If you haven’t had the absolute pleasure of watching Netflix’s latest phenomenon, you simply must find the time to watch Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. One lazy morning during maternity leave last month, I happened to click on it, and immediately I was hooked. I binge watched all eight episodes in two days.
If you aren’t familiar with Kondo or her organizational Konmari Method, you are missing out. On the show, she enters people’s homes and helps them declutter their lives. While this isn’t a revolutionary idea, her method, which was originally introduced in her best selling book, asks her clients to hold an item in their hands and ask themselves if it sparks joy.
The idea of sparking joy is the center of her method to help people keep items that evoke a happy feeling while letting go of items that no longer spark that feeling. Before participants part with their stuff, they must thank the item for serving them well. Kondo advocates for showing gratitude before tossing out an old pair of jeans or a broken toy.
After watching eight families part ways with boxes and boxes of items that no longer sparked joy for them, I feverishly started Marie Kondoing my house. I held each item up and asked myself, “Does this spark joy?” If it did, I kept it and if not, I said thank you and set it aside.
I think it’s relatively easy to let go of items in our personal lives. A shirt with a hole or a stain, a no longer used kitchen appliance, an old bike is easily tossed out (But not before graciously thanking it). But when it comes to our professional life, it seems much harder to part ways with old lessons and activities or even entire units that simply don’t spark joy.
Why is that? In my experience, there are a couple of different reasons why we can’t seem to declutter our teaching. First, we feel guilty for tossing something we initially spent so much time creating. We think, “Well, I already made this, so I might as well keep it.” Or we may work in PLCs that require or at least strongly encourage cooperation and cohesion among teams and classes. Thus, we may have to use materials, lessons, or units with our students because the PLC does. But what happens when the worksheet or novel doesn’t spark joy in us or (gasp) our students? Why can’t we just let it go?
That is because letting go in our professional lives requires courage. While tossing (or donating) a box of workout DVDs may require 2.5 seconds of thought, tossing an entire unit or even a simple worksheet and starting from scratch requires courage.
The courage to tell your PLC this isn’t working. The courage to try something new. The courage to possibly fail and thus start over again. The courage to ask yourself, “Does this spark joy?”
Think about your favorite lesson, activity, or unit and how you feel when you teach it. For me, it’s The Great Gatsby. All year, I tell my students, “It’s my favorite unit! I can’t wait for 4th quarter!” Those nine weeks fly by, and my students are genuinely interested in the novel because it sparks so much joy for me. My excitement translates into great teaching and thus greater student learning. I will never forget when I was going on a tangent about how authors use weather to parallel characters’ feelings. A student bravely raised his hand and said, “Is that why it’s raining when Gatsby is nervous to meet Daisy again? The rain symbolizes his anxiety?” I literally jumped for joy when he made this connection.
But not every unit or lesson is met with the same level of enthusiasm, and I know my students can sense this. Therefore, as I head back to work in a few short weeks after being home with my sweet little man, I look forward to giving thought to my own units and plans and Marie Kondoing them. I encourage every educator, in support of their students, to look through your body of work and evaluate if the lessons you have curated and planned still serve the initial joy they were intended to spark. If we use the lens of our standards, what we know engages us and our students to decipher if it is joyful, then chances are student learning will prevail and our goals will be met. As Marie Kondo believes, graciously thank the tired, joyless activity and let it go. The courage to bring joy into every aspect of our classrooms will tremendously and positively impact our students.