Joy, Happiness, & Fun: Elusive or Inclusive in Your Classroom?

I have a very bright, quick-witted, downright funny 11 year old son, Ryan, who absolutely hates school, most of the time.  From kindergarten through second grade, he would wake up angrily every morning for school, complain loudly about it being a complete waste of his time, and trudge through his morning routine.  I’m an educational nerd (#EduNerd), have always been, so this situation was not in my wheelhouse.  I knew my son wasn’t unique in his distaste for school, but for him to feel this way every single morning was disheartening.  I knew why he felt that way, why thousands of kids everywhere feel this way.  Then in the third grade, he connected with a teacher who helped him like school. Now, every teacher who follows her has a shot.


Unfortunately for many teachers out there today, the answer to the question posed by Dave Burgess,  bestselling author and speaker in the picture above, is yes.  I’ve taught in five districts and 2 different states since my husband’s job for 20 years required some relocating.  So, I have seen students bail out of high school classes at the end of the first semester, leaving the teacher with an empty room. There are teachers out there who seem to forget that elective classes are just that, “elected to be taken” by students. I’ve heard some teachers blame their students for dropping the class, saying that those students just didn’t want to work hard. Sure, we can blame them, but a little self reflection in this situation never hurts. If all of your students drop your class, or would if they had the option, maybe your class is lacking in joy, happiness, and/or fun.  Now, I need you to actually do some deep self-reflection here, because the joy, happiness, and fun I am talking about ultimately starts with you, with me, the teacher. One other thing to think about is that the class is about our students. It’s not about us, the teachers.

pike place

Now the world famous Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle, Washington has taught the world a lot about how to be successful while working hard. Their secret? HAVE FUN.  They didn’t start out as world famous, but they decided that would be the goal, and then they set about accomplishing it.  The ways they do that each and every day are the same things we teachers can do. It starts with us.  Folks, if you don’t cultivate joy within yourself for your students and the work you do FOR them, then you will always struggle to have a classroom full of joy, happiness, and fun. Do not sit back and say, “Well it isn’t all fun and games. It’s hard work in my subject/class.” If for one second you think that working in a fish market is all fun and games, then you have never been to a fish market. It is extremely hard, smelly, cold, exhausting work. If you have never worked in customer service (other than as teachers with students as customers), then listen to me–It is HARD work.  The work, in this case, is actually irrelevant (stay with me-I’ll get there).  Pike Place employees have to agree when they are hired that they will find ways to have fun doing their hard work. That part is up to them. They make the fun happen.   The employees must agree to try to make their customers’ day. Every day. The work stays the same daily, so they all agree to find ways to make what they do fun each day AND to support each other when they find those ways to make it fun. They are committed to giving customers a fun experience and meet their customers’ needs at the same time, while working with cold, smelly, dead fish. Hundreds of dead fish. Think about it. Do you think those employees, who make significantly less money than teachers (I assume), wake up every single day in great moods ready to go work with fish and customers? Nope. They are humans, just like us, but while at work, they go all out for the customers or they aren’t working there long. They fake it until they make it.  They act happy until they are happy.  The work is hard every day, but this fish market has proven to the world that fun can be had anywhere while doing anything (See? I got there…the type of work is irrelevant).

Can you make a kid's day- Every Day-

So what’s the secret? The MAGIC answer? The COOL tech tool that will automatically give my classroom the fun, joy, and happiness that can grow thriving students? Quite simply, it’s you, me, the teacher.  Find the joy in yourself, in your work, your students, then find as many ways as you can to share it. All of the ways I do it work for me, but may not work for you. Actually, they work because I have refined my strategies with each year I teach (going on year 22). There are failures. Learn from them. Every teacher must find the joy they have for what they do and share it. Here are my tips:

