How similar is education to bobsledding?


ImageImageImageOkay so the answer is probably not very similar.  Here’s the next question: Should it be?

We would argue – YES!  So would Eric Jensen, a leader in the brain-based learning movement.  In his book Teaching with Poverty in Mind, Jensen writes, “School needs to be a non-stop, bob-sled run full of activity, challenge, correction, support and enrichment.”
Jensen’s quotation represents the second principle in our framework: students learn best in a joyful & efficient environment where they actively process knowledge.  This week we’ll focus on the joyful & efficient environment and for today it will be all about joy (because who doesn’t need a little joy on a Monday morning?).
Two quick thoughts on this principle before we dig into joy:
Thought #1) As you think about this week’s principle remind yourself that none of these principles exist in isolation. They are part of a whole – a framework for thinking about teaching and learning.
We’ll keep sharing the rest of the framework as the weeks progress, but keep in mind each principle is connected to the whole system (if you want to learn more about systems thinking read last week’s post).
We mention this because it is sometimes easy to get caught up in this principle as you are thinking about your teaching or even coaching others.  A joyful and efficient environment is often one of the easiest things to see when you walk into a classroom – especially if it’s not there.  It is incredibly important, but keep in mind just because it is easy to see does not mean we should focus on it to the exclusion of other less visible elements of teaching & learning.
ImageThought #2:  When you see a classroom with a joyful and efficient environment, it can often look like it appeared by magic.
These environments, however, are always the result of thoughtful decisions and reflection so we can all grow and improve – no magic necessary.
Back to the joyful environment.  To get a clear picture of what we mean by this, let’s start by thinking about what a joyful learning environment is not.
A joyful learning environment does NOT mean:
Image1)   a circus where the teacher’s primary goal is to amuse students in the moment
2)   a land of low-expectations where students receive positive reinforcement for everything they do regardless of effort or quality
3)   empty learning activities that are “fun”, but not connected to the learning goal (In their Understanding by Design Grant Wiggens and Jay McTighe give a great example of idea of “fun” activities.  They describe a 3rd grade unit on apples.  Students read about Johnny Appleseed, create apple leaf collages, and even pick apples all without a clear learning goal.  Wiggens & McTighe call these activities “hands-on without being minds-on.”)
Instead a joyful learning environment means:  
1)    safety & inclusion; respect for all students
2)    supportive relationships between teachers and students as well as among students
3)    high expectations for every student and frequent celebrations of success
        (check out this ready to use resource to help you do this)
4)    physical surroundings that stimulate learning
This all matters because joy matters – both as an end and as a means.  As an end – we want the young people we work with to be happy.  In fact often we explain hardship in terms of future happiness.  How many times have you said or heard someone say to a young person “I know this difficult now, but trust me in the end you’ll be happy you did it when…(*insert here the future vision of happiness* e.g. have the job of your dreams or graduate from a top college, etc).
Joy is also a means.   We are able to learn better when we are happy.   Check out this research from Dr. David Rock, Co-founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute that Rebecca Alber cited in a recent post on happiness and learning:
“There is a large and growing body of research which indicates that people experiencing positive emotions perceive more options when trying to solve problems, solve more non-linear problems that require insight, [and they] collaborate better and generally perform better overall.”
It makes sense right?  When you are happy, you are able to focus, be creative, and interact with others.  All are important for learning!
So how do you create a joyful & efficient environment in your classroom?  It’s a big question.  Here’s a tool to jumpstart your thinking.  Use this rubric to reflect on where you are in creating a joyful & efficient environment for your students and think about what steps you can take to move to the next level.
Try it out and let us know what you think!