Friday, May 9, 2014

Teach Fit Tip: Teaching with Joy

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I watched an Ironman competition on TV a few years back. Even more than I was astounded by the fitness endurance of these strong competitors, I was dazzled by one athlete’s smile: that of Chrissie Wellington, already a three time Ironman World Champion at the time of the event. What was so amazing to me wasn’t her smile (though it’s lovely, of course) but rather the endurance of her smile to match the endurance of her physical feats. Through every rotation on the bike and every step along the run, Chrissie was smiling.

I later read tips from Ms. Wellington as I prepared for my recent not-so-ironman triathlon. In this one, she provides an explanation for that ironman smile:

Performance tip #6: Have a mantra (or two): "I have some that I write on my water bottle and wristband when I race. One is 'smile,' and another is 'never give up.'"
So I set out to try the impossible: exercise while smiling. I’ll admit, like my medal count, my smiling endurance falls well short of Chrissie Wellington’s, but I did manage to smile often and even find a remarkable amount of joy in my fitness. And by joy in my fitness, I mean joy during, not after, my fitness.

To me, this has become the central most important mantra in my life: smile and find the joy in every moment. It’s challenging, no doubt, especially when we are exhausted. The tendency to look ahead to the next rest point for relief or fun is not unique to fitness, teaching, parenting--or any number of other strenuous endeavors--but there is so much missed in doing so. The fact is we spend much more time exerting ourselves than taking breaks, and personally, I’d rather be happy during the majority of my time.

Beyond the personal impact of joy is the effect it has on our practice. Just as I run much faster when I am happy in the moment, so too do I teach more effectively when I am laughing, smiling, and enjoying my time with my students. Sometimes it seems there are many obstacles to finding this joy. The blisters which form in our practice, whether caused by testing, errant student behavior, parental frustrations, or lack of support, can make it nearly impossible to be happy in our classrooms in the moment of teaching. In these moments, however, there are two endless ways we can capture the joy in our practice. The first is a physical action--a smile. By taking a break to smile, we are conditioning a happier response. Smiling when we least want to or feel like it is exactly the action needed. The second is borrowing joy from students. Students are very joyful. In fact, their joy and silliness often causes ours to run away. However, instead of trying to suppress it or check it, I find it sometimes necessary to steal it, or rather, to allow it to spread to me as a source of energy.

There are several ways of bringing joy into the teaching practice, but I would venture to say that without it, there can be no teaching. Teaching happens through relationships. Joy is among the few prerequisite conductors through which learning transmits from teacher to student.

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