Guest Blogger: Emma Tempest – The Play Coach

Emma is an early childhood education consultant, speaker and teacher coach specializing in the power of play and managing your teacher stressed mind.

You can find out more about her on her website Yes to Play.

Do you remember the non-stress moments of pure, unadulterated joy you once felt as a child? No cares in the world, no tiring job to go to, no pressures from anyone and time to just be free? Sigh, me too. Luckily, joy is something we can cultivate in our communities – at home, at work, at school.

Now, you might think that if you are cultivating joy then it could be seen as synthetic – not ‘real’. However, the great thing about any of these Play-Life Balance tips is that the more you intend to cultivate it, the more it starts to happen naturally as it becomes part of your daily habits rather than a fleeting moment of joy that will eventually pass. The best days in my work in the classroom were FULL of joy – for both the children and myself and my staff. The easiest way to achieve joy (and let’s face it, most obvious if you’ve read anything I’ve written before….*drumroll*) is through play. When you are playing you are free of stress, you are choosing what you want to do and you can be as imaginative as you like – JOY!

When was the last time you experienced joy like THIS?!

For you

The most efficient way to make sure you are getting enough joy in your life is to (somewhat ironically) be incredibly boring and schedule it into your routine. Yep, get it plugged into your calendar and you are more likely to succeed in being more joyful in your life. We all know that plans can change in an instant, but if you don’t even try to schedule in some time for joy then that is when time will run away with you and your days will be filled with stress, misery, doom and gloom. Think about what makes you happy. It could be something simple like reading a book or going for a stroll, or more elaborate like taking a dance class or attending a craft show. Whether the happy-thing is something that you can do on a whim, or something you need to book ahead for, finding the time to put it into your planner will pay off – especially if you do the happy-thing with someone else. Not only does it give you a sense of connection, but you will be more likely to follow through if you know someone else is waiting for you!

Sometimes the simple things create the most joy. Have a Friday dance party with your children or write a motivational Monday message to get your head in the game and elevate your chances to choose joy. Schedule in some joy when you add self-care to your calendar – perhaps challenge your friends and family members to create some joy induced activities that you can do together? If you want a head start, check out my self-care bingo card. It is full of fun things to do that will bring joy, as well as a load of other self-care top tips. You might notice that it is written in the past tense, that is an intentional action from me because I’m so convinced that you are going to take charge and CHOOSE JOY that you WILL do these things to help you create that Play-Life Balance for yourself. Download the image to your phone and use a photo editing app to tick off each one, download and print to add to your planner or journal, or even print from the PDF to get a document version you can share with your colleagues, friends, family and classrooms! Hopefully some of the things might even inspire you to create some activities of your own! Let me know how you get on, I’d love to see photos and hear your stories!

For children

I read some wonderful research about something called ’empathic joy’.

A total of 1,216 predominantly White teachers participated in a yearlong investigation of whether their attitudes toward, and empathy for, their predominantly ethnic minority students affected their teaching style and the students’ learning. Consistent with expectations, we found that teachers’ experience of empathic joy predicted better student outcomes and that it did so by leading to more allophilia toward students and, in turn, toward more proactive and positive interactions with students. Implications are considered for the role of empathic joy in positive intergroup relations more generally.

Pittinsky & Montoya, 2016

Not surprisingly, they found that when teachers are happy, their students feel happiness! Empathic joy is something that everyone can enjoy together. It is about sharing the joy of someone’s success, happiness, a smile….whatever gives you that good feeling back from someone else. I think for a lot of teachers this is one of the main reasons they get into the profession – for that warm feeling in your tummy when you see a student rejoice in understanding something you have directly had an impact in sharing with them. For me, watching children play and figure things out for themselves gives me even more joy than passing on a strategy or piece of information.

A simple way to cultivate joy in your classroom is to show those feelings you get ‘out loud’. Take photographs of children in play and look at them carefully. Be curious. What do you notice? How does looking at others’ joy make you feel? What similarities can you see in the faces/the eyes/the body language? Share these photos with the children and ask them what they see. To take this practice even further, you can give the children the camera and really get an opportunity to see what THEY see as important and of value. Finally, share these photos for everyone to see – your families, colleagues, directors, visitors…invite them to question what they see and to take that feeling of joy with them on their travels.

For families

One of my favourite family engagement activities that promotes joy is simply inviting parents and family members to come into the classroom setting and spend time with their children. It’s fun to have specific events for them to attend, but like Lisa “Ooey Gooey” Murphy says, you have to think about what you are doing, why you are doing it and who is it really for. I’ve been reading comments online from educators recently saying they have an ‘open-door policy’, but then wanting parents to leave when they are dropping off a child who is having a hard time saying goodbye (or sometimes the parent is the one having a hard time). Or they say things like, “My parents never turn up on parent welcome night” and then make no effort to put an event on at a different time/or a different day/or ask the parents what is a good time for them…see the problem?

For me, this is when there is a difference between family engagement and family involvement. There is plenty of research to show that when teachers and families are sharing information, working together and putting the needs of the child and family at the forefront that everyone does better – emotionally, mentally and academically. And I mean everyone including the teachers! If you’re reading this and thinking, “But I have to start my lesson, I can’t have parents just hanging around” or “The parents are distracting to the children”, I would like to invite you to sit with that uncomfortable feeling for a few minutes and explore why you might feel that way. How can you change this to a joyous feeling? What shifts could you make to take that small step on the ladder toward joy? I’m not saying parents should be there all the time and you have to deal with it ha! What I’m saying is, how can you change your thoughts about the circumstances of having parents in the classroom to boost joy for them, the children and yourself? How can you find a way to say YES instead of having a default answer of no?

Nobody wants to be in a work environment that sucks the joy out of life. When that work environment is filled with children (no matter what age!), joy is even more important. Be kind to yourself, find the joy in the little things and be aware of those underlying thoughts that might be undermining your decisions to choose joy.

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