Undoubtedly, all teachers enter the classroom desiring to serve their students best. The question is: what do teachers do intentionally and “on purpose” to ensure each student has “joy moments” as a regular and routine component of their daily instructional learning experience? Joy moments are occurrences that honor students’ identity and/or lived experience as they interact with their peers, the content, the teacher, or another adult member of the school community. These are moments that center “who students naturally and authentically” are in this world. Literature content reflects students’ physical, mental, and social-emotional attributes authentically with affirming messages that integrate counternarratives to existing stereotypes of student groups. Visuals within the classroom and school community celebrate positive figures known in students’ homes, communities, and extended families. Teachers intentionally include examples and activities that highlight students’ interests and strengths. Students feel seen and heard throughout the day. There are several “joy moments” when students are intrinsically motivated to smile and laugh due to a classroom connection that validates their experience—that honors their cultural traditions—that tells them they are valuable members of the school community. Bottom line, “joy moments” are those every day, non-dramatic, yet overwhelming moments that signal to students they unequivocally deserve to be in the space!
Teachers endeavoring to do this work should consider these four questions as they plan their daily lessons:
Question 1: How am I using my “why” to plan my daily instruction?
Why did you become an educator? What motivated you to be an influential leader in students’ lives? What was the moment you decided to be an educator? What are the ongoing moments that drive you to continue engaging in this work? Even in this moment of returning to work during a global pandemic, reconnecting to your why (big or small) is important as it should be seen in how you engage students.
Question 2: How am I remaining a student by learning more about the students I serve? How am I leaning into knowing their lives, experiences, understanding their multi-identities? How am I challenging perceptions about what I think I know about students from various backgrounds and lived experiences (racial, cultural, family demographics, and special program – special education, multi-lingual learners, free and reduced meals, 504 plans)?
As an educator during this dynamic time in American history, maintaining a current understanding of the curriculum, best social-emotional learning practices, and child development literature is an absolute given. However, there is also a need to be a “forever student” of your students. What this means is that every student is a distinct individual; every student’s experience is uniquely their experience. Cultural knowledge is a living body of work. Understanding these mores is essential to being a “forever student of your students.”
Question 3: How do I understand national, local, and school-based data trends? Does the data in my classroom align with these data trends? Why or why not? What am I doing differently? How am I integrating student voice with the national, local, and school-based data trends to personalize instruction and lay the foundation for multiple “joy moment” experiences?
Understanding data trends relative to student groups in your classroom, school, and the school district is essential as it will assist you in purposefully planning for instruction. Using this data, you can create multiple pathways for students to access the grade-level standards because you are leveraging the data to begin “just right” instruction from day 1. Equally as important, you can collect some of the most valuable data from students during individual student conferences during the first couple of school days. During these individual conferences, you are not only connecting with students and cultivating the foundation of a positive teacher-student relationship, but you are also seeking invaluable student voice data. You are asking students about their interests, their favorite foods, the people who encourage them the most, and other emergent questions that give you information about who the student is as an individual. Bringing who the student is as an individual into the classroom is, in fact, centering their humanity. Intentionally honoring their lived experiences through authentic connections in the teaching and learning dynamic signals to them that they belong.
Question 4: How am I creating a learning environment that requires students to honor each other when I am and am not around?
Like the need for educators to explicitly teach the parts of a sentence, educators must do the same for promoting a shared understanding of what means to a student in a classroom that centers the humanity of each classroom community member. Creating classroom agreements relative to communication – spoken and unspoken – is necessary to establish a classroom of care that centers humanity. Cohering community norms must be planned through activities and ongoing conversations, reflections, and opportunities to address situations that present an affront to care and collective humanity.
Using these four questions as you plan your lessons will certainly assist you in intentionally creating “joy moments” for students in a classroom that centers their humanity. In doing this work, consider how you might memorialize your efforts. After obtaining approval from parents/guardians, capturing moments of joy through pictures, and displaying them in the classroom and/or sharing them with parents/guardians can serve to uplift this work, continuously build community, and keep your purpose for doing this work highlighted. Also, using “joy moments” visuals as possible free-write experiences are a wonderful way to connect joy, writing, and personal connection. Moreover, “joy moments” visuals can be used as opportunities to assist in reconnecting students, if needed, throughout the teaching and learning dynamic. Leveraging these moments to remind students of who they are as an asset-based strategy to bring students out of a difficult space to a more reflective space is aligned with a classroom that centers humanity. Since this work is emergent, create space to grow into it. Remember to lean in with curiosity as, for many, it is inherently counter to how they have traditionally thought about the teacher-student dynamic. This is okay! Give yourself permission to start slow as you understand, as you grow, as you learn, but please just start the work. Our classrooms, students, relationships with students, and collective humanity depend on our ability to start intentionally creating and solidifying “joy moments” as authentic and natural occurrences in the classroom!