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20 Ways To Bring The Joy Back To Your Classroom



by Terry Heick

Ways To Make Classroom Inviting Bring Back Joy

Remote teaching and learning have gotten me thinking recently about less about what we teach or even why (two things I tend to think about the most), and more about how we teach (also a critical concept)–which has brought me to the idea of joy.

In a 2014 post, Where Has The Joy Of Learning Gone, neurologist Judy Willis explained, “The truth is that when the joy and comfort are scrubbed from the classroom and replaced with homogeneity and when spontaneity is replaced with conformity, students’ brains are distanced from effective information processing and long-term memory storage.”

So then, the idea of joy in learning. Not joy for the emotional benefits but for the neurological effect and the residual human ‘lifting’ and growth that occurs when emotion and understanding occur together. (See also Why Emotion Is More Important Than Understanding.)

Obviously, there’s a lot more to the idea of ‘joy’ in learning than ‘tips and hacks.’ That said, here are 20 ways that might be useful–in a time of stress, uncertainty, and at times great difficulty–to bring some joy back into your classroom. Many of these apply to remote teaching/remote classrooms as well, but these ideas are intended for teaching in general rather than pandemic-only teaching.

20 Ways To Bring The Joy Back To Your Classroom

1. Let students lead

Empower students–support them and get out of their way. In part, this is the difference of ‘push’ teaching versus ‘pull’ teaching.

Not only are students (generally) more energetic, imaginative, but your role shifts and the dynamic of the classroom itself shifts from a teacher having ‘strong classroom management skills’ to ‘children are engaged and leading their own learning experiences.’ Properly-structured and supported, this can lead to a joyful classroom.

In a remote classroom, this potential depends heavily on lesson and unit design. Letting a 2nd-grader ‘lead’ a Zoom lesson on fractions is takes more than a little imagination. But if you do so–maybe message them before classroom and ask them to each demonstrate a fraction visually using a prop of their choice–at the very least, engagement improves.

2. Use team-building

Community and togetherness and fraternity bring trust and interdependence–and ultimately can lead to joy. Here are some examples of team-building games that promote critical thinking to get you started. I’ll try to find some remote teaching and learning team-building games sometime this week.

3. Be human

Being joyful is a hallmark of being human, so it makes sense that being human can ’cause’ joy. Figuring out what this means to you–in your classroom with your students–is your starting point and then, through ongoing dialogue with students (and recognition what is and is not working), finding out how ‘human’ your classroom should be for students to grow.

The world isn’t perfect and virtual learning environments don’t have to be, either. If something doesn’t work or a dog barks or the PowerPoint won’t upload, it’s frustrating but is also an opportunity to humanize the learning–and learning process.

4. Use ‘human’ project-based learning

Piggy-backing on the concept above, project-based learning moves the learning out of the classroom. It also can shift learning from ‘learn how to calculate the area of a rectangle’ to ‘learning how to calculate the area of a rectangle so you can design urban garden spaces of local, sustainable food sources.’

Using PBL to solve human problems and improve human well-being results in more joy, right?

5. Don’t grade everything

This is something I talk a lot about. Teaching seemed completely overwhelming to me until I figured this out. I’ll write more about this but the idea is reduced teacher workload, which reduces fatigue and allows you to focus more on the parts of the job you love. It also has the secondary benefit of more engaging lessons and units, too.

6. Give optional work

Homework, for example.

Giving more assignments doesn’t seem like it’d lead to ‘joy,’ but the idea is that every student has the opportunity to improve and grow. Whether they want to deepen their understanding of something they’re curious or passionate about or just want to improve their letter grade, optional work is a kind of freedom to grow and can shift the gravity in the classroom from ‘teacher’ to ‘student’ through the gift of choice.

7. Know what each child needs

Some students need teachers, some need champions–and it’s not always easy to know what they need and when.

