Monday Musing: The power of joy


A former colleague of mine, Ingrid Fetell Lee just published a book called Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness. It’s pretty cool when people you know do things like publish a book with an endorsement from Ariana Huffington on the jacket; it’s even cooler when the content is thought-provoking.

I’m only a few chapters in, but I’m already thinking about Ingrid’s exploration of how the material world can create joy for us, and how it applies to education. Ingrid writes, “though the feeling of joy is mysterious and ephemeral, we can access it through tangible, physical attributes,” and goes on to name some of those attributes: color, energy, harmony, etc.

So many schools focus on students finding internal joy - and believe me, that is a practice that should absolutely be continued - while de-prioritizing creating joy in the students’ surroundings. I taught at an extended-day charter school, which meant that most of my students were at school for 9 hours a day. NINE HOURS. And while this school had student work on the walls and a few student-drawn murals, we operated in an old public school building that had the classic gray and brown walls and drab interior. As a new teacher, I struggled to maintain my sanity, let alone the order of my classroom. My students weren’t motivated to keep the space clean, because the space didn’t elicit joy in them. How could I blame them? I often felt the same way myself.

Certainly, the concept of making schools more beautiful to make student experiences better is not a one, but I think the practice is too often ignored. In the book, Ingrid offers concrete examples for how to change the space around you to elicit more joy. She references Publicolor, an organization that transforms schools and community spaces by painting them in bright, cheerful colors. But her exploration begs the question: what would be different if teachers were trained to create joyful spaces, one small item at a time?

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