Embracing a Culture of Joy: How Educators Can Bring Joy to Their Classrooms Each Day

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Although fun is sometimes seen as a barrier to real learning, joy is a vital part of effective education and motivates students to connect with what they’re learning. Learn how to have meaningful conversations about where joy gets left out in schools, and discover how to equip students with the skills and qualities they’ll need to achieve academic success—as well as to live fulfilling lives—by bringing joy to classrooms each day.

Benefits

  • Read about real classrooms that have successfully implemented joy.
  • Examine education jargon that negatively impacts school culture.
  • Gain ideas for how to make classrooms joyful learning environments.
  • Learn how to create a sense of community among teachers and students.
  • Discover the importance of wonder and inquiry in making students more engaged in their learning.

Contents

Introduction

1 The Expectations of School

2 The Definition of Joy

3 The Unfair Advantage

4 A Sense of Wonder

5 Play as Research

6 A Sense of Community

7 Gratitude

Conclusion

References and Resources

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Chapter 1

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Chapter 1

The Expectations of

School

We have to stop thinking of an education as something that is delivered to us and instead see it as something we create for ourselves.

—Stephen Downes

How would you describe the state of education today? Are schools better places for students than they were when you were a student? In some ways, they are. Great teachers are able to utilize a richer library of resources, and technology—when used effectively—creates unprecedented opportunities. In other ways, however, I wonder if we’ve lost something. Our obsession with analyzing test results and measuring learning has done its share of damage to students and teachers alike. But nostalgia is often a skewed lens to view the past through. Corporal punishment, a lack of resources, and an emphasis on lecture and memorization were not exactly ingredients for creating cultures of joy. However, in my opinion, teachers and schools faced fewer restrictions and less scrutiny from the public, making it easier to pursue joy.

 

Chapter 2

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Chapter 2

The Definition of Joy

Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are.

—Marianne Williamson

If we’re going to talk about moving away from a focus on standards and toward one on embracing a culture of joy, it’s important that we define joy. While there are a few definitions we might choose, I’m going to focus on these (Joy, n.d.):

1a: the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires b: the expression or exhibition of such emotion

Joy isn’t about being happy all the time. It isn’t a fleeting emotion that comes and goes depending on changing circumstances. It is about contentment and satisfaction and expressing those feelings. Sometimes that expression is visible, and sometimes it’s not. But joy requires an awareness that things are right. While it’s a deeply personal state, it’s also something that, when given the opportunity, will spread.

 

Chapter 3

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Chapter 3

The Unfair Advantage

Thank goodness I was never sent to school; it would have rubbed off some of the originality.

—Beatrix Potter

Alex Blumberg, journalist for This American Life, tells the story of his attempts to get funding for his new startup (as cited in Feloni, 2014). He met with an important venture capitalist to convince him to invest a significant amount of money in his new business. He prepared by developing his business plan and a presentation that clearly outlined the company’s intent and projections. When the time came to deliver his pitch, Blumberg fumbled awkwardly through his attempt to describe the plan’s details. The investor stopped him and told him he wasn’t interested in the plan’s details. Instead he asked a very unusual question: “What’s your unfair advantage?” In other words, what qualities, experiences, and passions did Blumberg have that set him apart from the competition? This question wasn’t something Blumberg was initially prepared to answer. He had all the data and financial details that would surely convince anyone he had a good idea. But the investor wasn’t interested in that. He wanted to know what made Blumberg special.

 

Chapter 4

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Chapter 4

A Sense of Wonder

We have a responsibility to awe.

—Jason Silva

When I began teaching first grade, a veteran teacher on staff gave me a copy of

Robert Fulghum’s (1988) book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten:

Uncommon Thoughts on Common Things. It served both to inspire and remind me that as a new teacher about to start a career, learning was far less complicated than

I thought. While all the ideas in the book are gems worth pondering, the one that struck home was this: “Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the

Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that” (p. 5).

Walk into most elementary classrooms in springtime, and you’ll see these cups lining the window sills. My class was no different. It would be easy to focus solely on the science and explain every aspect of the process. As is often the case, the wonder gets passed over and what should be a beautiful, mysterious occurrence gets schoolified.

 

Chapter 5

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Chapter 5

Play as Research

The highest form of research is essentially play.

—N. V. Scarfe

In Doug Thomas and John Brown’s (2011) A New Culture of Learning, the authors make it clear that play is essential in making sense of a world full of new opportunities: “In a world of near-constant flux, play becomes a strategy for embracing change, rather than a way for growing out of it” (p. 48). Play is no longer something only children should experience. Stuart Brown, president of the National Institute for Play, describes play as “anything that spontaneously is done for its own sake” (as cited in Tippett, 2014).

Research suggests that play should remain an integral part of learning, not just in the early years but for life (Caine, 2013; Conklin, 2014). Again, looking to

Finland, schools find great success in their early-years programs not by eliminating play but by embracing it. In fact, the article “The Joyful, Illiterate Kindergartners of Finland” examines the playful nature of schools in structured and thoughtful ways designed to expose students to natural, joyful learning opportunities (Walker,

 

Chapter 6

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Chapter 6

A Sense of Community

We have a classroom system when we could have a community system.

—Deborah Baker

It’s been argued that all learning is social. Whether face to face, via conversations with people in the same room, or by reading an author’s work, learning is something that involves other people. However, schools were not designed to be social spaces.

Schools were designed for efficiency. Classrooms were simply a way to bring large numbers of children together and disseminate information with the hope of them acquiring knowledge at the same time. As a student growing up in the 1970s and

1980s, I didn’t think of school as a community. I found community and care from my family and friends and institutions like churches and clubs. I had no expectation that school was anything more than a rite of passage to adulthood. As young children and teenagers, we naturally seek to socialize in school but know the protocol remains: keep your eyes on your own paper, don’t talk, and do as you’re told.

 

Chapter 7

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Chapter 7

Gratitude

Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.

—William Arthur Ward

You can’t really talk about joy without talking about gratitude. It’s a chicken and egg thing. Joy might be something you experience and live, but it will flourish when you partner it with gratitude. Once again, this is not a revolutionary idea. It’s not something we don’t already know intuitively. But I don’t know of another profession that does so many wonderful things each day without getting the deserved gratitude.

Why is that? I think it begins with how many of us choose the profession.

Teaching Without Receiving Gratitude

We all know going in that we aren’t going to get rich being a teacher. Many opt out of high-paying jobs because we want to pursue something honorable. Teaching is a high calling indeed. Because of the real or perceived sacrifice, the educator’s mantra becomes, “I don’t do this for the money.” Educators take most of their satisfaction from the intrinsic motivation of doing meaningful work. Since most educators believe this about themselves and each other, it’s easy for them to ignore the need to show outward displays of thanks “because it’s just what we do.” However, the impact of receiving heartfelt gratitude cannot be understated.

 

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