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Reclaiming Teaching Joy by Changing the View

by Pam Koutrakos

The sudden stops and clunky restarts are not new. My day-to-day, week-to-week experiences often feel reminiscent of the start-stop-whiplash etched in my brain from when a high school boyfriend was learning how to drive stick. It’s now March. It’s been just about a year. This pattern is established and consequently, anticipated. Nonetheless, the ongoing unpredictability still takes a toll.

Friends and colleagues have shared similar sentiments. One admitted to having lost some of their “teaching mojo.” This sentiment felt so relatable! I acknowledge the validity of each contributing factor, and have found comfort in occasionally commiserating with colleagues. I have also discovered that collaborating with others yields the energy I need to rebound. Together, we reclaim joy in teaching and learning. This week’s 3-part blog series will share some of the small shifts that brought me success. I hope that within each post, you will find a little something that resonates with you.

Shift 1: Change Your View

An asset lens is essential. Teachers need to look for what is there and find ways to nurture connected next steps. Every student deserves to have others recognize all of the wondrous aspects of their personal and learner identities. This is the heart of responsive instruction. And yet, in times of stress, humans tend to fallback on old practices. The deficit lens may rear its ugly head. Here and there, I have found myself noticing the challenges more than the triumphs, especially when it comes to myself! Because of this, I have doubled down on actively seeking ways to shout out and celebrate what’s going well. By changing the view, teachers can change their mindset. Essentially, intentionally noticing the positive begets more consistent focus on the positive— and that can help teachers to reclaim teaching joy! Here are a few actions I have taken with this pursuit in mind:


Happiness research teaches us the benefits of gratitude. These days, as I jot down my daily gratitude, I also include appreciation—for myself (the hardest), those at home, and those at work. Adding daily appreciations to a gratitude journal or practice provides a reminder to look for and find what’s in place.


Begin professional learning sessions or meetings with the words of students, sharing and celebrating what that student has done. Model viewing students with awe. Taking the time to notice, name, and appreciate aspects of a student’s work creates a positive tone to the session. The joy within this simple process jumpstarts creativity and productivity.


Prioritizing “mine and mirror” conferring conversations (all subject areas) does something similar. Mining and mirroring are the first two steps of Gravity Goldberg’s 4M model of feedback. This involves investigating assets and then naming observed strengths back to students. This simple action reflects the understanding that there is plenty of instructional value in taking time to look for and highlight what IS going well. These micro-conferring conversations are efficient check-ins that metamorphosize the mood; the spirit in the room/Zoom changes. Students benefit when they know their teacher sees them and recognizes the inherent value of their efforts, assets, and accomplishments.


At home, with teachers, and with students, create space for ongoing reflection and celebration. Reach out to a colleague and share your appreciation. Ask students to look within and have a positive dialogue with themselves. Invite students to share something they notice and appreciate in a classmate. Add a little extra joy by sharing a text that shows positive self-talk in action. You might try I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes or I Will Be Fierce by Bea Birdsong.

Even bumpy, jolty rides move forward. Small steps help to smooth out the path ahead. By changing the view, we celebrate our efforts and the contributions and others. We find the joy that colleagues and children bring to our lives, and clear away the mental clutter that can drag us down. When I change my view, focusing on assets and contributions, the road opens up and the possibilities ahead feel so much more exciting. Please stay tuned for the next two posts in this series where I share other simple shifts for finding your way and inviting others along for the ride.


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