Learning to ‘ignore the misbehavior’ was a useful classroom management strategy for me during my first few years of teaching. Students are human and make poor decisions at times. Part of good teaching is changing the feedback loops in the classroom.

When a student demonstrates this behavior, this happens. When they demonstrate another, something else happens. By changing those feedback loops, students can move from entertaining the class or protecting their reputation with peers or other ‘misbehaviors’ to listening, asking questions, and (just maybe) improving skills.

Every child is on their own schedule no matter how much you push. Having a big heart and a short memory helps give every child a chance to grow–and a chance to bring joy to your classroom.

8. Teach (and learn) with mindfulness

Among other ideas, mindfulness is about living in the moment with focused awareness on the richness of that moment through the five senses. Research is clear that this lowers anxiety, reduces stress, and improves well-being. If you can not just teach this as a practice but actually use it to teach and learn, your classroom has a chance to be a calmer, happier place.

Consider starting your class with meditation–or even 30 seconds of ‘it’s okay to be quiet’ silence. Then throughout the class, point out opportunities for mindfulness for students: a sound or visual or emotion or smile. Anything that grounds the lesson and helps students begin to appreciate the texture of ‘moments’–even those spent in digital environments.

9. Use microassignments

Quick ‘microassignments’ that isolate individual learning standards and objectives are low-stress for both the student and teacher. They’re also great ways to provide data, useful for additive grading (see below), and are great formative assessment tools, as well.


10. Read Aloud

Everyone loves to be read to, from pre-K students through college. Even adults. Further, this can be done in any content area. Short stories, picture books, quick essays, plays, and more are all useful here. Reading interesting, funny, heart-warming, and otherwise moving ‘things’ aloud is a simple way to bring joy back into your classroom.

11. Honor your own limits

The fact is, you’re nowhere the most significant contributor to your students’ performance in the classroom. In fact, it’s arguable if you’re even in the top 10. This doesn’t change your goal of being the very best teacher you can be but it should relieve you of the burden of ‘saving’ every child. That mindset is rarely sustainable over a career for a teacher.

Instead, honor your limits, then teach like your hair’s on fire (in the very best possible way) and honor the uncertainty that comes with living–and teaching and learning, too.

12. Make your classroom a safe place

To the degree you can, make your classroom safe from bullying and sarcasm and toxicity and internet trolls and pressure and anxiety and again, to the extent you are able–replace those things with books and music and laughter and vulnerability and humility and conversation and growth.

13. Tell personal stories

See #3 above.

Obviously, be careful here. But my middle and high school students loved hearing about my life. That my parents divorced when I was 12 and how hard that was. That I was bullied at times. That I once stole baseball cards as a child and still carry that burden with me to this day. That I play video games and listen to music loud and am terrified of armadillos.

Boundaries are important and oversharing is a real concern. If you’re not sure, don’t share. The idea isn’t to share deeply personal and shadowy secrets. Rather, the goal is to humanize yourself and by sharing stories about your interactions over the years with others, provide a kind of a hopefully healthy and empathetic model for how to view others.

14. Teach students how to have a conversation

One way to bring joy back into your classroom is to teach students how to have a conversation and a big part of this is to teach students to really, truly listen to one another (without simply waiting for your turn to talk and spotting things you disagree with). When people feel heard and understood, they tend to feel safer, more connected, and often willing to work harder for themselves and those around them.

This requires you to practice listening to students. It’s so easy to fall into the teach and control pattern that rather than listening to students, we’re instead listening for opportunities to teach and correct. You’ll never correct anyone to a state of joy.

15. Use the Habits of Mind

You can read What Are The Habits Of Mind? and Strategies For Bringing The Habits Of Mind Into Your Classroom.

16. Listen to music

Music and rhythm have been lifting human beings up since the dawn of time. The quickest way to shift your classroom from a square room to a joyful place is to turn good music up loud enough for the principal to duck their head in the room wondering what all the fuss is about.

