March 2020 Report: Happy Schools in Vietnam



The objective of this project is to develop a clear framework and practical methods with a teacher training curriculum, to help develop Happy Schools, from grade 1 to 12. It raises the awareness that True Happiness can be achieved if students have the opportunity to learn and practice 3 modes of Care:

  • Self Care: Learn to develop their full potential: knowledge, competencies, skills, talents and creativity
  • Care for others and for society: Learn to live in harmony with others, create meaningful relationships, become responsible citizens and thus contribute to a Happy society
  • Care for the environment and the planet: Learn to respect and protect our fragile environment and live in harmony with Nature
1.1. Overview

The project is currently in its 2nd year. Since 2018, 2 batches of teachers have gone through Happy Schools Training in Thua Thien Hue Province, which consists of:

  • Batch 1 (2018-2019)- 102 teachers from 6 schools; batch 2 (2019-2020)- 79 teachers from 9 schools (3 new schools)
  • 31% from primary schools, 32% from lower secondary, and 37% from upper secondary.
  • 12% are school administrators, 88% are teachers.

The estimated number of students involved in the project is 4100 students.

1.2. Key events/phases of the 2nd year

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2.1. The Delevopment of the Teacher Training Curriculum

Key Outcomes

The key values which teachers appreciate from the trainings (consolidated from 300+ training surveys of all modules and 21 in-depth interviews with 1st batch core teachers).

(1) Paradigm shifts, among which the 3 shifts below are most mentioned.


Ms. Lan Le-Thi-Mai, Principal of Thuan Thanh Primary School.

Regarding  my family, I always feel grateful for what I’m having. Instead of being caught up with works to earn money like I used to, I spend time taking care of myself and sharing more with my kids and my husband.

Happy Schools introduces me to the practices and technique to manage my emotions. I find it easier to resolve conflicts within my family. No more sleepless night self-sabotaging, no more blaming, no more perfectionist,… In another word, I feel lucky for all what I have in life now.

The biggest change, for me is a new perception about Happiness, and it changes me not only as a teacher, but also as a parent, especially my relationship with my teenage daughter. I care more about her feelings and emotions in her school life, in her relationships with teachers and friends. I learn to accept the time when she doesn’t get good results, and to help her learn from and find a better way to study after that “failure”. (In the past, I used to get angry and scold at my daughter when she fails)

I became my daughter’s friend. Whatever happens, she always share with me about her good/bad grade, about things happening in her class, about her music idols, about a boy having a crush on her and she also has a feeling for him, or her dream about studying abroad … 

I can say that Happy Schools has helped me not to become an ignorant mother. I subtly and happily walk with my daughter through her teenage. 

Regarding our school, before (joining the project), we focus on developing IQ for kids, while we pay little attention whether going to school makes the kid happy or not. While joining the presentation and practice (of Happy Schools trainings), I felt guilty toward my students and my colleagues. 

Happy Schools has offered me the know-how to build up quality relationships in school context. I treat our school’s teachers and staff wholeheartedly and responsibly; as a resut, I receive love, kindness and discipline from my co-workers and student’s parents; students are also friendly, close and loving toward me. Our teacher council is united and inter-dependent; we are also highly responsible toward our students, thus parents (of the students) and the local government highly appriciate and deeply trust us. 

I can feel there is such a family-like atmospheree in our school. Teachers solve classroom challenges more effectively. They also share, in a much calmer and more compassionate manner, about the ‘tough’ kids in the inclusive classroom and about cases in which they have to deal with challenging parents. 

As a school admin, I learn a much more persuasive and inspring way to work with my co-workers and to resolve conflicts when it arises; I also identified the core values upon which our team is built.

  • From focusing on growing ‘successful students’ with intellectual intelligence to nurturing ‘happy students’ with social-emotional intelligence, from only focusing on academic performance to the quality of relationships at schools. 100% would recommend this to others as they believe this would benefit both teachers & students amid the current culture of academic -driven & competition-driven.
  • From an ego-centered to a more eco-centered approach toward the environment, and from the passive attitude of ‘blaming & waiting’ to ‘do my share’ attitude. For example, 87% teachers, after Module 3, have their own plan to cut down personal waste and plant more trees through simple daily action.
  • From ‘lecturing/telling/teaching’ to ‘role modeling/sharing‘.

Besides, all core teachers shared that these shifts not only change their perception in teaching, but also at a more fundamental and personal level; 14 over 21 core teachers reported that it influences their approaches to parenting.

(2) The toolkits:  Teachers also appreciate the Happiness skillsets & practices to build quality relationships.

