Let’s Build the Joyous Culture Because #OurStudentsDeserveIt

Finally I get the chance to sit back in front of my computer.  The warm weather has broken for now.  The sun is out, and everyone in the house is asleep but me.  The breeze comes in through the windows and the air smells sweet.  And while I could be doing anything, all I can think about is school.  It has been an up and down ride for me as the school year began, but this week, it all started to come together.  Why?  Because this week, I actually got to teach kids.

Part of my job description this year is to work as an interventionist.  I take small groups of students through the day to catch them up while not falling behind on new content.  It is a differentiation opportunity/nightmare that delights/terrifies me.  And though there was a  myriad of emotions I felt as these students stepped through my door for the first time, one shone through.  Happiness.  Excitement.  Passion.  Okay, three emotions.  I loved being among (literally among them; I tend to sit on the floor) the kids as theme and characterization and conflict began to click together.  Light bulb moments.  I delighted in acknowledging their frustrations as things didn’t make sense and sitting down with them to help them sift through their confusion.  I was even gitty when my one period which is comprised of more than half of students with ADHD came through the door.  I love my resource role at my school, but I had forgotten how much I love being in the classroom.  Look at my student in the picture.  Before Friday, she had never annotated before (so she says).  Look at how much she had done, and it was all right!

Student annotations.  She had never done this before.  Look at how much she did!

The purpose of this piece, though, is not to just share my joy this week.  What keeps me in front of my computer as opposed to outside on this beautiful day is that there are those around me at work who do not feel this joy every day.

Here’s the thing.  My school is a hard school, and the kids will often push even veterans to the edge.  As part of my responsibilities at the school, I am to support teachers and mentor them through their struggles.  I can walk into any classroom and identify ten celebrations and ten areas for improvement.  I can find systems problems in the blink of an eye, and I can think of way on way to differentiate a lesson.  I can give management advice and tip on how to give feedback.

What I cannot figure out is how to help these teachers I support find joy in the job as opposed to obligation to the job.  Mind you, it is not all of them, or even most of them.  But they exist.  They may not publicly say it, but you can see it.  If there isn’t joy in the struggles and successes, the students suffer because lessons become about compliance to the standards and not innovation or creativity.  Students suffer because the teachers cannot feign excitement for the most boring of lessons that we sometimes have to do.  I mean, I hate poetry, but I can be the most excited person in the room for some Robert Frost if I have to.

So what do we do?  We all know teachers like this.  They may come in smiling every day and say good morning as if nothing is wrong, but we know, even if they do not, that their identity is not teacher.  It is a professional with a clientele.  And the difference between the two may be subtle, but earth shattering.  How do we build an identity of passion, excitement, and innovative spirit in teachers who do not feel it, yet?

This is one of those gray areas.  It has nothing to do with policy, and a teacher can be successful on paper if there isn’t an inherent joy.  Yet, even without being about policy or success on paper, our kids deserve the best us every day.  And I want every one I work with to feel the passion and excitement I feel when I am with students.  So, world, hit me.  Our students deserve it, and I want to build the joyous culture.  How do we do it?

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