Joy spreads across school division

More than 147 teachers across 84 schools in the division have started a cultural movement by becoming Joy Ambassadors. Some schools even have cadres of Joy Ambassadors, up to seven or eight, and many administrators in schools and central office have also joined the movement, which has its own Twitter hashtag: #vbhasjoy.

The movement started when professional learning specialist Akilah Ellison with the Office of Professional Growth and Innovation looked at data shared during a conference that showed the continuum of emotions that teachers experience during a school year.

“There’s excitement, then there’s flow, then the dip, then anxiety and so on,” said Ellison, a bubbly ex-New Yorker with more than 19 years of teaching experience. “This is what led to this work. I went to my directors and asked if there was something I could do to help teachers close out their year in a way that leaves them rejuvenated.”

The answer was yes.

By April, Ellison had organized a training that to her surprise filled up in two days and even had waiting lists.


She added that the timing was purposeful since data showed that March to June was a particularly more stressful time for teachers.

Woodstock Elementary third-grade teacher Beth Kelly recalls walking away from that first meeting lifted. “It made me realize that we probably really need this in our schools,” she said. “If the teacher is lifted, then the students will be lifted.”

Teacher morale, according to Ellison, also has a direct impact on school culture and students.

“We saw that regardless of whether the teacher was new, a veteran, or had one or five years of experience, how that individual felt had a direct impact on how much he or she gave,” Ellison added.

The movement has evolved into everything from posters around schools showcasing inspirational quotations to converting formerly empty rooms into joy rooms for staff.

One school even had a bowling night and another organizes team walks at Trashmore Park.


“It’s what speaks to you and your school culture,” said Melissa Smith, reading specialist at Parkway Elementary School, who is partnering with Ellison to train Joy Ambassadors. The goal is for the ambassadors to leave training sessions with ideas that are easy to implement in their schools the next day. “We want them to have a toolbox that they can easily implement so they feel empowered and not overwhelmed that they have to do this, this and this,” Ellison said. “That takes away the joy.”

Ellison and Smith also devote training time to view the division’s strategic framework, core values and teacher evaluation standard five, which is about the learning environment, through the lens of joyful learning. Smith added that one of the strategies is asking students about their interests. “If you know that a lot of your students love to do ‘x, y and z’, you can take that information and add it into classroom activities.”

Ellison also stressed self-care, which was discussed in the August training. “Teachers can’t serve from an empty vessel. We tell them that to do the best for every child and for every child to feel valued and loved, it takes a teacher feeling empowered and inspired.” She emphasized that it is important for teachers to take care of themselves, including taking time to eat lunch or using any one of the numerous BeWell resources to build healthy habits.

Between sessions, participants use Google Classroom to share ideas, including ideas that are at free to implement. For example, staff can start meetings in a joyful way by inviting attendees to share things that are going right in their lives.


In classrooms, teachers are also dedicating spaces for joy stations for themselves filled with items that make them happy as well as spreading joy to students in a variety of ways.

Diamond Springs Elementary kindergarten teacher Rebecca Robbins said her class starts every day with a fun song or takes time for quick dance breaks.

Green Run High School science teacher Heather Bogatko said that her school’s ambassadors are spreading joy by sharing healthy treats and positive comments.

Providence Elementary fourth-grade teacher Julie Byers extended the joy beyond the school building and turned a routine notification to parents about upcoming conferences into a joyful note.


“I felt I wanted to share my gratitude toward parents who have such an impact on children. I feel we can also impact those outside of school walls. If we can have positive connections with families, it has the potential to impact the success of the child,” she shared.

The movement will continue to evolve in buildings as the year progresses and a divisionwide “Joy Fair” is in the planning for February. In the meantime, Ellison encouraged everyone to partake in the hashtag where she sees people using intentionally joyful language every day.


“I’m seeing something that can be big,” Ellison said. “Wouldn’t it be powerful if we could start a year intentionally having joyful learning happening all year long and not only impacting students but also teachers?  That’s powerful and that thought brings me joy.”

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10 thoughts on “Joy spreads across school division

  1. We are all very proud of Akilah’s work in this area. She is our “Joy ambassador” in PIA and helps us all to keep work in the proper perspective, especially when faced with daunting challenges. Her efforts are truly having an impact much larger than we expected, demonstrating a need that often goes unmet.
    Nice work!

    1. Thank you Dr. Robertson. I am honored to be in an office where leadership is the anchor for our work to flourish. Thank you for leading such an amazing family of people who serve with joy. My growth is a reflection of my workplace culture!

  2. Being a joy ambassador is such an amazing, rewarding experience. What a difference it has made in to me and my life. Truly thrilled to have Akilah and Melissa as “joy leaders!” Many thanks to VBCPS and all administration for embracing this much needed movement.

  3. Akilah and Melissa have been amazing leaders. They have endless positive energy and exude JOY that is wonderfully infectious. All of the ideas they gladly share are simple yet profound. I always thought I was an upbeat kinda girl….now I can proudly own and spread JOY. It makes a difference for me every day! join the JOY revolution

    1. Thank you Annie! You’re a natural Joy Ambassador and it’s been a honor to serve all of you! Melissa and I enjoy every minute of it! #VBHasJoy

  4. Working with Akilah strengthened our school’s culture of joyfulness and care for each other. We appreciate her knowledge and her belief in the importance of this work. I appreciate our Joy Ambassadors for all they do each week for our staff and students. Thank you for acknowledging #VBHasJoy

    1. It was an honor to serve your amazing school, Amy, during their time of need. The Joy Ambassadors are a reflection of an amazing, loving resilient school culture. Thank you for being a #VBAdminHasJoy.

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