Defining Joy (One of many I fear)

In my previous post I shared that my goal is to find joy. I promised a definition of joy, and I’m going to give it a shot, although I have a fear that one post isn’t going to do it. Just in the past week I’ve started reading a book that has challenged some of and reinforced others of my thoughts, so this definition is a work in progress.


As I’ve reflected on my goal for the past six months or so, I’ve thought a lot about joy and what it means to be joyful. And how I could translate my definition of J.O.Y. (Jesus, Others, You) into a useful definition for education. This hasn’t been easy, which is why I’m six months into this goal before trying to share it. I’m going to take a stab at it though, and here’s what I mean when I say I want to find joy in our classrooms.

  1. Joy is much, much more than happy. Happy is a social construct created to sell product. Happy is fleeting – happy is a moving target. I am not looking for a “happy” classroom. In fact, there should be struggle, frustration, and some frowns in a classroom where students are digging in and learning to their full potential. This work isn’t easy. In a joyful classroom I expect to see the negative, but also the positive as students work with one another to solve problems, strengthen friendships, and learn to be themselves.
  2. Joy is pride and satisfaction. My girls do not come home waving worksheets around and bubbling over with stories about how much they learned from chorale reading. Pride and satisfaction in our work comes from the struggle of working hard and reaching a goal. A joyful classroom stretches learners to their very limit, and they like it. Why? Why would students want to be stretched and how would this create joy? Being stretched means they are engaged – they have set a goal for themselves and are working to reach it. Through setbacks and frustrations they will keep working because they want to reach their goals.
  3. Joy is service. Can our learning be a service to others? Is this type of service oriented learning available to everyone? In an interview I watched recently a story was told about pre-k students who were tasked with creating toys for the two year olds in their building. They did a design thinking cycle. They started with empathy – observing the younger kids. They defined the challenges with the current toys. They created their prototypes and tested them. Then they created their final toys. I was blown away. How much did these kids learn? How much pride and satisfaction did they have when they saw the babies playing with their toys? How much joy was there – a lot I bet. I never learn for just me – do you? I always think of others as I learn, even if it isn’t a “service project”. Serving others gives us purpose – our students need purpose to be engaged.
  4. Joy is love. There is never enough love. Ever. If we love our students, and teach our students to love one another we have climbed half of the mountain.


I have more thoughts, but I’d love to hear what you think about joy and your definitions. Cheers!

2 thoughts on “Defining Joy (One of many I fear)”

  1. I will admit that I’m worried about the lack of grit I see in the classroom. Is it possible to attain the joy you speak of in a spoon-fed culture? Is it possible for teachers to help children achieve this type of joy without being demonized in the process? I love your thoughts because it is causing me to question my own.

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