Key Milestones

Important deliverables which are considered to drive the above shifts

(1) The release of HS Manual (2nd edition) & HS Workbook (1st edition)

  • The 2nd edition of the Manual was released in August (Module 1 & 2) and in October (Module 3). This version is built on feedback from 23 teachers after the 1st year of implementation.
  • The new Workbook consolidates and presents practical age-adapted practices and lesson plans which are tailored to Vietnam school context by 1st batch HS teachers.

(2) The engagement of 1st batch active teachers as Facilitators in Teacher Trainings

  • 21 active teachers, with grassroot understanding, facilitate group practices, share their experience on piloting HS, and host discussion over the implementation in classroom to the 2nd batch.

(3) The adjustment of Training Content and Agenda

  • Following 80+ feedback from the 1st batch, the training content and agenda of all 3 Modules, especially the Module 3 -Care for Nature, were customized to offer audiences the space to approach the topic with their head-heart-hand, delivering clearer messages & building stronger momentum for actions.

Key Learnings

Our reflections on the process…

We have learned that the paradigm shifts emerged from the presence of the 3 elements “Procedure-People -Place”:

(1) Procedure: The training agenda was adjusted as a co-creation process between trainers and participants to offer a learning process that touches the 3 aspects- hand, heart, head. This is shown in the balance between the time spent on theory and practice, the integration of SEL skills in group discussion, and the daily schedule that covers sessions for self-care, care of other, time in nature,…  More than 90% of teachers agree that the training method is effective for their learning styles and take it as a reference to change their traditional way of teaching. (*)

(2) People: This year, 21- core teacher from the 1st batch joined us as co-fafilitators. As they ‘speak the same language’ with the new comers, their participation strengthened the communication and delivery to the new batch. The 2nd batch was equiped with both theory and practical experience from hand-on people, and they felt more confident when realizing that there are peer teachers whom they can share with & ask for support. For the core teachers, the facilitator role offered them a chance to reflect, appreciate their own journeys and share their learning to others. (**)

(3) Place: TTG offers a living example of care-driven community and of an education toward well-being. This gives teachers a disruptive experience that doesn’t fit into their existing story in which intellectual is highly focused, left aside the relationships between human-human & human-nature. (***)

Testimony from Mr. Tien Doan-Van, Vice Principal of Cao Thang Upper Secondary School

(*) “What differentiates Happy Schools and other trainings of social-emotional learning is the quality of practice. It creates all necessary conditions to practice like grounded facilitators, mindful surrounding,… helped us deep dive into the practice. Practicing is the only way to apply what we’ve learnt about mindfulness, emotional management, non-violent communication,… into real life”.

Testimony from Ms. Lan Thai-Thi-Mai, 2nd Grade Teacher, Thuan Thanh Primary School.

(**) “As a core teacher, I am very excited with supporting new teachers. I realized that this year’s training was very updated and helpful. With the new role as a facilitator, I had many opportunities to share with the new teachers my own journey of transformation. For me, the new teachers in my group were very confident and knew that what they have learnt from Happy Schools would be very useful for their personal and professional life. I hope that my humble contribution is bringing encouragement for the them to implement the projects in a genuine and effective way…” 

Ms. Quyen Nguyen-Thi, Vice Principal of Nguyen Truong To Upper Secondary School.

(***)”I’m touched by the way the teachers in TTG sharing about the ‘superpower’ of the youngsters with so much love. We all see that each of them has their own difficulties, but you always observe, recognize the good and give them the according tasks/jobs to learn from doing it. It gives me a clear example of ‘nurturing the positive emotions’ and a concise explaination for ’emotion drive attention, attention drives learning‘, and makes me reflect how I’m looking at my students now, whether I’m only seeing their weakesses.”

Key Challenges

What might hold us back?

During the 2nd batch training, 15 teachers (25%) of the delegation from the 3 new schools couldn’t join fully due to the overlap timeline between Happy Schools Training & other training/meeting in the province. This raises the concern of a more fluid communication and alignment between ELI -DOET to create a better condition for teachers to fully participate.

2.2. The Implementation Of Happy Schools Framework In School Context

Key Observation

  • Intention: Support the integration of HS into the current existing curriculum & school activities.
  • The scientific assessment will be done by the Hue University Team. Below is our general observation of what have been done in schools & their impacts.



1. For Students

•Teachers embody the HS practices.

