Sustaining Joy Beyond Back to School

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Savannah, a current Possip reporter and former educator, shares some ideas for sustaining joy beyond back-to-school energy throughout the school year.

Finding, Sustaining, and Exploring Joy

How is it already late October!? Autumn is in full swing, and the newness of back to school is starting to wear off. The energy that comes with the first few weeks of each school year is contagious. New school supplies and fresh faces bring a welcomed newness and excitement to school communities. 

However, it’s now about the time of year that some of this newness starts to wear off, and we begin to settle into normalcy. The structure is important in order to maintain daily operations. Classroom norms help students to hold themselves accountable. Yet, as our to-do lists and “asks” of us grow, and we fall into a routine, it can be difficult to maintain that back-to-school energy. Teacher morale boots are needed now more than ever! Here are a few ideas to increase morale and maintain back-to-school spirit throughout the school year.

Celebrate Students and Staff

Regularly create opportunities for students and staff to feel celebrated. Consider adding a staff shout-out bulletin board in a common space. Encourage staff to share shout-outs throughout the week, then publicly share a few during your weekly staff meeting. Meaningfully select students of the week and share them during announcements. Send teachers a surprise coffee gift card! Establish a culture of joy by asking students to share announcements, moments of personal success, or exciting life updates at the beginning of class for an allotted period of time. Encourage student spirit weeks, and prioritize student-led events if possible.

Prioritize Classroom Connection and Check-Ins

As the school year progresses, the day-to-day can begin to feel overwhelming for teachers. When you’re trying to meet standards, advance through the curriculum, and meet student needs simultaneously, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. When I was a teacher I found it especially important to slow down in these moments and remember that our students are always the priority. If you as a teacher are feeling overwhelmed, it’s likely your students are too.

Provide opportunities for students to connect meaningfully in inclusive communities. Each Monday in my classroom we took about twenty minutes to connect, share, and reset. While still following classroom norms, students were encouraged to share openly during this unstructured time. Sometimes students shared academic specific celebrations or anxieties or took space to process what was happening in the world around them. We discussed our academic priorities for the week, and came to an agreement on due dates as a learning community. Even though I worried this time took away from instructional time, allowing students space to process while showing them their well-being was always the priority, helping them intentionally focus while establishing trust.

Spark Moments of Joy

Sometimes, it’s the little things. Playing music during transition time, or taking the time to eat intentionally with the community can be a real game-changer. When our days are weighed down with tasks, grades, emails, and to-do’s, we can forget how much the little moments matter. When we slow down and prioritize joy, our ability to be productive only increases. Encourage football jersey Friday, or create a hallway bulletin board dedicated to pets that belong to students and staff. These small moments may not have an “academic” purpose, but they allow us to feel seen, and that matters just as much.

Support When Possible

Teachers have a lot on their plates. If you’re an administrator or school leader, think about ways you can support your teachers. If possible, offer to cover a class period for them so they can have more time to plan or grade. Encourage teachers to share what’s happening in their classroom, and if they could use an extra pair of hands. If you’re a coach, surprise the teachers you mentor by reserving a meeting time specifically to help them a grade. If you’re a teacher, offer to cover lunch or recess duty for another coworker you want to show you an appreciation for. These small acts can have a BIG impact on staff culture.

Involving Family and Community

Never be afraid to reach out and ask teachers what would be helpful. While there may be more precautions now around in-person support, there are still ways you can support your student’s classroom virtually! You could surprise your teacher with a morning coffee or consider sending an electronic gift card as an unexpected moment of joy! If your student shares something they are excited about, reach out to your student’s teacher and share it with them. As teachers, we often aren’t able to see how students process what they learn during class. Or, consider sharing with Possip that you’re interested in teacher appreciation-related activities and planning.

As we wave goodbye to back-to-school feelings, we want to acknowledge how hard our teachers are working. We are still facing a pandemic, and the majority of the school year is in front of us. We have noticed teachers are struggling with workload and morale, and we want to take a moment to acknowledge, WE SEE YOU. If you have other ideas or ways you spark joy regularly within your own school or district, reach out! We would love to hear from you 🙂