Can learning be fun and joyful? Amidst the increased rigor, additional high stakes testing, and required pacing guides it is harder to find joy in everyday teaching. Research by Taina Rantala (an elementary school principal) and Kaarina Maatta (a professor of psychology) indicates that joy is an important factor in learning. Here are a few things you might try:
- Be willing to be in the moment. There are lots of goofy things that happen during the day. Sometimes they are annoying but almost as often you can stop and appreciate your student’s creativity.
- Keep learning relevant to your students. How does the learning intersect with their lives? What stories can they tell that connect to the learning?
- Scaffold the learning so that each student can experience some success.
- Use encouragement instead of praise. Try saying, “I notice you finished your work” instead of, “Good job.”
- Invite time for self-reflection and group reflection. “Look what we’ve learned together.”
- Model and leave room for mistakes. Being able to learn from mistakes invites students to be able to take more and appropriate academic risks.
- Play and be playful. Reconnect to why you like to teach what you teach. When you share your joy of discovery and wonder your students will join you in the fun of learning.
- Grant students as much freedom as possible within classroom guidelines. It probably makes no difference to you if the assignment is done on blue or green paper, but allowing students to have options, creates joy in the air.
Being a parent probably takes a lot more hard work and patience than you imagined when you thought about having children. It also takes a lot of time in our lives – there are morning and bedtime routines, shopping, meal preparation, attending school events, other activities, and…and…and. With all of these obligations, we sometimes forget that we decided to have children because of the joy of being a family and raising small human beings. Here are some ideas for keeping joy alive:
- Slow down, and observe the joy your child experiences when learning something new, or doing an activity.
- Allot time to play whatever your child wants to play. Just join in and enjoy your child.
- Stop chasing your children’s imaginary future successes. Getting into the best college doesn’t guarantee your child a job, having a job doesn’t guarantee happiness. Enjoy where they are right now –the time goes by so quickly.
- Let go of perfection. It is way over-rated. Don’t keep a mental record of ‘wrongs’, especially your own parenting mistakes. Take the experience, acknowledge it, make a repair, learn from it.
- Build a tribe. Family time can be more fun with other families – have a monthly pizza night, a game night, a hike or softball game with neighbors or friends.
- Make some room for “adult only” time with the people you love; that might be with your partner, your best friends or your adult family members. Adult relationships need nourishing too.
Check in with yourself every so often: on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the most joyful, ask yourself, “What is the level of joy I have in my current place in the parenting journey?” “What is one small thing I could do to bring a little more joy to myself, my child or my family?”
Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is now seen as a critical component for school success. It is not just one more add-on to your curriculum. It turns out to be an important foundation for students’ ability to learn and apply their learning to their lives. Emotional intelligence is strongly linked to staying in school, avoiding risky behaviors and improving health and happiness in life. Like all learning, growing emotional skills takes practice. Unlike other school curricula, much of this takes place outside the classroom. Yet it is still critical to build the skills and practice creating a community inside the classroom. Schools and educators can promote emotional intelligence by:
- Help students build their emotional vocabulary. Have students generate lists of feelings words. Make a feelings word wall of their ideas.
- Help students recognize feelings. Have them take pictures or draw faces of people experiencing different emotions. Make a feeling faces quilt.
- Use your reading and writing to explore feelings. Engage students in naming the feelings characters might be experiencing. “How do you think the character is feeling?”
- Invite reflection on learning. “What does this mean to you?” “How are you feeling about that?”
- Help students make connections between emotions and actions, and then engage them in problem solving.
- Teach self-regulation. Have a discussion with students about strong emotions like anger, disappointment or frustration, and generate a list of things they might do to calm down e.g. deep breaths, mindfulness, a cool-down space.
- Teach repair. Model making mistakes and fixing them. Encourage students to repair their own mistakes.
There are many resources for teaching these lessons in Positive Discipline in the Classroom Teachers’ Guide: Activities for Students including lessons on teaching feeling words, making a feeling faces quilt, problem solving, self-regulation and repairing mistakes.
There are many kinds of knowing. Research over the past 20 years tells us that knowing and understanding our emotions, emotional intelligence, is just as important as our intellectual intelligence. It involves understanding and being able to name our emotions as well as being able to use them productively in problem solving. Want to encourage this in your child? Here’s how:
- Acknowledge your child’s perspective and understand their feelings. This doesn’t mean you have to agree – it just means you understand your child’s take on a situation.
- Listen for the feelings underneath when your child is telling you about an experience. Often children tell us the “stuff” of the story without the emotions. Try saying, “Wow, you sound really excited about the field trip,” or “You are disappointed that it’s raining out and we can’t go outside.” This helps children become aware of and understand their own feelings.
- Allow expression of feelings positive or negative. Denying, disapproving or minimizing your children’s feelings communicates shame.
- Connect before you correct. You can say, “You are really mad at your brother for taking your toy, and its not ok to hit. How else can you let him know how you feel?”
- Teach problem solving. Allow children to experience strong emotions and move through them by sharing, talking, drawing a picture of them. Then, when they are ready, help them to come up with some solutions.
- Use your reading time. When you and your child are reading pause and wonder about what a character might be feeling. Did your child ever have similar feelings? How might the character solve his or her problem?
- Bedtime rituals. Invite your child to share something that made him feel frustrated or disappointed in the day and then something that he enjoyed or invited him to feel proud. Share your own set of stories.
