Oh joy where have you gone? I must admit that lately I have struggled with finding joy in my learning. Learning has become a list of looming deadlines and an endless list of things to read and write about. Listening to Dean Shareski, speak to my UVic Masters class, last Thursday night reminded me that joy needs to be central to our learning and that taking time to reflect on what brings joy is an important part of the learning process. Reading Alfie Kohn’s post Feel bad education-The Cult of Rigor and the Loss of Joy helped me realize how far sideways things have gone in our schools. The attainment of joy is often seen as interfering with real learning. Laughter is seen as a sign of misbehaviour and enthusiastic chatter and movement is viewed as a lack of control on the teacher’s part. I admit that sometimes there is a fine line between joy and complete off task silliness. As a grade 1 teacher, I am lucky to be teaching children who are new enough to the system to still be joyful. Their natural inclination is to be thrilled with learning something new. They will often break out in spontaneous song or dance at the sheer joy of discovery. Their faces light up in glee when they finally finish that story they have spent days working on. They do a happy dance when they persevere through a math problem and figure it out. Of course, not all learning can be joyful. There is nothing exciting or new about practicing printing which is an important skill that must be developed through repetition. I also realize that my students find joy in different things. Some love to read others to write and some to build. I think the trick is to value joy in our classrooms. Not to seek it constantly or berate ourselves if it is not there but to value and recognize it when it appears. To be ready to set aside the lesson plan and go with the flow. To identify those unscripted moments that build community within the classroom. There is nothing like a shared laugh to bring students closer together. We value collaboration and community – is shared joy not a great way to get there naturally? Why is it that as children go through our school system they seem to lose their joy and creativity? Sir Ken Robinson gave a powerful Ted-talk exploring this topic. Why do we continue to educate students in a factory model when innately we know it isn’t right?
As I was writing this post my husband came into the room and asked if I wanted to go to the beach to watch the sun rise. My first inclination was 1. to be annoyed by the disruption when I was on a roll and 2. to say no as I had too much to do. Luckily, I came to my senses quickly and recognized the irony in refusing a beautiful morning with my husband because I needed to finish writing a blog about ‘joy’. Taking the break on a frosty morning to listen to the seagulls calling, watch the fishing boats go out and experience the beauty of a calm, sunny morning at the beach brought me more joy than writing a thousand blogs. I realized that making time for joy should be a priority both in my life and in my classroom. How many times have I missed out on a joyful opportunity because I was just too busy or it wasn’t the right time? I resolve to add joy to my to do list. Not as a specific activity or time but as a constant presence and reminder to watch for it, to nurture and encourage it, in my family and my students. Thank you Dean for reminding me that joy isn’t superfluous but rather a much-needed and valued part of a good life.