Obviously, what you play and how loudly you play it will depend on your classroom management style, the age of the students, and a million other factors. As always, use your best judgment.

17. Shift from ‘classrooms’ to ‘learning spaces’

Use virtual reality field trips. Google Earth. Actual field trips. Even Skyping with people in your local community and around the world. At minimum, help the student work leave the classroom. At best, help students leave the classroom, too. You can read more about these kinds of shifts here in Shifts To Classroom Of The Future.

Whether you’re remote teaching or teaching in a physical classroom, the future of learning is certainly at least some kind of blended, hybrid approach of physical and digital spaces. While this has its challenges, it also has incredible potential. Virtual reality alone can take you and your students almost anywhere. Connections with other communities are cultures are possible. Content can be more engaging. Teacher workload–designed properly–can be reduced.

When the world is the classroom, you’re no longer the sole architect of all learning design. The design and authoring of these experiences shifts from you to students–or at least more in that direction, anyway.

Immersion. Engagement. New workflow. New connections. New content forms. I don’t mean to over-romanticize these ideas. It rarely works out like we hope. But the potential for new learning spaces and dynamics and forms at least represents an opportunity for a different kind of resonance–and hopefully, joy.

18. Consider additive grading

This seems weak compared to some of the others, but embedded in the idea of additive grading is hope. With this alternative to ‘regular’ grading, students have the chance to always be adding to their grade (the letter grade being a source of anxiety for many) rather than risking a ‘bad grade’ and lowering their ‘score.’

Gamification can be useful for some students, too.

19. Be consistent without being predictable

Structure and consistency lead to organization (which leads to learning). But like tropes in storytelling, if they’re overdone, they’re uninteresting, reduce creative tension, and train the brain of students to not expect anything different. Ever.

Defying expectation is a powerful strategy for joy.

20. Use humor

Tell jokes. Laugh at absurdity. Read funny stories, poems, and plays. Find humor in the mundane.

20 Ways To Bring The Joy Back Into Your Teaching

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The Selflessness Of Pedagogy: What Every Teacher Gives




The Selflessness Of Pedagogy: What Every Teacher Gives

by Terry Heick

It’s better to give than to receive–something that holds true for gift-giving and education.

In fact, the act of giving isn’t just a matter of ultimately receiving more, or even an act of altruism and selflessness. It has more to do with seeing the big picture itself — a healthy, robust, functioning system of careful human performance — that becomes the goal. It’s in this simple paradigm shift that we, as teachers, can find a new level of performance as professionals, contentment in our craft, and changed lives in the communities we serve.

So how might we focus on that service not as a characteristic of my job, but as the goal itself–the most macro product of all? For teachers, this would obviously be built around the idea of service-oriented teaching, where we gain strength and perspective from serving others. It would lead to ‘other growth,’ including, on a broader level, the formation of a personal and professional ecology than can sustain us through the challenges of teaching.

What would this look like?

Other teachers who need us, and who we need

Parents who need us, and who we need

Students who need us for something other than clarifying instructions, providing credit, and letter grades

The community of our school, including grade levels above and below ours, that needs us for our performance, collaboration, and ideas, just as we need that community.

In a word, this looks like interdependence. So what can I give to begin?

They give themselves.

Teaching is martyrdom. So often, educators feel the need to give themselves up to be feasted upon until there’s nothing left. Giving yourself is a different kind of gift, though. Here, it means truly putting your self aside — your need to be the best, your insecurities, professional goals, need for affirmation, and so on — and instead give in to the act of teaching.

But more crucially, this giving of yourself implies that you give your whole self to the act of teaching — your creativity, affection, background knowledge, contacts, networks, dreams, hopes, and so on — in the whole merging of you and your work.

They give others the benefit of the doubt.

As a teacher, you’ll see a lot moving upstream and down — struggling readers that always seem to come from that school; that family that doesn’t seem to care; that co-worker who seems to challenge you at every chance; that administrator who always seems to find a way to poke holes in your teaching. That assessment. That law. That policy.