Example: role model in practicing mindfulness, recognizing & sharing emotions with students, asking for helps from students, sharing gratitudes, etc…

•Intergrate HS practices into the current curriculum

Example: Tran Cao Van integrate ‘ego-eco’ into civic education, literature, biology, geography; Thuan Thanh integrate empathy through literature, etc…

•Integrate HS practices into the current classroom procedures & extra-curricular activities

Example: All schools apply daily mindful practice & emotion check-in, sharing during class weekly meeting; Duy Tan integrate empathy & gratitude into their monthly theme of extracurricular activities; …

2. For Parents

•Introduce Happy Schools (“What is it?”) to parents during the Teacher-Parents Meeting, to help parents understand the overview.

•Include HS Practices into the Teacher-Parent Meeting, helping parents experience & feel HS.

Example: Thuan Thanh & Phu Cat include emotion check-in & nurturing positive emotions in parents meetings;…



1. For Teacher

•Host Teacher Circle (weekly/monthly) to practice together and to share experience of implementating in their classes

Example: 3 Teacher circles of Phu Cat, Cao Thang & Tran Cao Van

•Organize workshop/talkshow with Hue University to introduce HS & share the practices among the teacher councils

Example: Workshop’Emotion” in Thuan Thanh; session Introduction to Happy Schools in Tran Cao Van  & in Cao Thang, etc…

2. For Students

•Form student clubs to develop core students (ambassadors) to support HS implementation in the class. The club is also the place for teachers to prototype before applying into classroom context.

•Organize club sharing with parents representative to raise awareness & support.

Example: 4 teacher-run clubs (Thuan Thanh- ‘Im Happy’ Club (3 separate clubs for 3 grades) & Duy Tan,- I love Nature’ club); 1 student– run club (Cao Thang- Alive Green Club)

Testimonies from parents & teachers

Happy Schools is not something separate. It is already there, in each lessons, each poems we teach. Happy Schools helps me bring the depth to the existing content, to my (literature) lesson plan. Now, when I teach Letter from the Native American Leader” (Bức thư của thủ lĩnh da đỏ) and other excerpts, which are highlighting the environmental challenges, my students and me can together question and reflect on our current ego- centered approach”

 – Phuong Le-Nguyen-Thanh, Literature Teacher, Tran Cao Van Seconadry School

“Since I joined the project, I have received much benefits and I’ve felt happier than before.

Regảding the relationships within my family, I become aware that I need to listen to my own needs and others’ needs. I have learnt not to put pressure on my children. I’ve learnt to spend more time to take care of my needs and express them to my family members. I’ve learnt to reflect and appreciate the connections in my family.

In the classroom & the club, I feel like my students and parents have put more trust in me. My students have become more courageous to speak up and share their ideas or questions with me. …When a so-called ‘under-performing’ student, after a long time we worked to help him overcome his leanring challenges, asked me ‘Teacher, is it true that I can become an excellent student?’, I felt so happy because I knew we had been building his self-confidence and persistence in learning. On Teacher’s Day and Woman’s Day, the students decorated the classroom, sang, danced and sent me their wishes. Their love touched me as it is so authentic and warm. When the students are happy at school, their parents are also more at peace. I think this happiness is the result of my consistent attempt to integrate social emotion learning into our teaching.

Regarding the relationships among the teacher council, my co-workers have always worked hard and responsibly; we are always available to listen to each other and share the workload if needed… Altruism, warmth and compassion are always there – in our school….”

– Ms. Nguyet Nguyen-Tran-Nhat, Grade 4 Teacher, Thuan Thanh Primary School,

Link to full sharing

“In order to make positive change to the school community, the change must first start within the teachers… “the circle would still be there even if only 2-3 people come”

Mr. Tien Doan-Van, Vice Principal of Cao Thang Upper Secondary School,

Link to full sharing.

“I’m thankful that my son joins the club. One time, he came home with a hand-made card and told me ‘I love you. Thank you!’. At that moment, I was surprised and  didn’t know how to react. We never had such an expression in my family. I was frozen and then clumsily asked him ‘why you said so? Did you do anything bad?’. That moment I could see him disappointed and hurted. Days later, his teacher called me that it was a practice of gratitude in the club… I think slowly my son is teaching me how to express and receive gratitude.”

– Anonymous, mother of Phuc Vo, a 4th grader in ‘I’m happy’ club, Thuan Thanh



  1. From the local society
  • There is a strong buzz and media attention toward Happy Schools progress. There are

For example:

A video of a HS teacher welcoming students to class has attracted 15,000 views & share, and positive affirmation from paretns, students, social network.

 There are other teachers who are not in the school piloting projects, start following and replicate some of the practices/activities into their classroom.

