Let’s Start a Joy Revolution

Holter residency 10.13

This morning I came across a commentary by Judy Wallis in Education Week calling on teachers to remember that joy must be part of a child’s education.  In an era where standardized testing, scripted curriculum and unending demands on teachers can easily suck all the joy out of a school day, she calls on educators to remember the joy they found in learning that made them want to be an educator:

Humans are born learners. Learning is enjoyable and joy-filled. I think of inspirational moments when I’ve been inside the classrooms of great teachers. Oh, how I longed to be like them. I was willing to inquire and study and ponder what and how they were teaching because it seemed to bring them such pleasure.


The psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defines “flow” as “the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it at even great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.” There’s that word “joy” again, tucked inside “enjoyable.” There’s a message not to miss: “for the sheer sake of doing it.” How different school would be if joy fueled each day’s experience of learning. Perhaps the key to why so many teachers have left the profession is the joyless space we have created for students and ourselves.

She calls on educators to start a “joy revolution.”  Who better to lead that charge than those of us involved in arts education?  I can think of no better way to infuse joy into a school environment than to offer students opportunities to learn with and through the arts.

Just this week I have witnessed both students and teachers engaged in moments of pure joy.  First, at the Holter Museum in Helena, where 5th grade students worked with printmaker Hiroki Morinoue to create woodblock prints.  I watched two particular young boys who were completely engrossed (deeply in the “flow”) working together seemlessly as if they had been printmaking for years.  As they built the confidence to begin experimenting, one of the boys exclaimed “This is an incredible experience!”

Yesterday I was at the state teacher’s convention in Belgrade, where the Montana Arts Council co-hosted an institute with VSA Montana on arts learning for students on the autistic spectrum.  Attending was a combination of arts specialists and special education teachers, all eager to find new arts-based strategies to reach their students.  Teaching artist Don Kukla got everyone up on their feet performing pantomime routines and engaging in the same theatre activities he does when he works with students with autism.  Much laughter and silliness ensued.  The joy was palpable.  The thought of these teachers returning to their classrooms to use some of these strategies to reach some of their most challenging learners filled ME with joy.

Wallis ends her post with a call to action:

So this school year, let’s take time to reflect on the difference joy could make. Let’s consider classrooms where everyone is both teacher and learner. Let’s dream of places where expertness and smartness grow out of inquiry and talk and wonder. Let’s find energy and hope. Let’s express joy and name it what it is: a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.

Teaching artists and arts specialists, joy is what we do best, and this revolution needs leaders!  Are you ready to join the Joy Revolution?

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