Sparking Joy

Aron Early

This summer I started playing softball again for the first time in five years. It’s the little things. Before this hiatus, I’d played some form of baseball/softball every year, for about 25 years. Life happens - I moved, got busy - but this spring I started looking around again and was fortunate to find a team to join. In addition to sore muscles, scraped skin, and tight hamstrings, softball gives me joy. It had been so long since I’d played that I’d forgotten how much joy it gave me (I’d also forgotten I’m not as young as I used to be). Joy is contagious and wants more joy. How can I spark more joy through all aspects of my life?

Career and college readiness is about helping students understand and prepare for future education and careers - but also about navigating the ups and downs, joys and triumphs of life. Washington State has new Social Emotional Learning Standards in addition to High School and Beyond Planning - but really the two go together. As Christine McCabe, Executive Director of College Spark, notes in their white paper on Washington’s Career Guidance standards and inititiative, “The issue of college readiness is complex. It encompasses academic and social-emotional readiness; expectations and support; helping students develop meaningful goals; and helping them understand the difference between various post-secondary options.”

In education, how can we help students spark joy? While some people hear the phrase “spark joy” and think of Marie Kondo’s tool for tidying up and organizing your life, as also seen on Netflix. I’ve only seen one episode, and although, yes I will be going through my book collection because I’m drowning in texts, I can’t claim to fully understand the KonMari method.

I’m no expert on sparking joy and I can’t claim to know you or your student situation, but I do know that life doesn’t always bring joy and sometimes we have to create our own. As I consider this, these are some questions I’m asking myself as I prepare for the school year in different aspects of my work life.

Does the learning space spark joy?

For me, although I visit classrooms, the physical learning space is the library. At my school students generally use the library to study, find a book, socialize with friends, or use the makerspace area - a new addition to the library last year. Some of the greatest joy in the library took place in this newly designed area as students explored coding, making, and creating with a variety of tools in the space like ozobots, micro:bits, and 3D pens. To build on this I want to bring more classrooms into this space to utilize our resources, but also expand into classrooms when possible.  What does joy look like in your classrooms? What does a joyful classroom look like or how can we spark joy when students enter our learning spaces? 

Sammamish makerspace

Sammamish HS Library Makerspace

Does the lesson spark joy?

I teach to spark joy in my students but I know I’m not always successful. One way I can increase my success rate and put more smiles on faces is by personalizing the learning and tailoring learning activities to include items of student interest. Through building relationships with students I can integrate student interests into the curriculum. Maybe it’s Star Wars genetics or Pokemon ecology. Maybe it’s a display in the library that puts a smile on student faces or the joy of making a gif in the makerspace area - I really can’t predict what the answer is without asking students. Personalizing the space and the learning towards student interests and passions leads to a deeper sense of purpose for students. All educators can help support student interests and goal-setting by asking students about their interests and directing them towards career resources at school.

 How can I spark joy outside of school?

I’m asking this question because sometimes we need to be reminded to spark joy outside of school. If this is routine for you - great, keep it up! For me, this is where softball can enter the picture. If you’re struggling to maintain the balance between school responsibilities, family and other life responsibilities, and opportunities to do things that spark joy - you're not alone. We tell ourselves to do it. “Make time for fun!” he said between grading papers and doing the dishes. It’s easier said than done, but doing so can serve a dual purpose.

Finding time for joy not only benefits me directly, but sharing passions with students is important modeling as well. When applying to colleges or to jobs, students need to show themselves as well-rounded individuals. Being involved in school clubs and activities can be more than a happy, social experience. Although colleges look for strong grades, they also want to see student growth over time, talents, and passions.

How can I help students spark joy for themselves?

One part of preparing students for the future is helping them identify what brings them joy and finding ways to amplify joy. Helping our students understand what gives them joy will help them create opportunities for joy in and out of the classroom.

One way to do this might be having students set academic goals around things that make them happy. Other opportunities might include things like genius hour or passion projects. Structured time to learn a new skill, shows students you value their time and can increase their value of yours as a teacher. Classes like AVID may have more time for things like this but I’ve seen this work in English classes too and there are strategies for finding time. Other examples may include using library time to link student passions to student research and literacy or connecting student research passions to lab time in science, which leads to student-driven experimentation. ELA teachers discuss allowing students to choose their own books to read. What would a student read for joy that could also match the themes of the ELA classroom?

Softball season may have ended in a loss, but for me it ended in a win.

What ways can you spark joy in your students and at your school?

  • career and college readiness
  • College and Career Readiness
  • College Readiness
  • makerspaces
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The opinions expressed by the CORElaborate Bloggers, guest bloggers and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of the Puget Sound Educational Service District (PSESD), Ready Washington or any employee thereof. PSESD is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the Washington State Teacher Leader or Guest Bloggers.

Aron Early Board

I currently serve as a Research Technology Specialist for the Bellevue School District. I am focused on working with teachers and students to improve research and information literacy skills. I believe the ability to find, evaluate, and synthesize information is a defining life skill of our digital age. I'm also passionate about using technology as an enhancement of good instruction. Let's talk about how we can work and grow together! Connect with me on twitter.

Twitter: @earlyest


Youtube: aronearly