  1. Watch how you react, talk to, and treat your students every second of every day. Sure, you are busy between classes or at times when a student wants to tell you something they are interested in but you are not. Stop and LISTEN. Be engaged in that moment with that student.
  2. Smile. You can show true or fake enjoyment. It’s okay. Try it.
  3. Give creative fun titles to hard work to make it seem more fun that it is (this works with my high school students so it will work for your students).  The goofier you title an activity and the happier you act about getting to teach it (like seriously over act if it’s really hard work), the more your students will find fun in it too. You can even change up the seating or routine in some way to do really hard work, add the fun title, act super excited about it, and the students will start having fun with it too. Don’t quit if you try it once and they don’t go “ga-ga” over it. Keep it up. This is WORK, so don’t give up. Find your FUN.
  4. Be honest with your students. Let them help you refine lessons so that they work.
  5. Laugh at their stories or jokes. Tell your own. Stories are a great way to engage students, adults, humans, and some pets (but not hermit crabs).
  6. Act like you care. That last one may sound harsh, because of course you care for your students. Well, to refer to my previous post, Thought It Was A Weed, keep in mind that those difficult students need to know you care for them too, even if you don’t like them. They are not weeds. They are flowers. Say it. Mean it. There should not be a student in your classroom at any time that is convinced you don’t like them. They need to think you like them, even if that is a student you have trouble getting along with personally. They are kids. Be the adult.
  7. Find nice things to say to those students you have to correct constantly or find yourself correcting several times during class. Even if you can’t find much say, try. Things like “I like your jacket,” or “Hey, that’s a cool shirt,” are good places to start. Find something. Maybe ask how they did in whatever activity/event they are involved in, and if you don’t know what they do outside your room, start there. Ask. Discover. Use it.

Finally, I teach by the philosophy that if I am bored, then my students will be bored. Some of my subject matter is completely snoozeville for a lot folks. What I nerd out about doesn’t always translate to things my students will also enjoy. Not every story we read appeals to me , much less to my students, but I can make the journey through it seem more like an adventure than a trip to prison. Want your students to grow and thrive as much as possible while they are with you? Me too! So, I work hard to add fun without compromising the work.  Look for ways to add more engagement, and always remember to act like a teacher having fun until you are one. You’ll be surprised at the growth of your flowers when the soil of your classroom, rooted in you, me, the teacher, is deep, rich, nutrient-filled top soil.  Find your joy and happiness and the fun will follow. No more fill dirt. Be the top soil.


Thought It Was A Weed

I came home this afternoon after a rewarding but long day of summer professional development, and I noticed that my flowers were in great need of a long cool drink of water. I may have been in air conditioning all day, but they had been in the warm June Missouri humid heat.  I may not be fluent in “flower,” but I can read body language. Droopy sad flowers are not as pleasing as full bloom happy little flowers, so I mentioned to my husband that I was headed outside to water them. He declared his intention of coming with me, so outside the house we went.  He had purchased several sacks of cypress mulch to put down in my flower beds the night before, so we set about clearing stray weeds and grass from both flower beds and adding the mulch so that I could then water the flowers.


Yes, these are my actual flowers. I took the pictures this very evening while the idea for this post grew and developed. As I plucked the occasional grass from the first flower bed, I mulled over the content from the sessions I had attended today while also discussing  recent personnel changes in my own school district with my husband who is the Technology Director (yes, I know that makes me spoiled as an educator). We lost a great coach and teacher to another district recently,  hired several new teachers and a new elementary principal, and I am really excited about the functionality and power of Google Keep. These were my thoughts and the snippets of my conversation with my husband as he worked in the cypress mulch, and I picked weeds and grass.  And then he says it.  “Is this a weed?” Pluck. Snap. Toss. I look up, and one of my flowers is now deceased. “Nope, that wasn’t a weed,” I reply.  My husband glances at it where he tossed it up on the porch. “Well, it looked like a weed.”


I know what you’re thinking (well, what someone somewhere reading this may be thinking). What does this have to do with education? I’m so glad you asked. It occurred to me as I contemplated the flower my husband had just plucked and tossed aside that some students were like this flower.  There are students who don’t fit the typical mold. These are the students whose brain doesn’t function or process information like the “normal” students. The student who has no idea what personal space is. The student whose parents have no social skills and therefore have condemned their offspring to the same fate. The student who is poorer than most in your district. The student who doesn’t believe in showers or deodorant.  The student who believes in showers and deodorant but can’t take on or apply some, for whatever reason. The student who is mad at the world, every single day. The student who won’t talk or participate. I could do this all night, but I think you get my point.


Not every flower is tall. Not every flower is perky. Not every flower is perfect and without blemish, and some even have thorns. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t belong in our flower beds. As you cultivate the flower bed of your classroom, keep in mind that you students can’t help where they come from, they don’t get to choose their parents, and they are kids. Their brains are not fully developed. There are a lot of things in their lives that are not in their control. Read their body language. Figure out what they need. Some need mulch. Others need water. All of them want to live in a weed free flower bed. All of them want us to notice that they are not a weed. They are flowers.

Diving Into Summer Reading

I read. Two simple words that may not accurately capture the experience for many of us in education. I read a lot of material for my subject matter, which is English. I read for entertainment, because I have always loved to read. While in college, I realized early on that to maintain the GPA I wanted, I would have to put aside the fiction that I loved until summer. It was not unusual for me to read 100 books during the summer of my college years. I starved for reading fiction during the fall and spring semesters. Starved. Like belly-button sucking on backbone kind of starved.

