. You have to earn it, pursue it, make it yours. However, in terms of the culture of a school, what if happiness is already here and we’re just not seeing it?

  • What if it’s the happiest year 6s you get the best SATs?
  • What if it’s the happiest Year 11s you get the As and A*s?
  • What if it’s the happiest school that over-performs at Ofsted?

So if happiness starts now, on a Monday morning, not on a Friday at the end of the school day, this is an ethos, a way of thinking, a way of feeling in a school, not something you can command.

There are many more examples and a lot of further detail in the episode so do listen right to the end.

Andy on Twitter

Art of Brilliance website


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(Creative Commons Sound clip by Johnny Pixel Productions, Inc. –

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