13 Things That Have Brought Me Joy
For many educators, it's been a miserable fall. Here are a few things that have not elevated my resting heart rate.
Back in August I wrote about prioritizing joy this school year. I knew it would be a challenging school year. I had no idea how hard it would be. In the last three months we’ve dealt with unprecedented staffing issues, curriculum crises, and adult culture challenges. Every principal I’ve talked with is at the end of their rope. I’m pretty close myself, so I wanted to take time to consider the joyful moments I’ve experienced amongst all the adversity.
Jams. Every morning I play music as students enter the building. I pick one song, usually something uplifting, and play it on repeat (today it was Bill Withers’s “Lovely Day”). And then I dance and high-five students as they come in. I take pride in my rhythm, and a grandparent who drops her grandchildren off jokes every morning about my dance moves. That brings me joy.
Cleaning. Amid the high-fives and hip-shakes, I also grab a broom and dustpan and sweep the outside area near our entrance. A few weeks ago, a parent got out of her car and thanked me for helping to keep the neighborhood clear. That brought me joy.
A cleaner. In October we get a new cleaner at my school, Sheila, who really takes pride in her work. I’ve never seen her assigned area so clean. Beyond that, she blasts R&B oldies while she works, giving me an opportunity to keep my rhythm fresh even at the end of the day. That brings me joy.
Amazing teaching. I’ve got a 6th grade math and science teacher who does remarkable work. A few weeks ago, folks from our central office came to videotape her to spread her best practices. Shortly after, the director of science emailed me to say how blown away he was by her teaching. That brought me joy.
An AP. For the five previous years I’ve worked as a principal, I was the lone administrator at my building. Almost every challenging issue ended up at my desk. If I needed counsel, I would call or text colleagues who lacked the context of my community. This year, I have an assistant principal. Not only has she been a great support during a difficult time, I’ve watched her grow from a classroom teacher to a building leader. She’s brought me joy.
Dedication. Last week, the daycare that several of our teachers use closed because of a COVID case. Even with the option to take much-needed time off, nearly all of them patched together a childcare plan so they could show up for our students each day. Their dedication inspires me, humbles me, and brings me joy.
More amazing teaching. When I was in school, I had a PE teacher mock my inability to do pull-ups and another who laughed when I got on the scale for our class weigh-in. As a principal, I’ve worked with PE teachers content to put on music and let students shoot hoops. My PE teacher does none of the above. He runs well-planned, intentional lessons, raises funds for the school, organizes games at recess, and mentors our student-athletes. Watching him at work brings me joy.
Hospitality. Our school’s secretary single-handedly runs the office, answering phones and buzzing in visitors (some of whom are upset), while processing the many new registrations we receive each week. Last week she received a fruit bouquet and a note from a researcher who visited our school. That visitor had been having an awful day, and my secretary treated her with warmth and an uplifting comment that caught her by surprise. Moments like that bring me joy.
A poster. There’s a poster of a prominent NCAA Women’s Basketball Program hanging inside my office door. The poster features 7 of the team’s star athletes, one of whom is a former student at my school. When she was with us, she played on the boys’ basketball squad and absolutely dominated. Her mom dropped off the poster a few weeks ago. That brought me joy.
A sign. A few weeks back, a staff member who chose to remain anonymous hung a “believe” sign on my office door. It was a nod to our Ted Lasso references (who used it to reference John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach). It brings me joy every morning.
Your comments. I love “talking shop,” with folks, and I’m humbled each time someone emails me after a newsletter. Sometimes our conversations are brief, but each time they help sharpen my thinking about how we can do better in public education. Your readership and wisdom bring me joy.
80 staff. That’s about how many adults my AP and I lead, and they have endured a really challenging year. From endless coverages to my miscommunications and mistakes to new curriculum and nonstop masking, they teach amazing phonics lessons, lead powerful community circles, and push students mathematical thinking in ways that make me realize how mediocre I was as a teacher. Their work brings me joy.
477 students. That’s our current enrollment, and there’s rarely a day they don’t make me smile. From our Portuguese-speaking students who ask me if I’m practicing my Portuguese (Sim estou praticando) to the French-speaking students who used my Spotify account to DJ some French-language jams during lunch to all the students who high-five me and laugh at my terrible jokes (Why are you wearing sunglasses inside, Mr. B? Because you’re so bright.), they’re the reason I do this often difficult job. They bring me joy.
Thanks for reading. Have a great week.