As we embark on the holiday season, I am realizing more and more that joy is an essential quality of life that needs to be present when I teach. Oftentimes, joy gets knocked down the totem pole of qualities of teaching, in both traditional and non-traditional classrooms, and many people think feeling joy simply means having fun. Please note that when I talk about joy I don’t necessarily mean fun or silliness, although these can help create joy.
In Maps to Ecstasy, ecstatic dancer Gabrielle Roth writes, “Joy is the expansive energy of dynamic well-being. It uplifts, energizes, makes our eyes shine, gives a lift to our step, light to our whole being. It comes when our emotional energy flows freely…”
It is important in our teaching practice to take a step back and reflect on how much joy you are allowing yourself to feel in your teaching. How do you experience joy? Joy can be incredibly grounding for our students and it can also help our students to feel safe.
Below are some tips to cultivate more joy in your teaching practice.
Remember that you deserve to experience joy in your life on a daily basis. Bringing joy to your students can be one of the most important parts of the work that we do as teachers.
Model this for your students, and classes will begin to take on a whole new life.
As a children’s yoga and mindfulness educator I enter each lesson with a plan in mind, but there is also a grand scheme, my ultimate purpose for exploring this work with children. It’s my view that these life skills are a basic right of education, that there are certain underpinnings to what I’m trying to impart – self regulation strategies, attention training, nurturing of positive traits – and this purpose drives everything I do with my students. My deepest hope is our conversations together will transfer to their everyday life outside of the room we practice in. I’m always looking for ways they can communicate their learning and in turn I can gauge to what extent they are applying the yoga lessons to their moment to moment experiences. In teacher jargon, I’m assessing the learning outcome.
I ask them questions routinely. We write in journals. We tell the stories of how we used our yoga and mindfulness at home and at school on a routine basis. Sometimes it’s just nice to make an event out of it.
Let The Kids Take the Stage
Whenever possible I let kids lead the class. From kindergarten through fifth grade, students routinely lead our beginning of class ritual that entails mindful breathing and sun salutations. It is always such a rich opportunity when I take time to allow the kids to put their learning into their own words. Teaching someone else is the last concrete step in integration of new learning. They try it on and I get to assess. Their unfailing pride is the added bonus. I recently put this task to work with a culminating project for our gratitude unit. During the month of November we spent several weeks on gratitude. We inquired and experimented with these basic questions:
We picked an opportune time to share this important topic with a wider audience -- a whole school assembly the day before Thanksgiving! Parents were in abundance. 500 plus students and teachers joined in the student lead practices. One student reported “Normally we do mindful breathing with 25 girls. But today we did it in the assembly with more than 540 people and it felt really relaxing. I felt like it was only 25 of us again. It felt like it was a really small crowd. Inside I felt really relaxed and good. It felt like I was alone and with the group doing mindful breathing.”