My colleagues worry about not having time enough to teach. They have so much content they need and want to cover. As a curriculum coordinator, I create tons of documents – benchmarks, scope & sequences, lists of standards by grade level to make sure we don’t miss teaching one single skill or strategy. This is all well and good. In fact, this is our job: to give our students a quality education.
However, as I observe many classrooms, I’m realizing that we certainly cover lots of material and teach a myriad of skills, but we often forget the joy of learning. Often, we cannot find time for stopping and laughing and celebrating what we’ve accomplished. Many of us squeeze in as many skills and strategies as we can and are grateful that we complete them so we can check them off our lists, our every increasingly long lists. We’ve forgotten how to be present to a children’s sense of wonder, a student’s newfound knowledge, someone’s struggle with a difficult concept and then – click – her instant understanding. When we are in a constant hurry, we miss these things. This view was noted in an October 12, 2013 blog post by Pernille Ripp: “I stopped telling them what to do and waited for them to figure it out. Sure I ended social studies 4 minutes before I normally do, but we still got through it, they still had the time they needed, and at the end of the day we walked out as the first group in our building with smiles on our faces.” It is crucial that when students and teachers walk out of their schools that there are smiles and a feeling of achievement – a day well spent.”
Recently, I was witness to classroom joy during an activity I designed. Every November, we read aloud Balloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet to our 2nd grade students. The book is about the work of Tony Sarg, who was the first person to create the Macy Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons. After the students listened to the story and watched a slide show about Sarg’s life and accomplishments, the girls were tasked with creating their own parade balloons using paper, glue, scissors, and lots of imagination. Each year, I marvel at the ingenuity of these young students as their balloons take shape: unicorns, pandas, a cube, floating ballerinas, griffins, and more imaginative creatures.
During our balloon making workshop, as the girls were cutting, glueing, and revising their designs, they spontaneously broke into song, singing in harmony “Do Re Mi” from The Sound of Music. No one told them to start singing. They just were happy creating their balloons and began to sing as they worked. Their classroom teacher and I smiled at each other and watched as they continued to work productively. It’s in these moments of joy that children truly learn. There were so many skills and strategies that the girls were applying and using. They were right in the midst of what Lev Vygotsky called the zone of proximal development (ZPD), and what the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called “flow.” It is this optimal condition that we want all students to attain for it promotes independent thinking and motivation. As Ellin Oliver Keene notes in her book, Engaging Children: Igniting a Drive for Deeper Learning K-8, “Engagement… is characterized by feeling lost in a state that causes us, on one hand to forget the world around us, to become fully engrossed. On the other hand, when engaged, we enter into a state of wide-awakeness that is almost blissful. We want to dig more deeply into our reading or listening or learning or taking action; we allow emotions to roll over us; we’re eager to talk with others about an idea—we’re even aware of how extraordinary or beautiful those moments are.”
I urge all teacher to be open to those joyful moments. Embrace them, make time for them, and realize that within joy lives true engagement, motivation, and life-long learning.
Books for Teachers:
Mindfulness for Teachers by Patricia A. Jennings
Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators by Elena Aguilar
Practicing Presence by Lisa J. Lucas
Teach Happier by Sam Rangel
The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu
Books for Children:
All My Treasures: A Book of Joy by Jo Witek
Anna Hibiscus’ Song by Atinuke
Augustus and His Smile by Catherine Rayner
Double Happiness by Nancy Tupper Ling
Every Little Thing by Bob Marley
Happy by Pharrell Williams
If You’re Happy and You Know it by Jane Cabrera
Joy by Corrinne Averiss
100 Things that Make me Happy by Amy Schwartz
Perfect Square by Michael Hall
Taking a Bath with the Dog: and Other Things that Make Me Happy by Scott Menchin
The Jar of Happiness by Alisa Burrows