I can’t believe it’s already February and well into a new decade, 2020. I have settled back into the life of a classroom teacher and, after a year of change and healing, I return to my blog. It seems fitting that my first post of this year is about my “One Word” – JOYFUL.
I continue, as many others do, to choose one guiding word for the year. The choosing of my word is a thoughtful, reflective process for me. I first think about my last year, the challenges I faced, my successes, my learnings, and my growth. I think about what is coming, what new challenges I may face, and what I am looking forward to. I am at a stage in my life, both personally and professionally, that I have the good fortune to focus simply on being joyful. I choose JOY.
Brene Brown in her video (see below) talks about the relationship between joy and gratitude. She offers a few tips on how to cultivate more joy in our own lives and in the lives of our children. It is the practice of being grateful that invites joy into our lives. Brown shares a quote by a Jesuit priest, “It is not joy that makes us grateful, it’s gratitude that makes us joyful.”
Every day I practice gratitude, and I suppose you could say, gratitude is the recipe for living a joyful life. When I notice and appreciate the “good” around me and everything that is working, and all the many things that make me smile and laugh, I feel joyful.
Back in the classroom, and looking forward to mentoring new student teachers, and maybe even returning to teach at the university, I feel a deep sense of fulfillment, purpose, and passion. This year, the word joyful will guide me through the year. The very act and intention of wanting to live a joyful life brings me closer to living a joyful life. Feeling a sense of gratitude brings me joy, being mindful of the choices I make and the people I interact with, seeing the positive in the little things, and taking care of myself all help bring joy into my life.
Helping My Students Live Joyful Lives
As in the past, when I write about my one word for the new year, I apply it to the classroom and my students. Being a kid is serious business, and in today’s world many children come into our classrooms stressed, unhappy, and some even suffering from anxiety and depression. This year more than in past years, I am in care of students who seem less able to monitor their behaviours, less able to persevere, and less able to focus on the positives that life brings them. They struggle to interact with kind words, and empathy; they struggle with letting go of hurt feelings, and self-doubt; they struggle with not giving up and feeling defeated before they even start.
One of the most important things I can do is to help all my students live more joyful lives. How do I do this? First, I must be joyful myself. Children learn by watching us and seeing how we deal with life challenges and stresses. When I smile, and laugh, and focus on the gifts we all bring to our classroom community, I model joyfulness. I want my students to see me as a positive and cheerful person. I want them to notice how I practice a joyful intent with each action, each thought, and each word. This is not always easy, but this I believe is one of my most important goals when working with children.
As my students arrive to school each day, they know that they are invited into our room; they know I will be there to welcome them even before the morning bell. I love how the children trickle in and I am able to welcome each one. Right off, at the start of our day, I point out the beauty in everyday things – the sun shining through our windows, the new Output activities I have prepared, Harriet our teddy bear hamster eating a new treat. With intention, I want to help my students get in the habit of noticing the things that make our lives happy and worth smiling about.
Helping Others, Brings Joy
Another thing I want my students to get in the habit of doing is helping others – helping others is another way we can feel joy. Watching a person become happy and knowing we did something to make that happen can bring joy to our lives. I want to help kids experience this feeling and talk about how being a kind and generous person can bring us joy. My friend and colleague, Antonio Vendramin, a while back introduced me to the phrase a “servant heart”, to have a servant heart is to selflessly help out wanting nothing in return. This is what I hope my students will aspire to.
If I want my students to become individuals who jump in to help without being asked, students who complain less, work hard, and care about doing the right thing, I need to help them find an intrinsic value and motivation to be this kind of person. These are the very qualities which can help a child be joyful. Teachers often work against helping a child become a kind person. When teachers reward children with prizes, candy, extra free time, or take things away and punish children to make them behave in kind and appropriate ways, they work against helping children live happy lives.
Happiness is Helping Others
I have shared this heart-warming YouTube video with my students and I share it now with you. It shows “how helping others bring good feelings to the giver and the receiver of the good deeds.” When we help make others’ lives better, we not only make the world a better place, we bring joy to our lives.
Working Hard and Persevering, Brings Joy
This brings me to another way I can help cultivate joy in my students – working hard and persevering. I want to teach my students that working hard to achieve something is way more satisfying than having something given to you. Things given to us that we did not work for are just not as cherished as those things we really work to try to get. Creating this mind set in our students will make their lives joyful.
Studies have found that working to achieve a goal makes people happier than actually attaining it. When a child in my class perseveres and works hard to complete a task or take on a new challenge, we talk about how this made them feel. When children learn not to give up and go on no matter what is in the way, when they remain steadfast in accomplishing a difficult task, they feel a sense of pride and joy. “I did it!” they sing out joyfully. There are others, however, who are quick to give up, or say, “I am bored.” It is not our job to make children happy. It is our job to teach children how to make themselves happy, to be productive, caring, and joyful.
Helping children understand that taking the easy way like quitting, avoiding a difficult situation or task, or even cheating, does not make challenges go away. Helping children develop perseverance not only brings joy into their lives, but it is key to helping them live a life that they can be proud of. Inviting children to practice perseverance helps them find joy and succeed in life.
Building Caring Relationships, Brings Joy
I end my write with what I believe is one of the most far reaching and fundamental ways I can bring joy into my students’ lives – to let them know they are prized and cared for. The importance of building caring relationships is foundational in all the work we do. Building caring attachments must be my first priority as a teacher if I am to cultivate a joy in learning which in turn helps children be joyful.
And so, every day I take the time to instill a sense of belonging and purpose in my students knowing that when children are invited to belong, to feel significant, and to matter, they are better prepared to face the difficult work of growing and learning, and to find joy in their lives. This year, I choose JOY, for both myself and my students! How about you?