Stage 2: Joyful and Efficient

Your Turn: How do you create a joyful classroom?

Our framework uses principles of teaching and learning that trusts teachers’ expertise, judgment and creativity to implement uniquely given their students and circumstances. Today we feature two teachers from different sides of the globe to share how they create a joyful learning environment.

Kate Hannan, Lead Montessori Teacher at The Woods Academy in Bethesda, Maryland, USA

I find a lot of joy in being an early childhood Montessori teacher. I teach a mixed age group of three, four, and five-year-old children over the span of three years. I love watching their “light bulb” moments when they have mastered something on their own.

I implement joy by:

  • fostering a sense of independence and order
  • having a love and enthusiasm for life and
  • by having a sense of humility

One of the ways that I implement a joyful classroom for my students is by following Maria Montessori’s philosophy of creating a consistent and prepared environment that fosters a sense of independence and order. We can maximize our learning time by creating an environment that is prepared for learning. Children experience joy when they feel a sense of consistency, independence, and order within their community. All work materials are clean and esthetically pleasing. Colored pencils, glue sticks etc. are located in the same place throughout the year and the children are free to move around the room to get the materials they need for their work. Joy happens when the children are free to make mistakes and learn from them. If a child does not know how to zip up his coat, or where to put his lunch box, he knows that he is free to ask a friend to help him at any time. Joyful environments are safe places to learn.

I have also learned that joy can be implemented into my classroom when I model for my students a love and enthusiasm for life. I know that I set the tone for the entire classroom, so I try to maintain a positive and optimistic attitude. I make sure that whatever is bothering me in my personal life does not enter the classroom. Joy breeds joy! I also make sure that everyone in my classroom (adults included) gets a chance to take “brain breaks” throughout the day. Whether it is doing a movement activity or just looking at a book in the reading corner, taking a break to regroup your mind and body is a good thing.

That being said, I have a sense of humility with regards to my teaching. My students know that I am human and have good days and bad days. Sometimes I have to remind myself that not having all the answers is just fine. I have trust and faith in myself, my philosophy, and the children. A classroom cannot be a joyful place unless teachers take care of themselves both mentally and physically. So take time this summer to experience joy for yourself. You will come back to your classroom in the fall refreshed and rejuvenated. It can only make your teaching that much better. Have a great summer!

Nariman Kanaan, Arabic Teacher, Ayoub International School, Freetown, Sierra Leone

I implement joy by:

  • using activities that keep the kids engaged and the lesson moving smoothly
  • involving all students and promoting a “teamwork” atmosphere
  • showing them that I care for them and promoting fairness
  • encouraging them, celebrating their success, thanking them for their efforts

A classroom is not a place where the teacher is a preacher and the students are the listeners. It’s about the success of the whole team (teacher & students). I used to think that being a teacher gives you the right to be the main person in the class. I thought that I only need to chew the lesson and feed my students but then I recognized that this reality is not correct and doesn’t exist anymore. We can teach our students in a joyful and happy environment by involving them in every part of the lesson.

I started to change my ways of teaching and explaining my lessons. I started to include more games into my lessons and in doing that I pushed my students to love our class sessions and wait for them everyday. They learn new things but in a joyful way. I use lots of strategies to increase fun and fairness in the classroom. For example, I put students’ names in a cup and we pick a name of the student who will answer the question – they get so excited to hear whose name will be pulled from the cup! I also divide them into groups and post words on the wall or pictures and they have to run to the word or picture that I name. And I also ask them to illustrate at the end of each session to conclude what they understood from the session, this was their favorite especially for the young students. They also like to explain the lesson (I call it “act like a teacher” which they love to pretend to be the teacher).

After trying all these strategies I realized the more you give them responsibilities the more they improve and put effort on challenging tasks because they want to show or prove to their teacher they can do it. So, I will never go back to my old ways of a classroom that doesn’t involve the students in every step of the learning environment.

Check out Nariman’s “before” and “after” photos!

Before joy
Before joy
Before joy
Before joy








After joy
After joy
After joy
After joy







How do YOU create a joyful classroom? Let us know below!

If you like these ideas, check out our free resources page and our elementary and secondary books!

5 thoughts on “Your Turn: How do you create a joyful classroom?”

  1. Bringing joy to a classroom does indeed change both the teaching and learning dynamics.

    I was so fed up with the rote based/boring synthetic phonics style curriculum I was expected to follow that I created my own!

    Its an ‘Arts in Education’ approach combined with technology (both group and self-paced). Called JazzlesELA, it is a pure VAK-T multimedia program featuring a systematic song-vocabulary powered ‘learn to read’ approach.

    I mention systematic because to bring joy into a classroom is one thing; to bring joy with engaged and directed learning is another. What I am talking about is the need for ‘rigor’.

    Rigor sounds the opposite of joy and often is.
    So what is rigor and how can you integrate rigor with joy to create engaged, active learning?

    Richard W. Strong (2001) defined rigor as “the goal of helping students develop the capacity to understand content that is complex, ambiguous, provocative, and personally or emotionally challenging”. In her (2008) book ‘Rigor is NOT a Four-Letter Word’, Barbara Blackburn’ wrote that “Rigor is creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels, each student is supported so he or she can learn at high levels, and each student demonstrates learning at high levels.”

    In a 2012 whitepaper entitled “How do you identify rigor in the classroom?” Rick Jenkins, Jeff Goldhorn, and Mike Webb wrote: “To teach with rigor is to teach accurately and completely. In order to teach accurately, a teacher must have knowledge of both content and pedagogy. Teachers must teach their content without error and have content knowledge that is deeper than that which they teach. Teaching accurately also implies a use of pedagogy that ensures students learn content for understanding. Content knowledge without pedagogy leads to superficial and short-term learning. Pedagogy without content knowledge can result in student misconceptions and misunderstandings.”

    So there’s the challenge! Joy does indeed create engagement. But high engagement may come with very low rigor.
    What’s the answer?
    You have to create a pedagogy/methodology incorporating the rigor integrated with resources and activities that bring the joy!

    With JazzlesELA, I have extensive song–themed resources combining animated, subtitled songs, karaoke and interactive song books enhanced with interactive games and printable activity pages. Scalable lesson plans provide the fun/joy with the rigor.

    The program does achieve exceptional results – broadly it halves the time to achieve Common Core Kindergarten ELA outcomes.
    Here are a few of my strategies:
    • The attention and memory power of music and songs.
    • Coral singing to create a happy, unified optimum learning environment.
    • Singing to activate a class-wide common, oral vocabulary base (song lyrics) – irrespective of the range vocabulary levels (including ESL) of children entering the class. (Diversity is the biggest challenge in public school classrooms.
    • The power of ‘whole /part/ whole’ and contextual teaching for developing reading and writing skills and strategies.
    • VAK engagement for optimal learning.
    • Creative Visual and Performing Arts.
    • Interactive technology.
    • Visual Literacy.
    • Multiple, fun practice strategies.
    • Themed, curriculum extensions.
    • Guided and independent learning.
    • Pair and group interaction.
    How to increase rigor and combine the joy is the real challenge – with JazzlesELA there is a best practice case – supported by research.

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