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Sparking Joy: Marie Kondo in the Classroom

Leah Clark Education, Life in the Classroom

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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.


 

Leah Clark

Phoenix, Arizona

I joined the teaching profession after spending several years in luxury retail. While the free clothes and handbags were definite job perks, I felt burned out and tired of long hours, weekends and holidays. So, I went back to school to become a teacher and have never looked back. I love my job!
My teaching philosophy is simple: Do what’s best for kids. While it’s not eloquent, this humble phrase directs every decision I make about teaching and students. As a Language Arts teacher at a central Phoenix high school, it’s my honor and passion to create opportunities for students to communicate, collaborate, create and connect with one another and the world around them.
When I am not grading a stack of essays, planning a new lesson, or chaperoning a school dance, I love riding my yellow Huffy bicycle around town, sampling a new restaurant, and traveling to Flagstaff with my husband.

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  • Austine Etcheverry

    This is so critically important, thank you for taking the time to write this. I recently did walkthroughs in several classes where there was not teacher joy or passion and you could tell. Students were sitting in their desks, stairing and the non-excitment in the rooms were palbale. I wanted to scream and shout, school is supposed to be fun. I’m not saying every lesson has to have students up and dancing, but when students are engaged, working together or working hard to decipher learning and then get it, that’s a great feeling. The love of teaching and learning had litteraly been stifled out of the room and this article has reinforced to me why it is so important to spark passion and joy into the lessons that we teach. Students deserve this and so do the teachers.

    • Leah Clark

      Thank you so much for the comment! It’s great to know that administrators agree that joy is an important and vital part of the learning process.

  • Caitlin Corrigan

    I think you’re right – teachers have a hard time getting rid of something that they spent so much time creating, even if it does not spark joy. If an old unit does not spark joy in the classroom, I don’t think that it necessarily needs to be completely thrown out. Is there a way to update what you already have to make it relevant for your current students? If the unit has the potential to spark joy, maybe something could be added or removed to reach the goal. If it still doesn’t spark joy, then it must be time to thank the unit for the joy it sparked in the past and get rid of it to make way for better and more joyful teaching resources.

    • Leah Clark

      Yes, I completely agree. We don’t need to totally toss it out. We can make changes to spark joy. Often times as a newer teacher, I found this hard. It’s only been recently I have found my voice and the courage to speak up for myself and my students to make changes or toss something.

  • Amy Casaldi

    What a great theme to get us thinking about where our classroom environment is at. Its easy to just get in the day to day since expectations are now set and the community is working well. Let’s reflect and make sure our environment looks like what our students need and is full of joy.

    • Leah Clark

      I agree that routine makes it hard to make changes. We are creatures of habit and change requires the courage to shake up the routine and try something new.

  • Jen Robinson

    You bring up a great point, it’s hard to let go of our teaching materials. For me when I go through my things it brings up memories of different times in my life. Recently I found a book I used during my student teaching over twenty years ago. But holding that book took me back to my undergrad class and the nervous feeling of having to teach for the first time.

    • Leah Clark

      I can relate to the memories. At a previous school I had much more autonomy in the texts I selected to teach. Each text truly sparked joy for me. I spent hours creating lessons because i truly loved what we were reading. In a school with less autonomy, it’s definitely difficult to get excited about books I didn’t select. I have to look for small sparks of joy. Thank you for the comment!

  • Treva Jenkins

    I lovveeeeee Marie Kondo. Watched her once and I was hooked!!! What a great analogy to use when talking about the joy (or lack of) we have when teaching our lessons…You made some very important points: “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…The courage to bring joy into every aspect of our classrooms will tremendously and positively impact our students.” If you really think about it, without some joy and excitement in our classroom, how can we truly connect with our scholars? If we don’t bring that joy and passion into our classroom on a daily basis, it is highly unlikely that our scholars will be able to relax, take risks, and engage with their learning. Instead, they will take on that same pressure and sense of drudgery that we do when we come under a considerable amount of stress. A smile and a good morning, how are you can go a long way!
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