Recently in my Language Arts class we watched a TED talk by a young man who was talking about hacked education. At the beginning of his TED talk he was discussing the question kid are always asked which is, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Naturally kids will say things such as lawyer, doctor, fireman, policeman or some other occupation. Yet this young man said that the answer to that question should be pretty simple. When asked what you want to be when you grow up the answer should be, “happy”. I find this very interesting and refreshing that this young man answered the question in that way. I would hope anyone regardless of his or her age would have the same answer.

It then got me thinking about the work we do in schools and if we focus too much on college and career readiness and not enough on joy and happiness. We all know the crazy that we are in with testing and standards and all the other nonsense that we deal with as teachers. If I have one more meeting where we discuss the importance of data driven decisions, I just might toss the cookies. As any teacher knows, we don’t have control over much of what policy makers and local administrators demand we do. Many things we just have to get through and deal with as part of the job.

With that being said, we can take the approach of complaining about those things we can’t control or take advantage of those things we can. For starters, we have tremendous control over the activities we do in our class on a daily basis.  We also have nearly complete control over the environment of our class and how kids feel while they are with us. Most importantly, it is within our control how we interact and build relationships with students. With this in mind we truly can help a kid be happy or at least make a significant impact.

I try to think about my own children and how happy and joyful they are when they are at home. When my youngest entered first grade, his teacher asked what our goals for him were for the school year. My wife wanted to put something down about improving his reading and math skills. I convinced her to write on that sheet that our goal for our son was that he left first grade as happy and as excited about school as he was when he entered it. A teacher or a school should never extinguish kids’ joy and happiness about learning and life. Lighting and protecting that spark of joy and happiness should be every teacher’s goal for every student.

I wonder if we do enough to make kids happy or allow them to pursue learning that makes them happy. I am an advocate for choice, autonomy and passion driven learning and yet I am often a slave to the curriculum and the standards. There is only so much a teacher can do and yet many of the small things can help spread that joy and bring happiness to a child. For more kids than we willingly admit, school is the best part of their life. There is often little joy and happiness in their home lives. Yet, while they are with us at school we can do everything in our power to ensure it is a positive and joyful experience.

What are you doing to bring joy and happiness to the students in your school? Seriously…leave a comment and share as we can all use some joyful and happy stories.

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