As an educator, I also read to grow in my craft. I am never satisfied with my lessons, my teaching, my classroom, you name it. I continually search for ways to do things better, to help my students connect with and apply concepts, to think critically, to evaluate, to be productive.

This summer, I have a lot of reading to do. My list of books I want to read is growing (but don’t tell my husband…). I have begun already with a few books, participating in (Lead Like A Pirate) and leading (Instant Relevance) book studies, and there are more on my radar, besides the regular fiction authors that I love. So here goes a few on my radar, in no particular order, and why I’ve chosen them:

Lead Like A Pirate

This book, written by Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf, was one I was very excited about, and it is living up to my expectations.  I’m in a weekly Twitter chat book study over this book, and the practical advice and examples have provided several “A HA!” moments for me.  I love the way the two authors alternate the narration, describe their backgrounds and actual situations they’ve experienced, and provide lots of “what works.” The line I highlighted below in my #BookSnaps is just what I needed to read after this school year, because I struggled throughout to lead my department productively. The mix of personalities and how to mesh them so that we could accomplish the work was at times very frustrating for me. This book will help leaders in any role find ways to connect and lead all of those different personalities to accomplish the shared vision.


Instant Relevance

This book, written by Denis Sheeran, is a must for today’s educators. It will walk you through how to make your class, your subject matter, instantly relevant to your students. As an English teacher, I often figured that students would naturally know why it was important to work on their reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills.  What I didn’t anticipate was the natural resistance high school sophomores have to grammar, and reading, and vocabulary. The list goes on.  Denis lays out a ton of examples of how he uses every day things to teach math, and each section ends with questions to help the rest of us think about applications for our own classrooms. According to Denis, if students are interested in something, and you can figure out a way to use it in either your main lesson or in a warm up activity, something, you will not only ramp up the engagement in your classroom, but you also make your class suddenly and instantly relevant to your students.  But don’t take my word for it, read the book.

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Shift This!:

How to Implement Gradual Changes for MASSIVE Impact in Your Classroom

Okay, I’ll confess that I am actually intrigued by the title, and yes, I have judged and then purchased at least one book based on its cover (Stephen King’s Bag of Bones), so I could justify getting this one just because I like Shift This! for the title.  However, I am always up for MASSIVE impact in my classroom, I want my classroom to be more student-led than teacher-driven, I want to offer personalized learning that meets the needs of the individuals, and I’m certainly in favor of and want to build a sense of real community in my classroom and in my school. Besides all of those great things, this book by Joy Kirr promises that real change is possible, sustainable, and even easy when it happens little by little. I haven’t bought or read this one yet, (which didn’t prevent me from creating a #BookSnaps of it), but it’s on my summer reading list for sure.

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Escaping the School Leader’s Dunk Tank:

How to Prevail When Others Want to See You Drown

Last but in no way least, this book is also on my to purchase this summer list.  I’ve seen a lot of discussion about this book on Twitter, and again, I am drawn in by the title.  When I looked it up on Amazon, the blurb about the book’s message also sold me on this one:

“No school leader is immune to the dunk tank—the effects of discrimination, bad politics, revenge, or ego-driven coworkers. In Escaping the School Leader’s Dunk Tank, Rebecca Coda and Rick Jetter share real-life stories and insightful research to equip school leaders with the practical knowledge and emotional tools necessary to survive and, better yet, avoid getting ‘dunked.'”

I have encountered several of those at different times in my teaching career. I just completed year 21 in education, so I’m not new to this game. I’m no spring chicken. And again, I am always pushing myself, trying new technologies and pedagogy, and I constantly want to drag others down the path of growing and learning with me. I often meet with resistance, which always puzzles me, and sometimes I feel engulfed by the negativity toward the progress I constantly push myself toward. I see the looks. I see the whispered conversations. I feel myself grow silent during district workshops when my views bring out antagonism where I expected camaraderie and a meeting/melding of the minds. I see colleagues taking aim. So, before the ball hits the target, and I am slammed into the cold water of the tank, I plan to read this book. I want to avoid the dunk, but if that’s not possible, then I’m counting on the practical knowledge and emotional tools in this book to aid me when my feet hit the floor of the tank, so that I can make the strong push back toward the surface.


The Power Of Your Voice

As teachers, we’re well aware that our voices have power. If for some reason you are shaking your head “no” at me right now, just relax. You may not be aware of it yet, but you will discover this at some point in your career as an educator. Think of it this way, picture in your mind that ONE student who seldom misses class and can make ONE comment, just ONE, and your whole lesson is derailed, if but for a moment.  One student, one comment, one moment.  There’s power in one voice.

