An interview with a third grader:
Q. What is the most fun thing at school?
A. Science. Because you get to fool around with things, and stuff like that.
Q. What do you look forward to, at school?
A. Watching our plants grow, because they trust you to observe the plants. We measure how tall they are and write it down.
Q. What is your favorite thing about your teacher?
A. He’s fun and never yells. He’s a nice, calm, enjoying [sic] teacher. He lets us do stuff that no other class lets us do, like read outside for the whole reading if it’s a nice day, or bring us to the gym for indoor recess. Most people don’t do that.
A few years ago, I was in a bit of a teaching slump. I went to a leadership course, and they challenged me to identify, in one word, a quality or idea that was missing from my work. I came up with: joyfulness. I was teaching urgently, relentlessly, trying to do right by my students who only had one shot at that school year, and to get their achievement up high enough to serve them well in future grades and not have my school lambasted in the press. The problem with that high-intensity approach is that it is absolutely no fun, for anyone.
A year later, I came across this idea again in Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion, where he had given it a name: The J-Factor. J stands for joy, and Lemov highlighted joy as an integral part of high-achieving classrooms. This makes so much sense–as we strive to educate the whole child, we want them to find joy in learning, joy in collaborating, joy in having a shared classroom space with their peers. We want our students to love being in school!
Since I started paying attention to joy in the classroom, I’ve instituted some things in my own practice to try to create and sustain a joyful classroom. We start every day with our morning meeting, which sets a positive tone for the day. We have some silly traditions, like our Happy Birthday Kickline or Conga Line. The shared language of our read-alouds helps connect our community, and students love music during writing or transition times. MY impression is that our classroom is a happy, joyful place.
But as I interviewed my young friend, above, I found myself thinking I need to interview my own students about when they experience joy in the classroom. Does it match up to my perceptions, or are there other opportunities to make our learning together joyful? I was struck by his comment about being trusted to observe the plants–student agency and responsibility lead to joy. Spontaneous moments, also–reading outside, a change in the schedule, these can make a day memorable for our students.
How do you create a joyful classroom? What traditions or special events do you have, and how do you capitalize on everyday moments to increase the J-Factor? Please share!