I know that a lot of learning takes place in Room 204; the children learn from me and I learn from them. These twenty-five students are twenty-five teachers. We teach each other and, as a result, I live a life of perpetual learning that is infused with joy. I don’t have a choice over the learning—life itself is an insistent teacher—but I do have a choice about seeing and experiencing joy. One the most important lessons I will ever teach my students is a joyful life is a choice. Joy can’t be mandated, but it can be cultivated.
The joyful classroom is not a “happy all the time” classroom, any more than a joyful teacher is a “happy all the time” person. Joy is not a switch that can be thrown or a smile plastered on a face. Joyful learning is not formulaic in the sense that one size fits all. But as an intentional practitioner, I have learned that there are some patterns in the joyful classroom (and life).
- Joy is about keeping it real when life hurts. Joy isn’t about smiling through the tears. It is an insistent reminder that our tears are not the whole story. Feelings are not right or wrong and it helps to name them and have them acknowledged. Sadness is real, but it isn’t the last word. The fog lifts. The sun breaks through. In life’s hardest moments, love and laughter knock at the door as life’s unexpected guests. It is okay to let them in—even in the midst of complex feelings and circumstances.
- Joy is a about keeping our eyes open to life’s small celebrations. I use a book by Byrd Baylor in my classroom called I am in Charge of Celebrations. I love this book and its simple, but radical message. We are in charge of our own celebrations. How do you tell when a moment is worth a celebration? This book has the answer: “You can tell what’s worth a celebration because your heart will pound and you’ll feel like you’re standing on top of a mountain and you’ll catch your breath like you were breathing some kind of new air.” In Room 204 we learn to cultivate these moments and celebrate them in our writers notebooks. We mark the moments that are surprising and the moments that are beautiful and the moments that are just plain fun.
- Joy is about saying yes: We say yes to the risk of learning something new. Yes to new friendships. Yes to possibility. Yes to reaching out to someone. Yes to hope. Yes to stepping up to a challenge and stepping forward when others may pull back. Yes.
- Joy is about honoring the inter-connectedness of life. Every morning we sit in a circle and greet each other. We connect. As we study the protagonists in literature, we find that we connect to them and to each other. Patterns in math and science sift into patterns in our own lives. Over time we find that the dots are already connected and they connect us.
- Joy is about wonder. Or, more accurately, joy consorts with wonder. Mary Oliver tells us to “pay attention, be astonished, and tell about it.” There is no better place to be astonished than in nature. Every Wednesday morning, we go outside for “Outside Science.” We pay attention. We breathe. We connect. We are astonished. Nature is the loveliest of teachers and she teaches us to look.
Finally, joy is knowing we are each a star on our own map, but we are not the center of the universe. We are the hero of our journey, but we have a place in the bigger story of life. Joy is not folly, but taps into a deeper truth. Joy works best in the present tense–joy is in the acceptance and celebration of now. How do we teach and learn joy? We live it.