Now I want you to flip that scenario around.  This post isn’t going to tell you how to handle that ONE student. Nope. Not happening here.  I want to show you ONE way you can use YOUR voice. This post is about making YOUR voice be the ONE with power.

Let’s talk substitute days.  I hate hate hate hate to miss school. It is generally easier to go to school when I’m sick than it is to prepare for a sub to handle what I need to do for my students that day.

I’m not overly fond of my picture either. I don’t consider myself photogenic, and I don’t really want to video myself when I am sick in order to “be there” with my students.  I’m in a 1:1 classroom with Chromebooks, so I use Google Classroom, and I post their assignments there. I also let the sub know what the assignment is that I have posted, so he or she can monitor them throughout the class period. Inevitably, I leave the dreaded (by me at least because I’m thorough and it takes forever for me to write them) “sub notes,” which my sub reads either reads privately and then verbally directs the class, or he or she my simply read sections of my notes to the class, or as I’ve had on a few occasions, the sub reads my entire notes to the class.

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Don’t worry. I haven’t forgotten that we’re discussing the power of  YOUR voice today. Your voice, my voice, and the voices of teachers everywhere.  Though I hate to be absent from my classroom, I am sometimes. It’s inevitable. And because I have missed class before, I’ve learned that my high school students do not read directions posted in Classroom. They want someone to tell them what to do. Some just want to get started, dive in, and maybe they think the magic classroom elves will lead them through the assignment. At least one group of students will ask the sub what they’re supposed to do. Even if the sub directs them to Google Classroom, students will eventually nag the sub until my directions are now being regurgitated by the sub, in a condensed or incomplete manner.  I don’t blame the subs. I have good subs who work hard.

But how do I fix this problem? Then the light went off inside my brain.  I remembered a little app that I used last year in the radio class I was fortunate enough to get to create in my district and teach for one year. The app is called AVR, for Awesome Voice Recorder, and it’s made by Newkline. And yes, the version I am referring to is FREE.


I can sit in my recliner at home, record my own voice talking to my class, tell them what I need them to do for the day, make comments to individuals, and add that personal touch that typed directions in Google Classroom or to a substitute just can’t quite capture. The app then prompts me to title the audio file I just created. I can then send it directly to my Google Drive, put it in the folder of my choice, link it to the classroom assignment I created for that day. I always link it to the assignment because there will be those who are absent or want to hear the directions again, and then I also link it in my Google Doc sub plans.  My sub plays MY voice, MY audio file to begin each class, so that my students get information directly from me. They get to hear ME.  My VOICE. MY directions. ME.

This may seem simple. Easy. Or maybe it seems too flashy for you, to difficult, too much trouble, or not tech worthy of your skills.  But let me just point out that each time I did this for my classes, I did not have confused students when I returned. They understood the assignment or the outcomes I expected from that that day.

They could not talk the sub into an alternate plan, because MY voice had filled the room with MY hopes and demands for the day. MY expectations, MY humor, and MY sadness at not being there to enjoy the day with them.  Try it. You may be surprised at how easy it is, how simple, and yet how utterly effective it is at connecting YOUR voice to your students, even when you are curled up in your recliner at home.

Instructions for Using AVR for Sub Days:

  1. Download the app.  It’s for iPhone and iPads, but there’s bound to be something similar crop up for Android, and you can also just use YouTube without actually being in front of the camera. Your sub could use it as audio and just not show the video when it’s played for the class. Voxer also would work. Thanks,  @ItsMrsPenrod for the Voxer idea. 🙂
  2. Record your instructions. Stop recording when you are finished. If you mess up and don’t want to learn how to edit audio on another program, then just start over. If I have a lot to say, I do type it on a Google Doc before I record so that I don’t forget all my information.
  3. When you hit the “stop” button, it will then ask you to title the recording.
  4. Type in a title and click “save.”
  5. Click the red folder icon:

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6. Click to open the top default folder:

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7.  Now click on the file that has the name you gave it. I named this one “delete.”FullSizeRender (6)












8. Select how you want get if from the app to your computer. Air drop is a nice feature as well:

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9. From there you just need to put it in your Google Drive (I suggest you place it in your Classroom folder, inside the folder for whichever class you have recorded it for), get the shareable link, and link it in the Google Classroom assignment and in your sub notes.  Or email it to your sub if you don’t use Google Docs or something similar for your sub notes.

Now, go discover the power of YOUR voice.