Never, ever stop questioning the things happening around you. Be a critical educator, ask tough questions, and ring the bell when you’re concerned. Just do so from a position of positivity — give others the benefit of the doubt. Use positive presuppositions, such as: “We’ve always been strong supporters of literacy here, so I’m confused why. . . ”




They give themselves the opportunity to learn new things continuously.

Okay, perspective change to first-person: I’m going to give myself the gift of learning. As a teacher, it makes sense to learn endlessly, not just to model it for students, but to keep my own curiosity and tendency for play stirring and alive.

I may learn a new set of literacy strategies. Maybe it’ll be a variation on the Socratic Seminar, or I’ll mash Fish Bowls with Agree/Disagree. I may bring new education technology into my classroom, or reach for new learning models such as project-based learning, sync teaching, or self-directed learning. I may throw out my desk and go paperless, mobile, or completely back to basics.

But I’m never going to stop learning. That is my gift to myself.

They give students a chance.

Maybe that’s a chance to surprise themselves. I want to give the gift of inspiration. Who doesn’t? And what better way can we inspire than by designing learning experiences that let students do things they didn’t think they were capable of? My gift would be giving students opportunities to surprise themselves through their own skills, critical thinking, creativity, and deep understanding of important ideas.

They give parents authentic opportunity to get involved.

It’s tempting to complain about parents that aren’t involved in their child’s schooling. Who on earth wants to be involved in schooling? Learning is a different matter — that’s something with a foothold allowing parents to engage meaningfully. This isn’t grades and homework, but rather understanding and the need to understand.

You may or may not get anything more from parents, but at least you’ve given them more tempting access than they’ve ever had in the past.

They give others chances to create new measures of success.

Teaching — properly done and measured as we do today — is impossible. It can’t be done. You cannot bring every single child to proficiency in every single standard while, at the same time, meeting their needs as human beings and helping them both see and reach their full potential. If this is your goal, you’re only going to disappoint yourself endlessly until you either burn out or realize that you’re lying to yourself.

Teaching, though, with new metrics of success — well, that’s suddenly a whole lot easier.

They give themselves a break.

The preceding represents a lot of giving, and also a lot of complexity, interdependence, opportunity, work, and chances to fail. So above all, I’m going to give myself a break.

I will give all of myself. I will give the benefit of the doubt. I’ll learn new things, promote self-discovery, connect with communities, and establish new measures of success. And when things go wrong, I’ll have a short memory. I’ll give myself a break and push on, excited about what tomorrow might bring.

Image attribution flickr user denisekrebs and cloudboard; What Every Good Teacher Gives
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How The Lesson Study Approach Can Improve Your Teaching



How The Lesson Study Approach Can Improve Your Teaching

contributed by Vicki Collet

Making teaching a shared and public practice supports improved instruction.

When teachers have opportunities for collaboration, reflection, and inquiry, they “can find better ways to answer the learning needs of students” (Lieberman & Wood, 2002, p. 42). Teacher inquiry makes us question practices that have become stale, generate innovation, and create dynamic learning for ourselves and our students.

Over the past decade, I’ve participated in teacher inquiry using a process called Lesson Study. I’ve seen scores of teachers engage with authentic professional learning through this work. Lesson Study is a structure for teacher inquiry that is as straightforward as it sounds: the study of a lesson. However, Catherine Lewis, who learned about Lesson Study in Japan and has been instrumental in spreading its use in the United States, points out that during Lesson Study,

(Teachers) improve the lessons not as an end in
itself, but as a way to deepen their own content knowledge, their knowledge of
student thinking, their understanding of teaching and learning, and their
commitment to improvement of their own practice and that of colleagues…Lesson
study is not about discovering the one right way to teach a lesson, but about
building knowledge of many teaching strategies and habits of observation,
inquiry, and analysis of practice (Lewis & Hurd, 2011, p. 24).

