Be the change, being me, happiness, reflection, Student-centered

How I Brought Back Joy in My Classroom


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?

The student who memorized the most numbers of pi got to throw a pie in my face on my birthday

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.

Be the change, happiness, reflection, Student-centered

Are You a Joy Remover?

image from icanread

Dean Shareski asked me (and many others) yesterday, “Whatever happened to joy?”   A simple question really that should be easy to answer if you are a teacher – it’s right in our classrooms – but then again, one that requires more thought.  Is joy really prevalent in our classrooms?  Or is it reserved for special occasions or for those students who earn it?

Joy is often associated with special events in a classroom.  We earn our joy and happiness through parties.  When I gave up punishment and rewards, I didn’t get rid of joy, I just tried to make sure it was always present rather than something we marked on the calendar.  And yet, in today’s learning environment we seem to reserve joy not just to special occasions but also to those who we find deserving of it.  If a child is behind academically, joy is often one of the things we unintentionally remove from their day.  We pull them out of specials for interventions.  We take away their independent reading time to give more instruction.  We take away recess and field trips due to poor behavior or more instruction.  We have them work on missed homework rather than the challenge the other students are doing.  Their joy in the classroom deemed unnecessary because joy does not lead to academic achievement.

And yet, these kids that struggle are exactly the kids that need more joy in school.  They are the ones that we need to stay invested and engaged, not just the kid that is already mastering everything we present them with.  They are the ones that need to realize the worth of school, that need to believe that school is worth their time and effort, and that they will get to do the exact same things as everyone else around them.  That they will not be singled out once again for their supposed shortcomings, but rather treated as an equal that deserves to have as much fun learning as everyone else.

We know that students who struggle often act out to hide their deficit, so why is it we continue to punish rather than help?  Why is it we continue to believe that if we just give them stricter consequences we will finally break their will and they will work better, hand in their homework, or try harder?  These kids are the ones that need to find the joy in school, these kids are the ones who need it the most.  So what are we doing to provide 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” will be released April 23rd from Powerful Learning Press.   Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.


being me, happiness, projects

Won’t You Be Happy With Me?

Whip cream, a quiet classroom, students reading, my daughter crashed in the car, Amos Lee…all things that have made me happy in the last 13 days.  How do I know this?  I have been documenting all of these small moments on my new blog The Happy Streak.  This is not a blog to write on but one used for personal reflection through cell phone pictures.  By then posting pictures of all of those small, usually insignificant and quickly forgotten moments of happiness, I am making myself a happier person overall.

Had you asked me on January 1st whether I had ever gone 13 days in a row being happy every single day, I would have said probably not, after all, being a teacher, a mother, a partner, a friend, a daughter all causes stress.  And yet here I am, 13 days into my happy streak and every single day I have indeed been happy.  Every day I have found smile inducing, grin bearing moments that have taken over the mood of the whole day.

This new adventure lets me record those small moments that bring the smiles.  Seeing my husband come home from work, a beautiful sunset, needing sunglasses in January, even the first snowstorm – all part of my happy streak.  By doing something as simple as taking a picture of that moment they take over my life and become the focus.  I catch myself all day now finding happy streak moments, wanting to record them, smiling about them.  I am so lucky, I have such a wonderful life, I am glad I finally realized this.  So won’t you be happy with me?  How will you realize your happy moments?  When will you begin your very own happy streak?


Go On – Be Happy With Me

The new year smells of new opportunities, new promises, hope and change.  And yet I know that no grand sweeping resolutions will stick.  Heck I broke my first one about 30 seconds after midnight when I swore, oops.  So this year I am keeping it simple, along with my mantra to slow down I want to enjoy more, to smile more, to laugh more, so here comes the happiness streak.  (And no, I cannot take credit for that awesome title, it is from Josh Stumpenhorst.)

So every day I promise to notice my happiness moments, I promise to share them (hashtag #happystreak), and to show that the true happiness in life does come from those small fleeting moments.  So for the first day of the year I will have a luxurious breakfast with my family and I will read Thea a book.  Those will be my happiness moments today, what will yours be?  Start your happiness streak today.

So to make it more official, I will do a 365 photo blog of my happiness streak – check it out here.