School Climate & Safety Opinion

7 Ways to Cultivate Delight in Schools

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — May 07, 2017 5 min read
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Could we, like sunshine, invite delight into our schools? Currently, I am exploring the paradox of responsibility and delight. As educators, we hold one in each hand. I wonder how we can balance both the responsibility with the delight? I was wet behind the ears when I was hired as a Principal. In my early thirties, I had lots to learn. I was very responsible. But, I needed to grow in how to delight in my work. I can pinpoint the year when I learned the importance of morning greetings, the year when I learned the power of hand-written thank you notes, and the year I adopted the mantra, “You attract more bees with honey.” I was gradually learning.

Learning to Lead with Enthusiasm

Learning to lead with enthusiasm is an ongoing journey. So, penning the aspirational words, “bursting to light up the world with joy” in our school’s manifesto, filled my heart with fear. After being a school administrator for almost a decade and in education for almost two, I am clearly familiar with the weightiness of our profession. I have experienced it across North America and beyond.

Let’s face it, school isn’t like a young, energetic, and innovative start-up tech company. More often, it is filled with the struggle, difficulties, and challenges coming from nurturing children in a system that can feel like a life-sized garbage compactor, with a ceiling closing down on us and the walls whispering, “You are not enough.”

The statistics are staggering. According to the Metropolitan Life Survey of the American Teacher, among all occupational groups, teachers experience the highest amount of daily stress in the school year tied with nurses and higher than physicians. Caring for children has us in fight-or-flight mode, with our nervous systems in ‘do-or-die’.

A 2016 report on Teacher Stress and Health from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation finds four main sources of teacher stress:

  • School organization
  • Job demands
  • Work resources, and
  • Teacher Social and Emotional Competence.

Theologian and philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “Life is routine and routine is resistance to wonder.” While I don’t think he was discussing schools, the quote applies. Our standardized tests, data-driven classrooms, and hierarchical structures are creating far more routine and responsibility than wonder and delight. Yet, not surprisingly, a “teacher’s own social-emotional competence and well-being are key factors influencing student and classroom outcomes.”

So, the question remains, “Could schools be filled with delight?” Could we be vibrant, innovative, and energetic? I wonder if delight might be an ingredient in the recipe of social-emotional competency for teachers and students. Authoring our school manifesto with our stakeholders sent me further into an inquiry of how to create a culture of joy and delight in my learning community.

Here are seven ways I currently practice delight:

Delight in the Invitation

Each day we are invited to share in the lives of children, parents, and colleagues. We open the doors of learning, holding keys to the future. Like receiving a gold-embossed, calligraphed, royal solicitation, we are holding a beautiful invitation to meaningful work.

Delight in the Mission

Our work is missional. We have compelling and visionary mission statements and manifestos with strategic plans attached. Our leadership, teaching teams, and support staff are some of the best in the world! We know how to do everything from code robots to systematize spaces to teach reading. Our goal is to help children and schools be “bursting to light up the world with joy!”

Delight in the Purpose

Learning and literacies, in the broadest terms, are our purposes. We care about students from their head to their toes. Their growth physically, cognitively, socially, and emotionally is our business. While we don’t know it all, we are on the front lines of nurturing and championing the extraordinary potential of every child. It is a purpose filled with delight.

Delight in the Relationships

My colleague, 46-year veteran Principal, Fran McGreevy, recently encouraged me, “Think of how many hearts we touch each day!” It’s true. The world will some day see educators as one of the most revered leadership professions in our society because we know how to influence and impact people. We know how to connect. We know it is hard and we aren’t afraid of hard things. We understand the power of human relationships and believe in the human renaissance coming in the future.

Delight in the Possibilities

In our teaching team, we are currently reading The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life by Benjamin Zander and Rosamund Stone Zander. They write the following about education.

Michelangelo is often quoted as having said that inside every block of stone or marble dwells a beautiful statue; one need only remove the excess material to reveal the work of art within. If we were to apply this visionary concept to education, it would be pointless to compare one child to another. Instead, all the energy would be focused on chipping away at the stone, getting rid of whatever is in the way of each child’s developing skills, mastery, and self-expression (p. 26).

We take joy in the potential learning and growth. The possibility of a masterpiece is all around us.

Delight in the Children

Children’s lives are being transformed. It happens slowly. It takes dedication and often years of persistence. When they are struggling, when their behaviour is communicating with us, when the going gets tough, we dig in and mine for gold. The journey is filled with wonder.

Delight in the ‘Sacred Moments’

We started a new culture-building game in our home and school: Treasure Hunting. We play it almost every day. We search for the treasures or ‘sacred moments’ in our day. When we gather, each person shares with the group and joy is multiplied. Also, if you know you are going to play, you begin practicing mindful living, paying attention to the sacred moments. Young children are naturals at this game. Hunting for, rehearsing, and sharing special moments is a secret to sustainability in our profession. Watch the masters; they all do it!

In Conclusion

I am ever-grateful for the phrase in our school’s manifesto, “bursting to light up the world with joy!” We aren’t always modeling this perfectly and some days are gray-er and more uphill than most, but our practice is one of delight. How do you practice delight in your learning community?


If you would like more information about how we can help you pen a culture-building manifesto, email Karine at karine@learnforward.ca

If you’d like to further explore what matters most to children, you can subscribe for your free Starter Kit at learnforward.ca

Twitter: @Learn_Forward

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Photo courtesy of Jessica Krebs Photography

Ann Myers and Jill Berkowicz are the authors of The STEM Shift (2015, Corwin) a book about leading the shift into 21st century schools. Connect with Ann and Jill on Twitter or Email.

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The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.