With teachers feeling more burned out and overwhelmed, finding joy in the classroom can seem like a pipedream. Dr. Deonna Smith, author of Rooted in Joy: Creating a Classroom Culture of Equity, Belonging, and Care is here to show us the steps towards making a joyful classroom a reality.
Early Steps Towards More Joy In The Classroom
One of the first steps Dr. Smith recommends starting with reflection and looking at our own lives and experiences. When we look back at what made us enjoy being a student or want to be a teacher, we might find that those things are no longer part of education.
Trying to find joy in our classrooms must start with us being joyful. Some questions we can ask ourselves are:
Are you filling your own cup?
Are you joyful?
Are you finding depth, meaning, and creativity and opportunities to feel cared for in your own life before coming to the classroom?
In her book, Rooted In Joy, Dr. Smith writes about the need to plan for inclusion and joy in the classroom. Oftentimes, we may feel we don’t want to plan for these things but as Dr. Smith explains, “If you don’t plan it, then it doesn’t get done.”
Taking the time to incorporate community building throughout the school year rather than just in the beginning is working to build those habits.
3 Steps Towards Better Inclusion
Inclusion for this conversation is defined under the umbrella of identity (race, gender, language) and cultural responsiveness and making all students feel they belong. The first step towards better inclusion is again to start with self-reflection and finding your own biases. How are you showing up in this space?
The next step is to reflect on how your students are being represented in this space. This can look like different books, guest speakers, and celebrating different heritage months. Don’t stop at just celebrating Black History Month or another heritage month.
The third step is to make sure to have a variety of stories shared on a topic and be mindful of how that is represented in your curriculum. Imagine how powerful it is for a student to feel that they matter.
“When you bring in students’ stories, and their histories, and their cultures you’re showing that, not only is it important that you know where you come from, it’s important that we talk about it.”
Bringing joy into the classroom shouldn’t become just another thing to do such as new classroom fads like classroom transformations or a flipped classroom. This isn’t just the practice but it’s the mindset. Once you have a mindset of more joy in the classroom everything you do becomes informed by this understanding.
As a baseline you should be asking yourself if kids deserve joy at school. Should kids feel excited and happy to be at school?
As much as we want to think it is, school is often not a joyful, happy, exciting place for them to be.
Being curious, listening, and taking a step back will help to begin this mindset shift. Asking yourself questions about how much joy is in your own classroom is a good place to start.
Stop Playing Whack-a-Mole
Often we feel burned out because we are spending a lot of time fighting behavior fires and playing whack-a-mole as Dr. Smith describes it.
When we start coming from a place of incorporating cultural responsive and joy building practices, we will find ourselves playing less whack-a-mole.
Taking Proactive Measures
Having a true caregiver-teacher team can help be a proactive measure towards reducing classroom behaviors. Dr. Smith explains that this means to go beyond just sending home a newsletter for parent communication.
Part of bringing more joy into the classroom means to also have fun alongside your students - not just your students having fun. Our brain chemistry changes when we are laughing with someone. It helps us feel closer and more connected.
Try also making the shift from punishments to consequences. Punishments are really made to make kids feel bad about making mistakes and a consequence is helping a kid learn from a mistake. In her book, Rooted In Joy, Dr. Smith talks more about consequences with accountability.
Dr. Smith reminds teachers that providing consequences in the moment is not when we are doing are best thinking. We tend to become emotionally dysregulated by an incident.
Release yourself of the pressure of having the perfect consequence in that moment. It’s okay to acknowledge a student's behavior but wait to provide a consequence.
Building Community, Not Communication
Dr. Smith reminds us that sending home communication is not building community and those family connections. Sending home newsletters and flyers is communication but it is not necessarily creating a strong family communication.
Families coming in to the school for heritage days can help build that sense of community. Asking families to read in Spanish for read alouds or bringing in pieces of their culture in academic or non-academic ways is an excellent way to bridge the gap between communication and community.
How will you start bringing in more joy to the classroom?
Connect with Dr. Deonna Smith: