I continue to ponder the concept of joy in schools and more so the seeming lack of it. Yet, I look at my own classroom and I know that we have a lot of joy. Not all the time, not in everything we do, but there is a lot of joy in what we do. It wasn’t always like that, when I taught traditionally, joy was not on my priority list when I planned. If something happened to be fun I felt rather guilty since it probably meant I wasn’t getting the educational value across to my students. Now I know better.
Joy is something I try to create, as funny as that sounds. Yet by now I know what makes my students happy and I try to incorporate it as much as possible. So what are some of the things that bring us joy?
- Picture books. Many 5th graders think picture books are for little kids but not in this room. We cherish the arrival of new ones and laugh outloud whenever we can. Taking 5 minutes to share a great one can boost us all.
- Making mistakes. I make the stupidest mistakes at times but I laugh outloud about it too and make sure the kids know. We have to be able to giggle about ourselves for others to realize it is okay to laugh with us.
- Challenges. I try to concoct bi-weekly challenges for my students that focus on community and perseverance. Often they are inane and I make them hard, not to test my kids but to push them further. Our latest boat challenge was a blast and I am already rummaging through my closets trying to think up the next one.
- Meditation. After being inspired to bring back more mindfulness we have been doing 3 minute meditation sessions after math to center us for the rest of the day. I know it is supposed to be quiet breathing but we have hard time not cracking up at some of the instructions. Why shush them when laughter also centers them?
- Dance breaks. Singing and dancing are something I relish as an adult so if we are feeling down or extra restless I know what we need.
These things may seem like extra things and you are right, what about my core instruction, what’s so joyful about that?
The one thing that has brought more joy into our classroom is simply giving shared control to the students. These few changes have had an incredible impact in our room:
- Student voice. Meaning that students have the right to an opinion in everything we do.
- Student choice. Whether it is what they are creating, how they are creating it, or who they are creating it with – student choice is essential in my room.
- No punishment. My students don’t get punished, I tend not to take things away such as recess, field trips or special moments. It’s not that they are angels, we just figure out a way to work through bad moments.
- No grades. My students don’t work for grades, they work for understanding. There is a big difference and it is something we cultivate throughout the year.
- Lack of knowledge. I don’t know everything and I tell my students that so we have to figure it out together.
- Curiosity. I am very curios as are my students so we have to take time to explore some of the things we are curious about. Whether it is through genius hour, project time or simply stopping what we are doing to veer off the path, we allow it and we embrace it.
- Global connections. My students reaching out to teach others or ask others is a big part of our room and something that brings us happiness. We try to incorporate some sort of global connection in most things we do, as long as it makes sense.
Yet I am not there yet. There are still moments of dreadfulness in my classroom. Spelling used to be one of them, and because of that I have completely revamped the program starting Monday, I will let you know if it makes a difference. So while not everything is joyful yet, I feel like we are on the right path. Are you? Is there room for joy in your classroom? How do you teach for it?
I am a passionate (female) 5th grade teacher in Wisconsin, USA, proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day. First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classroom Back to Our Students Starting Today” can be pre-bought now from Powerful Learning Press. Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.