“To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with.” —Mark Twain
There is no question that the experiences children have while at school have a deep and lasting impact on their attitudes toward learning and education. Oftentimes children will spend more time with their teachers during the school week than they do with their parents and caregivers. With a typical school year lasting almost ten months, and a school day six to seven hours, the influence of educators on the students they teach cannot be ignored. As we enter the holiday season and a season of celebration, it is an important time to reflect on the role schools play in creating and sustaining joy.
Joy is defined as a feeling of great happiness, or a person or thing that is a source or cause of happiness. The question then is, what role can teachers play in creating and sustaining a joyful classroom environment and school community? There are many ideas that teachers can use to cultivate a classroom that is full of joy, the first and most important being mindset. Teachers must remember that mindset can change everything. Choosing to fully embrace the opportunity to joyfully influence a student's day, and your own, the classroom becomes a positive environment where happiness flows freely. With a positive classroom environment, students may encounter academic challenges with more acceptance and determination. Furthermore, studies indicate through brain imaging that positive emotions are vital to effective learning and that instructional styles that support positive emotions have been correlated with more effective cognitive processing which can inspire critical thinking and flexibility.
Throughout the day teachers can choose to bring back joy in the classroom. First they must make a concerted effort to know their students and continually work to build deep meaningful relationships that give students the feeling of belonging. Research proves that belonging is a major component of happiness and that with it building strong teacher-student relationships is critical. Teachers can provide students with choices, empowering them as active participants in their learning and helping them become independent learners. Teachers can play music and offer movement breaks to meet their students' needs based on the age and grade level they teach.
Teachers can take learning outside and give students a chance to get out of the classroom, especially on a sunny day. Outdoor education and play supports emotional, behavioral and intellectual development, and students who learn outdoors developlquote] a sense of self, independence, confidence, creativity, decision-making and problem-solving skills, empathy towards others, motor skills, self-discipline and initiative. Taking learning outdoors provides a change of pace from the classroom, which both students and teachers enjoy adding to a feeling of joy and contentment.
Our schools must be places of joy. As Twain said, joy is best experienced divided or shared; shared between students and teachers, collaborating coworkers, teachers and families. What will you do to set your mind on joy and give joy a chance again in your classroom?
Jessica Saum is a native of Columbia, South Carolina, but calls Sherwood, Arkansas home. Currently, she is a self-contained special education teacher at Stagecoach Elementary School in Cabot, Arkansas teaching students in kindergarten through fourth grade. Jessica is a 2021 AAEF Advocacy Fellow and a 2022 Arkansas Teacher of the Year.