When participating in Lesson Study, you will collaboratively plan lessons that become the focus of inquiry on effective teaching practices. Then you’ll observe one another teach lessons and collaboratively revise and refine your instructional plans, as shown in the figure below.

How The Lesson Study Approach Can Improve Your Teaching

Inquiry is the essential element of Lesson Study, so the clear focus you identify for a Lesson Study cycle should propel your desire to investigate, to analyze and study together. Pursuing the questions your group has identified provides challenge and authentic purpose, which will increase your team’s motivation and engagement. Because you have identified the problem for yourself, the process will have immediate value. 

The goal of Lesson Study is not to create the ideal lesson that is universally useful. During teacher preparation and professional development, you have doubtless been taught and encouraged to use ‘best practices.’ Although it is true that some practices are more effective than others (and research has much to teach us), it is also true that there is no single, perfect lesson. This is true because you and I, and the students we teach, are diverse in so many ways. Lesson Study focuses on “the why of teaching: why teaching methods work in particular ways in particular settings” (Smagorinsky, as cited in Garcia & O’Donnell-Allen, 2015, p. 5). 

Grow your school with TeachThought PD Collaborative Lesson Study Workshops.

In our quest for better ways of doing things, Lesson Study can help us identify places where we are frozen in old practices and can help us warm to new ones. Lesson Study uncovers new approaches that are informed by the examination of evidence gained through our professional inquiry. Collaboration with colleagues who share similar contexts and concerns makes the insights gained especially helpful. By being the guides to our own professional learning, teachers resist stagnation and become mobile, active agents of change. With our colleagues, we take a learning stance by asking questions, taking risks, and reflecting on both successes and failures.

Study uses knowledge you gain from your own classroom to stimulate professional
conversations about teaching and learning. Shared experiences through joint
planning and observation support the conversation, helping you develop your own
understanding and share it with others.


If you are eager to investigate and improve instruction and increase your understanding about teaching, I invite you to learn more about Lesson Study. Lesson Study creates continuous learning cycles that put teachers in the driver’s seat of their own professional development.


Book: Collaborative Lesson Study: ReVisioning Teacher Professional


Request to join Collaborative Lesson Study Book Club on Facebook est (next book study begins January 13, 2020)

Vicki’s blog:

Vicki on Facebook:

Vicki on Twitter: @vscollet


A., & O’Donnell-Allen, C. (2015). Pose, wobble, flow: A culturally
proactive approach to literacy instruction. Teachers College Press.

C. & Hurd, J. (2011). Lesson study step by step: How teacher learning
communities improve instruction. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

A., & Wood, D. R. (2002). From network learning to classroom
teaching. Journal of Educational Change, 3, 315-337.

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18 Inconvenient Truths About Assessment Of Learning



18 Inconvenient Truths About Assessment Of Learning

by Terry Heick

I. In terms of pedagogy, the primary purpose of an assessment is to provide data to revise planned instruction. It should provide an obvious answer to the question, “So? So what? What now?

II. It’s an extraordinary amount of work to design precise and personalized assessments that illuminate pathways forward for individual students–likely too much for one teacher to do so consistently for every student. This requires rethinking of learning models, or encourages corner-cutting. (Or worse, teacher burnout.)

III. Literacy (reading and writing ability) can obscure content knowledge. Further, language development, lexical knowledge (VL), and listening ability are all related to mathematical and reading ability (Flanagan 2006). This can mean that it’s often easier to assess something other than an academic standard than it is knowledge of the standard itself. It may not tell you what you want it to, but it’s telling you something.

IV. Student self-assessment is tricky but a key matter of understanding. According to Ross & Rolheiser, “Students who are taught self-evaluation skills are more likely to persist on difficult tasks, be more confident about their ability, and take greater responsibility for their work.” (Ross & Rolheiser 2001)

V. Assessments of learning can sometimes obscure more than they reveal. If the assessment is precisely aligned to a given standard, and that standard isn’t properly understood by both the teacher and assessment designer, and there isn’t a common language between students, teacher, assessment designer, and curriculum developers about content and its implications, there is significant “noise” in data that can mislead those wishing to use the data, and disrupt any effort towards data-based instruction.

