Thursday, February 13, 2014

How to Find Your Joylah

Several years ago, I read the exquisite book, I Emma Freke by Elizabeth Atkinson. In this YA title,  Emma defines Joylah as a groove zone, a smooth place back in the track. She goes onto give the following tips for finding your joylah. 

1. Try new things
2. Be open to new friends
3. Visit new places
4. Listen to new ideas
5. Remember each day is a new day
6. And it’s really no big deal if beads get mixed up every once in a while.

My beads are very mixed up, and I think I've lost my joylah

Today during our monthly celebration meeting, my extraordinary administrator stretched my thinking and caused me to swim in ideas by challenging our staff to explain the meaning of joy. Following this exercise, she showed us this TEDx Talk titled, "Whatever Happened to Joy in Education?"

By the time the talk ended, a wave of regret washed over me in full force. The video opened my mind and spirit to so many truths. I've been wrestling with the dichotomy between maintaining a sense of urgency and embracing the joy in each moment. My all-or-nothing thinking makes achieving balance quite challenging.

After spending a year in the instructional coaching role, academic growth became my number one priority. Ensuring that every kid hit their learning targets and made substantial academic gains took center stage, and unknowingly, I think I've forgotten to notice the students’ smiles. Joy has been crowded out by the demands of rigorous curriculum, unbearable accountability, and a desperate desire to help struggling learners grow.
I entered the teaching profession at the cusp of the high stakes testing movement, and about five years into my career, I remember thinking, “Can’t we just color a pumpkin?” This year when the younger students were celebrating Thanksgiving dressed as pilgrims and Indians, I felt such a sense of both sadness and frustration. So today, on the 100th day of school, when most of the students went outside to do elderly calisthenics, my student s were huddled at their desks editing and revising their most recent compositions.
It wasn't until we watched the TED talk that I realized I might be missing the forest for the trees. A quick afternoon break would have given us all a much needed reprieve from the highly cognitive demands of writing, and perhaps I robbed my students of a memorable experience. In my efforts to push my kiddos to higher levels, the tyranny of the urgent robs me of what matters most – finding joy amidst the chaos.    
This week, my kiddos took their February Istation assessment in the computer lab. The children set personal goals, and almost every child reached their individual targets. When the computer graph appeared on the screen, providing instant feedback, I watched grins spread across their faces and whispers of, “YES!” all over the lab. Success breeds joy, and when kids understand the connection between their effort and the outcome, I am proud of the work we've accomplished.  
I know these two paradigms do not exist in isolation, and somehow I must learn to embrace a gentler, softer path for both myself and my students. The TED talk prompted these difficult, rewarding thoughts and allowed me to grapple with some big ideas. I've got a lot more soul searching to do, but for now I am going to find something light and joyful for my kids to do on Valentine's Day. Perhaps we will break out the crayons, markers, construction paper and glue while listening to upbeat 50's love songs. Sounds like joylah to me!

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