“Today they were writing full sentences!” exclaimed extended-day kindergarten teacher Amanda Tatum when she stopped by the “Tell me Something Good” station at the school division’s first-ever Joy Fair, held Feb. 22 at College Park Elementary School.
After participating in a disk drop game, this Point O’View Elementary School teacher was enthusiastically sharing with staff members and division leaders gathered around the table that only a few months ago her kindergarten students were first learning how to hold pencils and write letters of the alphabet.
Tatum was one of the more than 270 teachers, staff members and administrators attending the Joy Fair, which professional learning specialist Akilah Ellison said was planned for the purpose of “making sure our teachers leave inspired and empowered for this big window of learning that is embarking on us between now and spring break.”
Ellison, who works in the Office of Professional Growth and Innovation, organized the event together with the 182 Joy Ambassadors across the division’s 84 schools.
The energy began outside as students from College Park Elementary School applauded attendees as they arrived. Inside, Parkway Elementary School’s step team greeted them with cheers of joy and performed several times.
The Joy Fair featured more than 20 stations, including Virtual Reality, Color Your Joy, and a Gratitude Graffiti Wall where individuals wrote joyful messages about things in their lives that bring them joy.
Attendees enjoyed complimentary treats from community businesses, posed for joyful photos on a green screen and danced in the hallways as feel-good songs like “We Are Family” and “Walking on Sunshine” filled the room.
What drew most attendees were stations where teachers and their administrators showcased joy activities at their schools and exchanged ideas of how they are infusing joy amongst students and staff.
Creeds Elementary gifted resource teacher Barbara Messina shared that every staff meeting begins with five to 10 minutes of joy activities. They also organize special celebrations such as cupcake or cocoa days to bring them together.
Lillian West, a fifth-grade teacher at Creeds Elementary, added “We are already a pretty joyful school so now this is just helping us explode with more and more joy.
Princess Anne Middle School math teacher Michele Roan shared that their school has a joy room, and in classrooms they talk about gratitude and paying it forward.
Parkway Elementary School’s counselor Annie Johnson described how they select Words of the Week based around nine vital social-emotional skills such as kindness and consideration. Every Sunday, she receives a plethora of resources which she then shares with teachers to infuse those words in their lessons if they choose to do so.
In Parkway’s cafeteria, giant bulletin boards with the message “Let’s Fill These Buckets with Kindness” showcase cards submitted by students describing acts of kindness. “It’s in the cafeteria all year long for everyone to see,” Johnson added.
Joy Ambassadors in the division has grown into a cultural movement with its own Twitter hashtag at #VBHas Joy.
Ellison, a former teacher of 19 years, proposed the idea to the school division after attending a conference in April 2016 where statistics about teacher stress were shared.
“I wanted to do something to help teachers,” she said. The answer from her directors Janene Gorham and Dr. Thomas Ferrell was a resounding yes.
Now, just six months later, teachers and staff members in schools, central office and other departments are hearing of this movement and gladly stepping up to volunteer as Joy Ambassadors. They plan activities at their schools and also support each other in their well-being, which can often be negatively impacted by teachers’ busy schedules, according to Ellison.
Bringing joy not only addresses Goal 4 of the division’s Compass to 2020 strategic plan, which focuses on improving working conditions and fostering a culture of respect. The Joy Fair was purposefully planned for February, which according to Ellison, is a time of year when stress of teachers and leaders exponentially increases.
“It’s really about teacher well-being and adults filling their vessels so they can spread the joy to our students,” she explained.
Superintendent Aaron Spence, one of the many division and school administrators who attended the event, agrees that joy is valuable.
“It’s not just about making sure that we have joy in our lives, which is critically important, but making sure that the whole experience of being in school is joyful,” he said. “We want our teachers to be happy and feel good about being at work, but we also want to introduce the idea that learning is inherently an interesting, curious and joyful experience.”
When asked about the goal of the Joy Fair, Ellison replied that she wanted attendees to “laugh, have fun and feel the joy.”
“I want them to remember why they became an educator so they can go into their schools filled with joy and intentionally cultivate that same feeling in the learning experiences that they share with students.”
Enjoy more photos from this very joyful event!
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