Have you ever been in a classroom where the teacher does not smile? It is not a pleasant atmosphere. Fewer behaviors place a greater damper on a classroom than a teacher who has no sense of joy, enthusiasm, and emotion.
Dr. Bruce Wilkinson in this book, Teaching with Style, says,
Enthusiastic teachers are alive in the room; they show, surprise, suspense, joy, and other feelings in their voices; and they make material interesting to students by relating it to their experiences and showing that they themselves are interested in it. Enthusiasm is contagious; hope and optimism are its by-products.
Students like coming into classrooms where the teacher greets them at the door with a smile on his face and displays a joyful spirit. Classrooms that are filled with joy will find more students taking a greater interest in-class activities. There will be a greater level of participation in discussions; students will get to know each other easily and enjoy working together. When these actions happen, students will have fewer reasons to be disruptive in attitude and behavior.
Joy is one of the missing ingredients that took place this last year during the pandemic when students were out of their classrooms and learning online.
The basis for joy is not the circumstance or situation, but one's position in Christ. Jesus said, “I have told you this, so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11 NIV).
Walking in joy results in a person being unaffected by surrounding conditions. Schindler and Pyle comment, “There is no potential for experiencing the fullness of joy until you realize you are a new creature in Christ, the old you being passed away. The more you recognize who you are in Christ and who you are capable of becoming through Christ, the more joy you experience!”
The added benefit of joy is a greater strength: “. . . for the joy of the Lord is your strength”
(Nehemiah 8:10). Some Christian educators are so resilient and so on top that they seem to sail through life like eagles; for them, joy seems to come so easily. For others, it is a struggle. A good example of this struggle is what happens during those long stretches from January through March. With hardly a day off, teachers tend to get tired and weary. If their joy level goes unchecked and they lose their joy, they will lose their strength.
Furthermore, the devil works overtime trying to rob your joy by reminding you of your shortcomings, inadequacies, and wrong things you have done. When your joy is gone, discouragement sets in.
One day during the long January to March stretch a parent came to my office to vent her frustrations and as I result I had to purpose not to allow her to steal my joy. “I thought this was a Christian school,” she said. “Your PE program is the pits, and the PE teacher needs to be fired! He does not know what he is doing.” My spirit-man responded, “What this parent is really saying is, ‘I thought this was a perfect school.’ It is true, the school is not there yet; it is in the process of being perfected.”
It's easy to handle situations when everything is going well. But, what happens when things do not go so well? We must have the power of love to cover our shortcomings. We must plan for grace rather than perfection. For when we plan for perfection and miss the mark, we will lose our joy.
Some people feel that it is their calling in life to find fault with teachers, administrators, and support staff. Unless a school staff can rise above unjustified criticism, the school will lose its momentum, which leads to a loss of joy. By robbing the school of its joy, the devil can steal its strength; when this happens, he can come into any classroom and do what he wants.
The apostle Paul in writing to Timothy from death row spoke of the joy that filled his heart despite the suffering he had endured, the horror of prison, and the many attacks on his life. How did Paul retain his joy? It was by a conscious act of his will. “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4) It must be an act of your will to rejoice.
Increasing your joy level requires a time of waiting on the Lord. Isaiah said,
"But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint" (Isaiah 40:31).
As you spend time with the Lord, “Your weakness is exchanged for His strength. You need your spiritual system continually rejuvenated with the flowing life of Jesus Christ. Your level of strength can be changed from what it is today to a higher level if you will wait upon the Lord.” (Gene Garrick, Norfolk Christian School)
Once you have improved your level of joy, you are ready to take it into the classroom by allowing this joy to flow out of your life to your students. Once this is accomplished, you can begin to plan activities that foster joy. Consider the following three suggestions, adapted from Timothy D. Walker in his best-selling book Teach Like Finland: 33 Simple Strategies for Joyful Classrooms.
1. Schedule Brain Breaks. This is especially important in block scheduling where students may have as much as 90 minutes of instruction. Give their brains a break by scheduling at least a 15-minute break for every 45 minutes of instruction. If not 15 minutes then five to ten minutes for students to work independently and to be creative.
2. Know Each Child. Each child needs to feel that they belong in your classroom. This is why it is important to greet your students as they come into the classroom. Rather than asking them about their homework, build a strong relationship by asking about a sporting event, a curricular activity, what they watched on TV, a recent movie they attended, how their siblings were doing, parents, grandparents – anything that will cultivate a personal connection to their life.
3. Offer Choices. One of the best ways to strengthen independent learning is to offer choices. Walker suggests that teachers "get to know students' passions, make curricular connections, and offer interesting choices to them."
Brookes Publishing Company in a recent blog offered several ideas for cultivating joy in the classroom. Consider the following:
1. Quick Jot: At the end of the day or class period, have students close their eyes and think of a positive moment. It can be a small moment or a big one. Next, have them write or draw that experience (depending on the age and writing skills of the student). Invite them to consider and feel each detail in the experience.
2. Turn and Talk: End each day or class period by having students stop, find a partner, and share one happy moment. For students who may not want to talk, or who do not speak to communicate, you can invite them to draw/write about something that makes them happy. When they are done sharing, ask students to give each other a high five!
3. Blog It: Create a blog post at the end of the day where each student shares or writes one great moment from that day. Or if blogging isn’t your thing, create a handout for each day’s beautiful moments and place it in a binder that your class can add to each day. By the end of the school year, your class will have thousands of small beautiful moments that they can read through and enjoy.
4. Share the News: Cultivate happiness by creating a “Daily Happenings” newsletter during morning meetings or circle time, where you ask each student to share the best moment. Type the moments up, and then send the newsletter home. Parents who have children in a classroom where this takes place report that they love to learn about the day through this newsletter filled with words and images about happiness. It beats the question, “What did you do in school today?” And, the response, “Nothing.”
5. Share a Note: Consider writing tiny notes or draw a simple images on Post-Its or small index cards a few times a week, each filled with specific praise and gratitude for the student. For example, he might write, “I love how you helped Aidan in our reading circle today” or “Your comment about the scientific method today was so smart and thoughtful!” Share these “messages of love” at random points throughout the day and asks students to share the note with friends, parents, or other caregivers. (You can also ask students to create these praise notes and drawings for each other!)