Every student and every teacher will tell you how incredibly hard these past couple of years have been. COVID has wreaked havoc on our lives in so many ways. Reports have been released showing unprecedented learning loss. There is a mental health crisis with both students and staff. The big question on everyone's mind is how to we fix it? I do know the answer is not new initiatives that are simply putting more work on the teachers and more expectations on the students. Students need to remember that school was a good place- one where they felt safe and supported. New initiatives won't accomplish that but teachers can.
I think I finally know the answer and it was given to me by a post from Bored Teachers that I shared on Facebook this morning, bring JOY back into our classrooms. Laura Hudgens writes that she realized that, "now feels like the time to take control of those things I can change." She makes it clear that she does not advocate going rogue, but recognizes that she still will work to teach effective lessons, set the bar high for her students and work with other teachers and students to get the best out of the students. But her #1 priority this year is to bring "joy back into teaching and learning". Here are the 6 ways she describes to bring back the joy:
Bring Back what the Students Like to Do. Reading for pleasure and not for an assignment, doing fun projects, just to do the fun projects. Take time to color or be creative.
More Catch-up Days- Allow a period every so often for students and teachers to get caught up.
Taking Time with the Standards- Make sure the students understand essential standards well. No more "inch-deep, mile-wide" approaches to cram everything in.
Make Relationships a Priority- This includes taking the time to build stronger relationships with students and colleagues.
Speak Your Mind- Speak up for things that matter for your students and fellow teachers. (And a note to admin here- LISTEN to the teachers- they know what is going on in their classroom and are the experts who can help fix things)
Family Comes First- Stop working long hours and on weekends. Teachers must take care of their mental health before even considering helping others.
I was reminded of how important joy is yesterday from 2 separate events. The Einstein Fellows had out first fellow-led PD. It was led by my colleague Nicole Yemothy who had recently attended the Hot Air Balloon Festival in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She spent a day at a local elementary school teaching the students how to make their own tissue paper hot air balloons and we got to do her activity. The laughter and joy in that room was contagious. I heard many fellow say that they really needed this today.
The second event was the arrival of my youngest son, Ian. He came to visit me and we are going to see Guys and Dolls at the Kennedy Center for the Arts today. But Ian has never been to Washington DC. Once he arrived, my plan was to take him on a short walk up the hill to see the Capitol, the Library of Congress and the Supreme Court. He was so excited by what he saw that he wanted to see it all- so we Uber'd to the Lincoln Memorial and then rented an electric bike and an electric scooter and proceeded to traverse 4 miles seeing the Vietnam War Memorial, the FDR memorial, the MLK Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the Washington Monument, the White House and the Word War I memorial. He was filled with joy and awe at both the history here and our modes of transportation. Truly a joyous afternoon!
The answer is so simple and yet extremely powerful, bring back the joy. I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that if all our teachers followed this and administration supported this, students will remember how to school and will learn to love learning again and teachers won't want to leave.