Bringing Joy to School

Written by edlifeconsulting

June 6, 2022

“If the teachers go hungry, they will eat the kids.”

Angela M. Prince, Founder, EDLife Consulting Services

When you spend eight to twelve hours a day at a work location, you should enjoy being there. Many leaders do not experience Joy within their schools, because as former teachers and staff, they probably didn’t have much Joy before getting to their current position. 

When I worked for Imagine Schools, a charter school organization in Florida, one of the things I learned and took with me was the value of having Joy at work. I had never really thought about having Joy at work, but after learning the meaning behind it, it made perfect sense. I have taken this principle with me throughout my career. I learned it was more than about letting them wear jeans on Friday or providing coffee and holiday dinner for staff. Such things help build the culture of the school and make the staff happy, but do they truly bring Joy? 

According to Dennis Bakke (2010), the founder of Imagine Schools, “Fun (Joy) means cultivating a Joy at Work environment in every school… Each person has the opportunity to use his or her unique talents and experience to make important decisions contributing to the success of the school. Joy at Work combines integrity and justice with accountability for our decisions, in order to achieve outstanding results for students and families.” 

This means everyone is responsible for the success of the organization. The work becomes about letting stakeholders take risks and make something useful happen with their talents, gifts, and/or resources where they spend most of their waking hours, in the workplace. This was a new concept for me and the staff I worked with, but once they saw my sincerity as the leader, we truly did have Joy at Work—it worked! People began to contribute, come up with ideas, try new things, and had fun doing it. I learned so much about the people I worked with, and they felt valued for what they offered to the school. Their contribution was not viewed as something extra—it was a part of the fabric of the school; it was fun. 

It usually falls to the leader to bring Joy to the workplace, to be the cheerleader, the motivator, the encourager, but imagine if everyone brought that same amount of Joy to the workplace. There would be a trickle-down effect from teachers to students and from students to students. I know you may think it is easier at a charter school, but it worked in a public school as well. While principal at an urban, comprehensive high school, I implemented this same principle. I openly invited staff and students to come up with ideas to “make this our school!” I had teachers stepping up to create new programs, and students starting clubs and traditions that are still in place at the school today. 

Whatever the idea was, my response was “What do you need to make it happen?” And make it happen they did. Students could begin any club they were interested in, as long as THEY found an adult sponsor and got a minimum of five people to join the club. They came up with things that were interesting to them, and they were committed to it because it was their idea. More teachers became involved because students were asking for their help to do something constructive. How could they say no? It was a fair process, which meant everyone didn’t get the same thing—fairness in our school meant everyone was treated differently, based on what they needed. 

No matter where you spend those forty, fifty, or sixty hours per week, God intends for you to find Joy in your work.

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