May 16, 2013

A Culture of Joy: Part 1

Two places I spend a lot of time in are schools and airplanes. What I’ve noticed after the time spent in these places is that cultures are pretty easy to identify. In Canada, the two major airlines, Air Canada and Westjet have very distinct cultures. I mostly fly Air Canada for a number of reasons and must say I’ve had very good experiences. However, if you ask most Canadians about these two airlines, the general belief is that Westjet offers the better customer service. Air Canada is the more formal, serves the business traveller and Westjet has a more inclusive approach that’s focused on a great customer experience sprinkled with fun. Look through their Youtube channel to see what I mean. Air Canada does have a channel too but with a very different focus.

I’ve thought about this before but it struck me after I hopped on a plane after speaking at TEDxWestVancouver on the topic “Whatever Happened to Joy”. On the flight the attendant was so focused on the regulations and walked through the plane literally scolding several people for not taking out their earbuds and talking during the safety presentation. At that moment I recalled a flight on Westjet where the crew smiled and teased passengers doing the same thing but got their attention with a little kindness and persuasion. I wondered, does Air Canada care about joy?

My definition of joy is that of the emotion of well-being and success as wells the expression of that well being.

As I said, Air Canada has been good to me but their reputation is not that of Westjet. I see schools with very similar characteristics. Not bad schools, but schools so bound by traditions and formalities that they have little time for joy. They take themselves very seriously. So serious that they see no time to express well being. I as talked about in my talk, joy is a wonderful ingredient for community. Creating shared experiences that generate smiles brings people together like no other strategy. For Westjet, this is a priority. For many schools, this is not. I know there are some schools but many more classrooms are actively pursuing joy as a cultural standard. Air Canada has many employees that are kind, caring people and offer a great experience but it’s not really valued and consistent as a culture. With Westjet, joy is the standard and it’s the culture. . Their organizational frameworks also reflect a different approach to business. Air Canada is a traditional, hierarchical business while Westjet employees are also stock holders and thus owners. Westjet employees understand more deeply how their performance and attitude impacts everyone.

What about our schools? Again, I shared lots of examples of teachers and classrooms that value joy and make it a regular part of the day. I take the stance that Alfie Kohn does that joy is and end unto itself and not a means to something else. It need not be justified as leading to student achievement. This starts with leadership, leaders who intentionally and actively pursue and choose joy not as an occasional break from the daily grind but as an embedded part of the day and thus the culture of the school. I don’t think there’s a recipe or a strategy for joy but I do think you have to be intentional and aware of the message you communicate to students. It’s easier to identify single classrooms that embody this but whole schools or districts, not so much. All schools and districts have a culture. Many are very positive but I’ve not seen many that would describe themselves as having a culture of joy. I can’t say that Westjet would use that language to describe their culture but I would.

This isn’t just about fun although the expression of well being is often associated with fun, particularly as viewed by children. I know I’m still working out exactly what this looks like and how to help schools move to cultures of joy. But it certainly has become a resolve of mine to move from the idea that joy is nice, but not really necessary for schools to something that is actively pursued and celebrated.

I’ll write a second post this soon. But I want to leave you with this quote I shared during my talk.

Whatever Happend to Joy TEDx.019-003