Sparking Joy in History Classrooms, pp. 3 of 10

Sources of Joy in Educational Experience

Random House dictionary defines joy as “the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something good or satisfying” (cited in Wolk, 2009, p. 4). According to Archbishop Desmond Tutu (2016), joy comes from within, dependent on our outlook, rather than from external sources, such as wealth, power, or status. It seems to come to us most often when we do things for others, make others happy or serve others in meaningful ways. The Dalai Lama (2016) emphasizes the importance of perspective in having a joyful outlook, the need to see things from many different angles to gain “a more complete and holistic view.” For educators, it requires us to step back from the daily grind and consider the ways joy can be cultivated, fostered, and supported as daily classroom practices. This means no longer seeing schooling as “primarily about creating workers and test takers, but rather about nurturing human beings” (Wolk, 2007, p. 9). We need new perspectives about education to create more space and time for joy in classrooms. 

Researchers also have something to say about fostering joy in classrooms. Pekrun and Stephens (2011) note the centrality of emotion in teaching and learning. They identify four “academic emotions” in classrooms: achievement emotions, such as contentment or frustration, often linked to achievement outcomes (success or failure); topic emotions aligned with learning subject matter, such as the feeling of empathy in learning about how individuals were affected by events in the past; social emotions such as pride or shame, since learning is always situated in social contexts; and epistemic emotions that arise from cognitive processing, such as surprise or confusion when confronted with a perplexing historical problem (D’Mello, 2017).  Pekrun and Linnenbrink-Garcia (2012) highlight how a challenging problem, question or prompt can initiate surprise, which leads to curiosity and interest, and then enjoyment when the problem is understood and solved. However, anxiety and frustration can also be experienced when the problem is not understood or a solution does not seem possible. Addressing challenging questions or problems, then, can be sources of great joy or frustration, depending on how they are handled in classrooms. These researchers highlight that emotions influence student engagement with subject matter and thus impacts their learning and achievement.

Similarly, teacher emotions play a central role in classrooms. Keller, Frenzel, Goetz, Pekrun, & Hensley (2014) found that the primary source of teachers’ joy was derived from their students’ growth, especially when their students had breakthroughs in learning. Positive relationships with students was another source of joy for teachers. These researchers found that enjoyment is a common emotional experience for teachers. In general, a sense of professional efficacy, the sense that one is being effective in terms of helping students learn while remaining true to one’s beliefs and values, was a source of teachers’ positive emotional experiences.

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

Newsletter Subscription

Subscribe to our newsletter and stay up-to-date with new journal issues!