Susan Engel, in an article for The Atlantic, said “Human lives are governed by the desire to experience joy. Becoming educated should not require giving up joy but rather lead to finding joy in new kinds of things…” Joy is something I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on lately, because it’s come up in so many conversations. When our team discusses the progress and growth of our teachers, it’s rare to see joy come into the picture. When we discuss our students’ growth and experience in the classroom, joy is a word we don’t often use to describe it.
The type of joy that Engel describes, the ability to be deeply absorbed by something, seems hard to find as adults. We are so engrossed in work and bills and other responsibilities that taking time out for pure joy and pleasure seems almost impossible at times. Where children have an easy time of finding things to be awed by, we take much of our world for granted.
An ASCD Educational Leadership article quotes John Goodlad who wrote “Boredom is a disease of epidemic proportions. … Why are our schools not places of joy?” As teachers, it should be our responsibility to give our students the opportunity to feel joy and pleasure in their education. If joy is their natural way of being, then why not take advantage of it to engage them deeply in their learning?
Last year, I took a Coursera course titled “Conversations that Inspire: Coaching Learning, Leadership and Change.” One of the key points I remember learning is that engaging positivity in one’s brain will make it more open to feedback, learning and change. If this is the science behind coaching adults, then it’s something we can use when working with children. Engaging their brains in laughter and positivity and happiness can open them up to taking in new knowledge and learning. I’m not a scientist, but I can tell you from experience that students who are happier and more positive in my classes will likely remember more and be able to make more connections within content.
Isn’t joy one of the purposes of life? Isn’t happiness the reason we work so hard and try so hard to achieve? And don’t we want our children to be happy and joyful in their lives? But how do we incorporate joy into our classrooms and connections with our students? This is where the ASCD article mentioned above offers some suggestions. It discusses the importance of finding the pleasure in learning, offering choice to students, showing off student work, getting outside, transforming assessment and other ideas.
Similarly, it is the job of coaches to help teachers find the joy in their work when sometimes it’s difficult to see that forest for the trees. This is where building relationships and helping teachers focus on the positive is crucial in any coaching conversations. When students are showing an apathetic attitude, can we encourage teachers to see the positive in the minimal participation those students have? When writing progress reports becomes overwhelming, can we help teachers imagine the happiness that parents and students will feel at their hard work and effort?
In the end, I know that I have moments of joy at my work when coaching teachers or being in my classroom and I know that that joy keeps me going even on the tough days. As a teacher and a coach, I want to help others around me find the same joy in the work that they do or the learning they are a part of. Before working on goals and skills, I’d like to start with a culture of joy and then build a strong structure on that solid foundation. As Engel says, “‘Pleasure’ is not a dirty word,” so let’s find (and keep) the pleasure in our work and in our classrooms.