VI. Teachers often see understanding or achievement or career and college-readiness; students often see grades and performance (e.g., a lack or abundance of failure) (Atkinson 1964).

VII. Self-evaluation and self-grading are different. ‘Self-evaluation’ does not mean that the students determine the grades for their assignments and courses instead of the teacher. Here, self-evaluation refers to the understanding and application of explicit criteria to one’s own work and behavior for the purpose of judging if one has met specified goals (Andrade 2006).

VIII. If the assessment is not married to curriculum and learning models, it’s just another assignment. That is, if the data gleaned from the assessment isn’t used immediately to substantively revise planned instruction, it’s at best practice, and at worst, extra work for the teacher and student. If assessment, curriculum, and learning models don’t ‘talk’ to one another, there is slack in the chain.

IX. As with rigor, ‘high’ is a relative term. High expectations–if personalized and attainable–can promote persistence in students (Brophy 2004). Overly simple assessments to boost ‘confidence’ are temporary. The psychology of assessment is as critical as the pedagogy and content implications.


X. Designing assessment that has diverse measures of success that ‘speak’ to the student is critical to meaningful assessment. Students are often motivated to avoid failure rather than achieve success (Atkinson 1964).

XI. In a perfect world, we’d ask not “How you do on the test,” but “How’d the test do on you?” That is, we’d ask how accurately the test illuminated exactly what we do and don’t understand rather than smile or frown at our ‘performance.’ Put another way, it can be argued that an equally important function of an assessment is to identify what a student does understand. If it doesn’t, the test failed, not the student.

XII. The classroom isn’t ‘the real world.’ It’s easy to say invoke ‘the real world’ when discussing grading and assessments (e.g., “If a law school student doesn’t study for the Bar and fail, they don’t get to become lawyers. The same applied to you in this classroom, as I am preparing you for the real world.”) Children (in part) practicing to become adults is different than the high-stakes game of actually being an adult. The classroom should be a place where students come to understand the ‘real world’ without feeling its sting.

When students fail at school, the lesson they learn may not be what we hope.

XIII. Most teachers worth their salt can already guess the range of student performance they can expect before they even give the assessment. Therefore, it makes sense to design curriculum and instruction to adjust to student performance on-the-fly without Herculean effort by the teacher. If you don’t have a plan for the assessment data before you give the assessment, you’re already behind.

XIV. Every assessment is flawed. (Nothing is perfect.) That means that the more frequent, student-centered, and ‘non-threatening’ the assessment is (here are some examples of non-threatening assessments) the better. It’s tempting to overvalue each assessment as some kind of measuring stick of human potential. At best, it’s an imperfect snapshot–and that’s okay. We just need to make sure teachers and students and parents are all aware and respond to results accordingly.

XV. As a teacher, it’s tempting to take assessment results personal; it’s not. The less personal you take the assessment, the more analytical you’ll allow yourself to be.

XVI. Confirmation bias within assessment is easy to fall for–looking for data to support what you already suspect. Force yourself to see it the other way. Consider what the data says about what you’re teaching and how students are learning rather than looking too broadly (e.g., saying ‘they’ are ‘doing well’) or looking for data to support ideas you already have.

XVII. Assessment doesn’t have to mean ‘test.’ All student work has a world of ‘data’ to offer. How much you gain depends on what you’re looking for. (Admittedly, this truth isn’t really inconvenient at all.)

XVIII. Technology can help make data collection simpler and more effective but that’s not automatically true. In fact, if not used properly, technology can even make things worse by providing too much data about the wrong things (making it almost unusable to teachers).

The Inconvenient Truth About Assessment

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