Happy New Year! Transitioning to a new year is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on what you appreciate about your family over the last year and to think about the kinds of connections you want to nourish in the coming year; with yourself, with those you love and with your community. Different cultures celebrate the New Year at different times but often with similar rituals of reflection and looking forward. Here are some ideas for beginning this new calendar year:
Reflect on the past year as a family.
- What are your children’s favorite memories? What are you proud of, or happy about?
- Who are the people that made this year special for you?
- Are there any mistakes that still need to be fixed? Make a phone call, write a card or have a conversation.
- Make some notes or collect some pictures about 2016 in a small book, a family journal or a picture collage.
What are your hopes and dreams for 2017?
- Who are the people who you want to spend more time with this coming year?
- Set some small family goals about how you will stay connected. These might include regular family dinners, weekly family meetings, or a fun activity together once a week.
- What would you like to do this year to connect or contribute to your friends, family or community? This might include plans to visit friends and relatives, volunteering or a community service project. What you do as a family when your children are young is a model for them as they grow into adulthood.
Take care of yourself.
- Treat yourself with compassion and hang out with people who have kind hearts.
- Relax more. Schedule time for weekly quiet time by yourself.
- Make sure you and your family get enough sleep. New brain research shows that sleep is very important for “brain cleaning,” for learning and for preventing dementia long term.
Take small steps.
- Keep your goals reasonable and achievable.
- It is encouraging to have small goals you actually accomplish. They lead to bigger things later.
- You don’t have to be perfect to be good enough.
Teaching is both challenging (exhausting) and fulfilling. The time off in December can be a time to breathe, renew your energy and refocus on your passion and vision for yourself as a teacher and what you want for your students. Parker Palmer’s book Courage to Teach is a lovely resource for renewing your sense of purpose, and cultivating your capacity to teach wholeheartedly, for your ability to bring the best of you into your classroom.
Effective teachers have of a strong sense of personal identity and enthusiasm that infuses their teaching with inspiration and challenge.
- What do you love or care about? Share some of that interest or passion with your students so that they know you as a human being.
- What do you love about what you teach? What tickles you and brings you joy in learning? Let your students see that part of you too. It might be what delights you about reading or about solving a math problem. Pause now and then and reflect on the wonder of discovery and learning.
- How do you connect with your students about the delight of learning? It is so easy to focus on what is not going well. Can you make a promise with your self to pause once a day and have a “share the joy of learning moment” in some small or humorous way?
Effective teachers build authentic learning communities and connection. Many of our students come from cultures that are less individualistic and building connections supports their learning as well.
- Continue to build in opportunities for students to share what they are learning. Pair sharing and small group work more powerful at building connections than displaying or presenting in front of large groups.
- Routines and rituals build a sense of connection in the classroom. What is unique about your classroom that your students can identify with? Do you have a chant, a signal, transition music, a ritual for acknowledging mistakes or some other thing that makes your learning community special? Ask your students what they think makes your room special.
- Class meetings and compliment circles where students have a voice and hear others’ perspectives are one of the most practical and powerful ways to build classroom community. We recommend the regular structure of Positive Discipline class meetings 3-5 times/week for elementary classrooms and once a week for secondary classrooms. There are lots of resources for how to teach class meetings and learn more about them.
Effective teachers take care of themselves. You cannot be your best self pouring from an empty pitcher.
- Spend time with the people and things you enjoy outside of school. Get some movement, some quiet time, some time with people you love.
- You could spend 20 hours a day on doing your work and it still wouldn’t be perfect. Learn to let go and be proud of “good enough.” Your students need you – not the “perfect” lesson.
- Collaborate with and get support from colleagues. You can learn time-saving techniques and share work.
- Get enough sleep. Teachers are notorious for thinking they can do with less. Not true. New brain research shows that sleep is very important for “brain cleaning,” for learning and for preventing dementia long term.
Here is another resource from the Center for Courage and Renewal on the Heart of a Teacher.
Cultivating community interest and a sense that “we are in it together” in our children enhances their moral development and broadens their perspective, encouraging them to think beyond themselves. Teaching social responsibility begins with modeling. You don’t teach your children who you want them to be…you teach them who you are. Start early!
- Model sharing. When grocery shopping, help children pick out items to purchase that will be contributed to a food drive. Older children can be given a dollar amount to spend on these items, learning budgeting skills as well.
- Grow and share. If your family has a garden, give your child a small section of their own. Tending a garden takes patience and responsibility. At harvest time consider sharing some produce with a local food pantry.
- Make an offering of what you don’t need. Have your children sort through toys and clothes, picking out items they no longer play with and have outgrown to give to a charity.
- Help at the holidays. As a family, volunteer at a food bank, “adopt” an elderly person at a nursing home to spend time with, or adopt a family through the Salvation Army or another non-profit. Bake good to share with neighbors. Encourage your children to participate and/ or to make cards or gifts.
- Help out on your street. Make time to sit and enjoy a cup of tea with an older neighbor, have your children take an elderly neighbor’s trash bins to the street, or help him or her with garden tasks.
- Research and donate. One family did a family cleanup for 2 hours every weekend and “paid themselves” $25 each week. The monies went on a ledger and they had quite a sum by the end of the year. They put aside $100 for a fun family activity and on the day after Thanksgiving, the children researched and selected non-profit organizations to which they gave the rest.
- Reflect and celebrate together. After the holiday season is over, have each member of your family share which gift was the one they could hardly wait to give.