Have you ever heard of a Teacher “Joy Jar?” A para that worked with me started this idea several years ago in our classroom. We have had so much fun with it, but I think the real value goes much deeper than just a little end of school year fun.
So, what is a Joy Jar?
A joy jar is a jar, or a basket, or whatever vessel you choose that can hold little notes from your students, or notes from you to yourself. If there are multiple adults in your room, write notes of gratitude or joy to each other and put them in the jar. Whenever something amazing happens in your classroom, write it down and drop it in the jar. We have had all sorts of things in our joy jar, from someone getting asked to Homecoming to getting an A on a test they worked for, to Dad coming home from Afghanistan. One of my favorites was when, in an effort to be relatable to a student that is highly distractable, I mentioned that I also get distracted sometimes. That student then wrote me out a personalized behavior plan complete with goal setting strategies. (This was a 2nd grader, which made it even better!) I LOVED that! Obviously, the strategies we were teaching were sinking in because he was able to teach it to me!
It’s the milestones that we write down that I think have a deeper value because in special education. We often see growth so much slower than our colleagues that it’s easy to get discouraged sometimes. I experienced this as a parent of a child with special needs as well. When my friends would talk about when their baby took their first steps and said their first words and mine was a year or more before reaching that milestone, it was hard. I put pressure on myself to push him harder and that wasn’t good for either of us. Now I look back at old school papers, IEPs and videos of him and am amazed at how hard he has worked to get where he is now. No, he doesn’t do everything that his peers do, but he does an awful lot and I’m pretty proud of him for everything he does do!
Think about your students. Maybe you’ve had some kids for multiple years, as special education teachers often do, and think back to the student who was nonverbal and now he greets you every day with a smile and a (nearly) complete sentence. Can that student do what others can do? Maybe not, but they are doing the best they can with what they have, and that is worth celebrating every day. Think about a student that you had years ago and is now doing really well. That’s worth celebrating, as your hard work and dedication probably had a significant impact on how he’s doing today. Good for you and great for the student!
It’s easy to get sucked into negativity when we think about resources teachers need, the hours we put in unpaid and all the other challenges we face in education. We can think about the skills our kids still DON’T have, OR we can choose to celebrate the skills and gifts that each of them has and the amazing gift it is to be able to share in their lives. I know, persistent inappropriate behaviors can be rough, but I promise you that every single child you work with has a gift. If you find that gift and show that child that you appreciate them for who they are, I bet they will reciprocate the kindness.
It only takes a few seconds out of the day to jot a note on a sticky note about something positive about teaching that happened that day. Drop it in the jar and at the end of the year, or maybe just on a particularly bad day, pull out some notes of joy and remind yourself why you love teaching, your students and what you are thankful for. This small act can truly change a teacher’s outlook on life, or at least on education.
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