Finding Joy in Teaching. What Sparks Joy in your Work?

It is time to create a revolution so that we find joy in education again. Children come to school and love learning. Teachers come to work and love teaching. It’s a joyous profession – we need to reclaim that.

It breaks my heart when I read and hear about teachers feeling stressed, burnout and disillusioned with their jobs. It is distressing because, to me, it shouldn’t be that way. A profession where we guide and create learning experiences with children should be the most joyous, wondrous and rewarding experience. It bothers me that so many teachers don’t have that.

Over the last few months I have found myself passionately advocating that teaching should be joyful.

Marie Kondo, author of “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying” is currently enjoying a resurgence in popularity with her new show on Netflix, “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo”. I became a convert after applying her method to tidying my home in 2017 and I have to agree that it is life changing.

In her book she describes her method for keeping only those things in your house that spark joy.

“Look more closely at what is there. I had been so focused on what to discard, on attacking the unwanted obstacles around me, that I had forgotten to cherish the things that I loved, the things I wanted to keep. Through this experience, I came to the conclusion that the best way to choose what to keep and what to throw away is to take each item in one’s hand and ask: ‘Does this spark joy?’ If it does, keep it. It not, dispose of it.”

I have for some time pondered, could there be a parallel with our professional lives?

Now, we might amuse ourselves momentarily with the thought of holding each of our students and deciding whether they spark joy before relegating them to the ‘keep’ or ‘cull’ pile, but that is not quite how I see this working.

…we should be choosing what we want to keep, not what we want to get rid of.

Ideally, it is about taking notice of what sparks joy in our work. It involves being aware during the day of our emotional response in different circumstances.

What sparks joy in your work?

Is it a particular type of task? It is working on an initiative that you care about? Is it that moment when you realise you have had an impact on someone else?

There is an element of mindfulness in taking notice of what sparks joy for you. There may even be some surprises and new learnings when you start to take notice of your emotional response during the day.

Joanna Maxwell, author of “Rethink Your Career” had a similar epiphany.

“… the place where ‘spark of joy’ has really captured my imagination is in thinking about my work activities. I adopted ‘spark of joy’ as my highest work value for 2015, and I still think about all my existing and potential projects through this filter. It’s proving really helpful in deciding where to spend my time, especially in choosing between different possibilities. Should I develop this workshop or that one? Should I complete this writing project or that one? Do I want to take my business down this road or not?”

The first step is to actually take notice of what sparks joy. The second part is to give the things that spark joy in our professional lives greater emphasis.

Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day. ~ Henri Nouwen

It is time to create a revolution so that we find joy in education again. Children come to school and love learning. Teachers come to work and love teaching. It’s a joyous profession – we need to reclaim that.

Tell me in the comments, what sparks joy in your work? How do you practice mindfulness to notice what brings you joy?

Finding joy in teaching


  • Children sharing their ideas, thoughts and voice through mark making and drawing or whatever way they fancy is when I feel joy of letting children be children. I work with 2-5 year olds but their voice is so so important .. so I’m really grappling with how I allow for this freedom in a classroom when some people perceive the classroom as being more structured and rigorously organized to contain children’s enthusiasms and personalities .. I don’t know but I would love to be able to provide provocations all day that give the child the control and direction .. but I know it’s a balance …

  • An interesting idea Trudy, what sparks joy for me is music within a school. Children of all ability joining in singing in assembly, school orchestras, ensembles. In my opinion state primary schools should follow the independent school model and have specialist teachers for each area of the curriculum. Having teachers who enthuse about a subject and have expert knowledge within a field rather than teachers covering all Primary curriculum areas.

    • Angela, thanks for reminding me about how much joy the arts bring to our lives and how it is an important part in our schools. I also love music and get so much joy from watching kids delight in it as well. I then thought about the arts more holistically – visual arts, photography, sculpture, drama, dance. I also love your idea about specialist teachers for each area of the curriculum. If we moved to a model of this nature, we would need to carefully consider how we maintain relations and connection.

  • I think this is a great idea Trudy! For me, it is seeing those little faces light up when they see you or they come over to tell you about the important things in their lives. It’s the personal connections I make.

    • I have to agree with you Toni. When I think about what sparks joy for me, it’s usually related to how I’ve connected and made a difference for someone else – child or adult. It really does come down to connection and relationships with others.

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