Cultivating a Culture of Joy Remotely (Covid-19 Teaching Diary Day 23)

From the start of my teaching career I've thought a lot about joy in my classroom. Maybe it's because I'm an elementary school teacher, but it has always felt vital to me. That's one of the reasons "test prep season" the time of year (the start depends on the school) when "regular teaching" is subsumed by test prep has always felt so demoralizing to me. It feels like test prep takes the joy out of teaching and learning.

My thinking around joy really developed during my masters program. I started to understand joy as one component of broader classroom or school culture. A major lesson I learned from my studies, and from my failed time as an after school program director, is that culture develops inevitably. You can either cultivate it intentionally, or another culture will grow instead.
Joy,word,letters,scrabble,free pictures - free image from
Normally in my classroom I try to cultivate a culture of joy and love of learning a few different ways. One way is through morning meeting and closing circle. This is a typical practice in elementary classrooms which allows us to check in and check out at the beginning and end of the day. These circle times also allow us to play team builders together, discuss current events, or process difficult events in our school or classroom.

I also try to cultivate culture through "shout outs", something I stole from my time running the aforementioned after school program. Shout outs are a variety of cheesy cheers that we use to celebrate each other. These bring energy into the room, but I also hope they reinforce a culture of effort and excellence.

The culture of my classroom also grows from the little details as well. The choices I make around what to say, when to say, and how to say it, throughout the day probably count for more than all the little gimmicks and routines I try. So, when the culture in my classroom feels off, for example kids being nasty to each other, I usually reflect on my own role as the adult in the room.

Creating a culture of joy remotely is another challenge of remote learning. We still have morning and closing circle. We still have shout outs. I still try my best to use a kind, caring, and respectful tone at all times. But for me, something feels lost as we communicate through screens.

There are a few ways I'm trying to add a boost of joy to our days online. One I stole from the kindergarten teacher (I once heard Jeffrey Duncan Andrade say that great teachers steal, so I'm not ashamed to admit to it twice in one blog post). The kindergarten class ends their day with a "joke of the day" and I gladly stole that for my third graders. Another way I try to add some fun is adding dances or games into our closing circle.

One remote learning tradition I started for the sole purpose of bringing joy into our community. That's "Fun Friday." Fun Friday relies partly on the appeal of alliteration, but I try to build on that by asking the kids for ideas. So far we've had two Pajama Fridays, one Fancy Friday, and "Halloween in Spring."

For today's Pajama Friday, I invited kids to bring stuffed animals to our video calls and introduce them to the group. Only a handful of kids did, but it was a reminder to me of what I love about third graders. Many of them still have one foot firmly planted in early childhood. They are still so willing to play and make believe in a way that practically disappears by 4th grade (probably more due to the jump in academic expectations than cognitive development).

Overall, finding joy in a remote learning environment during a pandemic isn't easy. And it's okay to feel sad and exhausted and frustrated. I try to be transparent with the kids about this, and to make space for all of us to feel this way. But joy is also vital now, more than ever. I hope to continue to find ways to nurture it as we try to get through this experience together.


Popular Posts