Teaching can be really hard. So much is expected of teachers in so little time and with so few resources. Sometimes we find ourselves facing problems which we just can’t unravel, no matter how hard we try. And there are days when we ask ourselves why we persist.
Each year I choose a word to aim to - I think about what the word means and how I can bring more of those concepts into my life. In 2018, that word is JOY. I realised that joy is one of those things which can make the classroom an easier place to be, something which can bring light, even on the dim, dark days. But how can we find joy in the classroom and in our teaching?
1. Bring things of beauty and joy with you
There are some objects which just bring a sense of joy with them. It might be their colour or their shape or the reminder of a happy moment. We can bring these things - or things inspired by them - into the classroom with us.I have a collection of bells which bring me happiness - one was bought on a holiday with friends, another has a unique sound, the third was given to me by a student. They were perfect for my desk in the classroom and brought joy whenever I saw them or rang them. You might have a framed photo of family or friends, an image of an amazing place you’ve been or would like to go or special pens, pencils or highlighters which make you happy.
You might take it further and decorate your whole classroom to make it a happy place. You might fill it with rainbows or images of plants, you might include happy quotes or use your favourite colour as a background on a notice board.
What if you don’t have a dedicated classroom space? Bring some joy with you! It might be a beautiful lanyard or a lovely pencil case. You might like to buy a special planner (like this one from Mrs Strawberry, these planning sheets from Green Grubs, this library planner from Little Library Learners, or this planner from Oceanview Resources); a planner cover or decor like these beautiful options for New Zealand teachers from Green Grubs or binder covers like these from Jewel's School Gems. Use beautiful pictures as your computer background or screen saver. Buy some nice folders to hold your items or add lovely labels to your cart.
2. Reframe the mundane
A lot of teaching is repetitive . . . and a little bit boring. And while we can make some of it fun, some of it has to just be what it is.
But we can make it a little more joyful by reframing what’s happening in our heads. We can look for the little pieces of joy and remind ourselves that they’re there.
Staff meetings are a perfect example of this. The workplace health and safety officer might be going through the fire drill process for the 10th time in the year - but that means all teachers will be better prepared if there is a fire. And isn’t it great that they take their job seriously - it might really save a life or prevent and injury one day.
Marking can also seem endless, but look for those moments where students have shown improvement or really taken on something you’ve taught in class. Find those little pieces of joy in their work and celebrate them.
3. Work in the Affirmative
I love using affirmations - they’ve been part of my life since I was young and my mother used them with us. I use them quite a lot, these days - as motivation, for calming, for reflecting on what I’m doing and what I’d like to be doing.
Affirmations can definitely be used to bring joy into the classroom. It might be in the form of a lovely quote or poster which you hang in your classroom, or you might like to take a few moments to write your own at the beginning of the day or week. You can keep them in your teacher diary or on your desk or use them as part of a display at home or school.
4. Get Dancing
Well, you don’t have to dance. You could sing. Or run. Or make yourself the nicest coffee . . .
The idea is to treat yourself - find activities or rituals which make you really happy and make sure to build them into your weekly schedule. It might be something you can do at school - one year a group of teachers at my school organised an exercise boot camp on the school oval after school, or you could always begin your school day with a song which makes you happy. Or it might be something which you participate in outside of school - a few years ago, I participated in adult ballet classes on Wednesday nights. It made me happy and gave me exercise!
If you have something you do every day, think about how you can make it happier. Always start the day with a cup of tea? What about having a pretty tea cup or tea thermos to drink it from? Like to eat a nice salad for your lunch at school? Could you add a nice relish or dressing or some lovely herbs to make it happier? Buy a nice hat for playground duty, treat yourself to joyful sticky notes, theme your daily whiteboard reminders to your favourite children’s books - treat yourself in ways which bring joy!
5. Bring joy and passion to your subject matter
Do you enjoy what you teach? Really enjoy it?When you enjoy what you’re teaching, your students feel it. If you share that joy, the excitement level in the room often rises and you’ve got a greater chance of having one of ‘those’ lessons which you want to repeat over and over.
But what if you’re not teaching something you love? Is it possible to get really excited about mixed fractions? (Well, I enjoy them, but I’m occasionally strange!).Can you connect them to something you enjoy? Maybe you can combine mixed fractions and a chemistry or baking exploration? Or use them in a graphing or mapping exercise? Or use them to talk about how many books your class has read?
Or, you could connect them to something your class really enjoys. Challenge them to connect mixed fractions to unboxing videos or superheroes or making slime. Feed off their excitement and see how far it will take you.
Don’t forget to keep a record of those really great lessons. It might be a photo or a short description. You might collect some feedback from your students or make a video about it. Use photos and descriptions to make a special noticeboard of happy lessons you’ve had with your class. These records can be great for your teaching portfolio, but they can also serve as a reminder of all the happy teaching moments you’ve enjoyed.