September 5, 2011

Why Joy Matters

This post was last updated on August 31st, 2016 at 11:50 pm

A month ago, I participated in a unique and powerful event called Unplugd. I’ve posted bits about it and will likely refer to it often in the future as it offered some outstanding experiences that have a direct impact on how we learn and how we do school. The product we created was a book on What Matters Now. We’re releasing each chapter a week at a time in order to give people a chance to digest the content. The first three chapters have already been released. The essays are quite compelling along with the video stories.

This week, the chapter I was involved in developing is now available. The process of writing these essays is a powerful story of collaboration, feedback and assessment for learning. I’ll share more about that in the future but I will tell you it was a great model for collaboration.

For now, here’s my small contribution entitled Why Joy Matters.


Today, more than ever our students often experience of a lifetime of heartbreak, disasters and disappointments before they even arrive at school. When school could be the best part of their day, it’s simply another negative experience. I wonder if we ever ask ourselves, “Where’s the joy?”  I’ve been in too many schools; too many classrooms where smiles and joy are hard to come by. The pressure and business of learning seems to be sucking the joy out of our schools. While there is much that needs to be done in our institutions and curriculum to address this problem, there is much that can be done in classrooms and by teachers that can bring joy back into our classrooms.

Alfie Kohn talks about joy being not a means to an end, but an end in itself. As a classroom teacher I recall having students in my classroom who’s file was filled with a myriad of problems and challenges that quite frankly overwhelmed me. Academically they had mountains to climb. I wasn’t sure I could help the child meet all those challenges but I also noticed that joy was certainly missing from their school experience. So even if they came late to school, were non-compliant, my goal was to insure they knew they that matter and my classroom was a place to smile.
It has become more and more difficult to consider the role of joy in our schools. Teachers have been told other things matter more: test scores, new curriculum, district initiatives and other data that suggests deficiencies.
Is anyone measuring for joy? A joyful learning environment might be the most important thing you create for a child. If indeed the much used phrase “life long learner” is a major goal for schools could joy be an ingredient for that?
Maybe we ought to start counting smiles. If at the end of the year, you can honestly say your students leave as joyful leaners, you’d be among the best teachers I know.
I wonder what I did today to bring joy into my world?

Photo: by charbeck10