  1. From Local Government & Department of Education (*)
  • Department of Education recognizes the impact of Happy Schools toward the improvement in the quality of relationships in school context, and they have the intention to apply the framework onto larger scale, after 3-year piloting.
  • The new Chairman of People Committee in Hue Province- Mr Tho Phan-Ngoc, in a visit to Tran Cao Van – a school piloting HS framework, also “highly appreciated the educational approaches which the school is implementing. As the school has a solid foundation, building the school following the Happy Schools framework is a suitable approach

Key Learnings

Our reflections on the process…

  • Change takes time, and in Happy Schools project, it slowly emerges at 3 levels – individual, group/community, system. The 1st year was the time we observe mostly individual transformation of the core teachers whose values resonate with the project; the 2nd year, we start seeing them very slowly gain the confidence to share with other and gather together to form their own circle of sharing and practice. It is hopeful to see some ripple effects from teacher to teacher, classroom to classroom, though it is very slow. And, in the last year of piloting, we hope to see the current seeds of change at the systemic level can sprout with a better understanding and cooperation with the DOET.
  • The 2nd learning point is each school has each own characteristics & operating system, so each requires a close observation to understand and customize the approach. The role of us (ELI team) is more on the observing side, to understand the nature & context of each school. There is no one-size-fit-all strategy in school implemtation, but our lesson is to practice deep listening & flexibility while holding the core values of the project.
  • Though each school has each own approach, but slowly they all start touching the tri-pod of the ecosystem: Teacher-Student- Parents. Some of the schools have considered to get parents on board to make sure what the kids practice at schools is also continued in the family context.(**)
  • It is a fine balance between the bottom-up & top-down approaches. While we identify and support individuals with transformative experience, creating examples & building up a group of core teachers, we also need a certain influence from admin policy to create the conditions of mutual understanding, respect & disciplines among the teacher council to strengthen the implementation within a school context.
  • Lastly, in term of operation, aligning Happy Schools project operation timeline with school operation timeline is a crucial point. It helps us catch up with the right moment for planning, revising, and giving proper support.


(*)“Teachers and students are happy when teachers come to school with happiness, andstudents come with joy. This is our wish for Happy Schools (from DOET of Thua Thien Hue) The career of a teacher is filled with enthusiasm, love and care for their students. The trust between students and teachers built through this relationship gives students the opportunity to speak from their heart, develop new ideas and their own points of view.

There are many benefits from Happy Schools program for different skills that the students can learn including better communication with others, and skills to help them reduce stress and perform better in their studies

We wish to apply Happy Schools to other schools in the province. What makes me so keen on scaling up Happy Schools is because I see how it is changing the quality of relationships in our schools

– Hai Phan-Van, The head of Primary Department of DOET,

Coordinator of Happy Schools Project from DOET

(**)“Happy Path is the work of our school, including students, teachers and parents. The idea emerged almost one year before the Happy Path was built. It reflects the gradual process of transformation which the school is going through; we learn to hold the space for different members of the school community and of the broader community to get involved and to contribute ideas to the design and the construction of the path.

Ms. Giang Phan-Thi-Huong, Principal of Phu Cat primary school,

sharing about the gradual transformation of individual and school community while building ‘Happy Path’

Some Photos of the Implemation in School Context


  • Image 8 (left) – The 1st teacher circle of Tran Cao Van. The circle was for 30+ homeroom teachers, totally hosted by Happy Schools core teachers.
  • Image 9 (right) – Cao Thang Teacher Circle celebrates its 6-month old with a deep listening practice.


  • Image 1 (left) – Tien, a 4th grader with special needs, is sharing his feeling with the 4 grader ‘I’m Happy’ Club in Thuan Thanh. The circle pays full attention toward his sharing, and his teacher cannot hide how proud she is. – Link to her sharing
  • Image 2 (right) – A 2nd grader is guiding the mindful sitting practice. They do it for 30s or so.
  • Image 3 (left) – The very 1st weekly meeting of the I love Nature student club in Duy Tan school.
  • Image 4 (right) – A student in Cao Thang high school presenting her insights after interviewing 5 young smokers as they are addressing smoking in their school, using DFC approach.


  • Image 5 (left) – An emotion check-in in Thuy Xuan primary school. The kids tag their names onto the according emotion at the beginning of the class.
  • Image 6 (in the middle) – A student in Nguyen Truong To High School brings her own breakfast box to join the school movement of say no to plastic waste.
  • Image 7 (right) – A teacher in Tran Cao Van School using welcoming gesture/sign to greet kids to her class. The principal recorded and the video went viral with 15,000 views/shares.