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Posts Tagged ‘joy’

joyIn my 2006 interview for Assistant Superintendent of West Vancouver Schools I was asked to select two of the district’s values that stood out for me and talk about why they were important to me and my work. I had scanned the list as part of my preparation – it was a fairly typical list of school values: community, excellence, innovation, accountability. The last value stood out and it was one that I spoke about – it was joy. I thought that was such a funny word to be a value in a school system, but I liked it.  It is a word that speaks to the contentment we want in our work.

I was reminded of this story in reading Dean Shareski’s new book, Embracing a Culture of Joy.  I listed this late 2016 published book as one of my “Top 3” reads for last year.  It envisions a wonderful state:

Joy isn’t about being happy all the time.  It isn’t a fleeting emotion that comes and goes depending on changing circumstances.  It is about contentment and satisfaction and expressing those feelings.  Sometimes the expression is visible, and sometimes it’s not.  But joy requires an awareness that things are right.  While it’s a deeply personal state, it’s also something that, when given the opportunity, will spread.  Creating a culture of joy applies to both the environment and the learning itself.  As it relates to learning, it’s the outward manifestation of success, achievement, and being.  It’s learning for the sake of learning, not because of grade or compliance.

Shareski makes the strong case that community and gratitude are powerful notions in our schools and gives ways that schools can infuse themselves with joy.  He rightly argues that none of us pursued our passion for teaching and education because we were driven by rigor and student achievement.  We all know of those moments in our life when we were in the flow with learning, they are the ones that stick out days, weeks and months later.  A little bit of joy can go a long way to ensuring more of these moments.

Shareski shared one of my joy examples in his book:

Each year during the week before Christmas, our entire Executive Team loads up our sleigh and visits every classroom delivering a cookie to each staff member in the district.  One year we were Santa and his elves, another year we wore our tacky Christmas sweaters and this year we wore our Christmas pajamas.

It is great and people are expecting us now and wondering when we will come and what we will wear – it helps build community.  One teacher said to me “It is the second last day before Christmas break, I was worried you guys weren’t coming this year.”  Another teacher said, “Now I have something to dream about tonight – our leaders in their pajamas”

Here was our photo from this past December:

Cookie Tour 2016

I know some people see this and think, must be nice to have that kind of time.  These are the choices we make every day with how we spend our time.  We all know how to “look busy”.  We walk really fast with our head down, carrying a file folder like we are transporting dangerous cargo.   I always think the best leaders don’t look busy, and have time for joy.  I loved to see photos and stories of former President Barrack Obama joking with kids, or playing basketball.  I figured if he had time for joy, it was hard for the rest of us to have any good excuses.

I often think one of the nicest things anyone ever wrote in a reference letter for me – it was my first principal in a letter she wrote recommending me for a vice-principal position – she wrote, “he is a very serious thinker, who knows not to always take himself too seriously.”  I use this notion as a regular reminder.

Just this week, there is a video making the rounds on the internet of a North Carolina teacher who shares a unique handshake with every student (it is a must watch!):

It is this kind of joy, the kind that Shareski writes about, that this teacher from North Carolina exudes, and we see in classes, and serves as many of the greatest memories of our school experience that must be as much a part of the modern school as so many of the other objectives we often obsess over.

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Photo Credit:  Nutmeg Designs

Photo Credit: Nutmeg Designs

Dean Shareski shared a very thoughtful talk at TEDxWestVancouverED  last spring, arguing the need to include more joy in our schools and in our lives.

He also argues that in our standards-focused world, we need to take time for joy within the curriculum, and because it is a great thing to do even if it is not part of required learning.  He shares five pieces of advice:

1)  Be mindful

2)  Create something

3)  Commit regular random acts of kindness

4) Turn pseudo learning into real learning

5)  Be silly and laugh everyday

I have known Dean for a few years and regularly follow him online, and it is great that he lives this life full of joy. He is often approached by others who wonder how he can find the time to do some of the things he does — it is all a matter of priorities and what is important.

I was recently reminded of his talk when reading Anchorboy – True Tales From the World of Sportscasting (when you have a brother who works at SportsNet you get gifts like these) by Jay Onrait.  Jay is an anchor on FOX Sports 1’s FOX Sports Live out of Los Angeles, having recently started there after a successful career in Canada.  The book is a collection of essays tracking his career at Global TV in Saskatoon, to a very successful decade plus-long run at TSN.  The essays give an insider’s view to the media business and a look behind the scenes of television in Canada.  So, just how does this link to joy, education and Dean Shareski’s TEDx Talk?

Jay, clearly understood that people could easily obtain sports highlights from the Internet anytime they wanted.  He says of his early work at TSN, “For whatever reason, even though I knew we would alienate a large part of the audience with our shenanigans, I was utterly convinced we were taking the show in the right direction. Streaming videos on the Web was starting to take off.  Soon people would have access to highlights on their tablets and phones whenever and wherever they wanted.  No need to wait until 1:00 a.m. eastern time for your day’s sports highlights anymore.  We needed to deliver something more, give the viewers another reason to tune in.”

People would tune in to watch Jay because the show was far more than a sports highlights show — it was a show about people who loved what they were doing, who were informed, but who were also trying to bring a smile and a laugh to their audience. He recognized that the current sports highlights format needed to change, and that meant he needed to reinvent his work to stay relevant.

I think there are some parallels to what Jay says about covering sports, to what Dean argues about joy, to teaching and learning in our schools. Not that we need to turn our schools into edu-tainment, a mix of education and entertainment, but just as Jay realized sports highlights shows needed to offer something more and different from what viewers could get on the Internet, we need to have the same view of our schools.  If our classes are the same as what students can find in a video on YouTube, or a lesson from Kahn Academy, they will become increasingly less relevant. And, at least part of the answer is “joy”.  Dean illustrated this in some of his examples of real-world, hands-on learning kids were engaged in.

The power of young people coming together to learn needs to be fun; it doesn’t need to be fun all the time, but it does need a good dose of joy — not only joy for the students, but fun for staff as well. Show me a school that is doing well, and I will show you staff who enjoy having fun in their class, and with each other.  Mark Twain said, “To get the full value of  joy you must have someone to divide it with.” This is definitely part of what we are trying to do in our schools.

One of the nicest compliments I have ever received was from my first principal, Gail Sumanik.  In a reference letter she described me as “a serious thinker who doesn’t take himself too seriously.”  I know I stray from this description from time to time, but it is something for me to continue to aspire to, and to more joy.

Here is to a 2014 filled with more joy.

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