The Joy of Teaching

June 10, 2018

By the time you read this, the Golden State Warriors will most likely have defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers to win their third NBA title in four years. In doing so, they will also have defeated a once in a lifetime, trascendental talent in Lebron James. The Warriors are immensely talented, with a team that emphasizes ball movement, team defense, perimeter shooting, and selflessness. There is, however, one intangible quality that is harder to quantify: joy. The Warriors look genuinely happy to be doing their job (and yes, although they play in the NBA, this is still their job.) So let’s explore how you can learn lessons about a bunch of basketball players being joyous on the court to your own classroom/school experience.


Whatever Happened to Fun in School?

Schools these days are serious places: high stakes testing,  schools as a panacea for society’s ills, “accountability”, college and career readiness, to name a few. Amongst all this, there is one simple fact that can be lost: we teach children. Ask any child at any point in history what they like to do and, almost invariably, the answer is “have fun.” It is not,“write well developed essays,” it is not “learn multiplication,” it is not “learn about the causes of the American Revolution,” it is to have fun. That is not to say that any of the aforementioned items are not important, it is simply to emphasize that children like to have fun.

One of the easiest ways to have fun is to follow the principles laid out by the Warriors and bring joy into the schoolhouse. As outsiders, we think that adults playing a game for a living and making millions of dollars should be intrinsically fun, but ask around and Klay Thompson will tell you that players around the league love what they do, but sometimes they don’t enjoy going to work every day.” The same holds true for educators, who may love their job but not always love going to work. The Warriors solved this problem by joking around with each other during practice, smiling, cracking jokes, and acknowledging that life outside of their job exists. If all the adults who work in a school building are dour, dreary, and drab, one can guess how students feel about going to school! Are your teachers excited about their lessons? If not, how can they change it up so that it excites them, or how can you change the conditions to inspire them? Learning and fun do not have to be mutually exclusive terms – staff and students should be able to do the hard work of teaching and learning while also having fun.


Who Creates the Culture?

This is a question that has been asked by every person that has ever worked in a school. Who creates the culture, the teachers or the administrator? According to Warriors coach Steve Kerr, A coach does not create the culture. Players really create the culture through their force of personality and leadership within the group. The coach’s job is to shape the culture.” Applied to a school, this means that the teachers create the culture based on who they are and administrators shape and harness what teachers do best. In short, the staff you have are the staff you have. You’re not going to take a more introverted personality and all of a sudden turn them into a gregarious socialite but, what you can do, is identify the aspects of that particular personality that can help the school and put them in the best position to succeed with students. In a school, the teachers are the ones who interface most intimately and most often with students. Administrators cannot strong arm teachers into thinking a certain way, or force leadership group dynamics. Those aspects tend to occur naturally based on personalities, experience, etc. What an administrator must do is is set forth the guiding principles for a school and try to reinforce those principles at every turn.


It All Starts With One

At their core, the Warriors are really Steph Curry’s team. They have identified him as the building block for every single aspect of the organization. They have done this even though they have a fellow future hall of famer in Kevin Durant. In a school, you also need a core person to build your culture around. It is important that you ask yourself what this person brings to the table that everyone else will feed off of. For the Warriors, Steve Kerr says “this team is full of joy and laughter…that’s how Steph is.” Imagine if you centered your school around someone who was not only joyous themselves, but actually brought joy to others as well. Warriors Assistant Coach Bruce Fraser says that, aboard the team plane, when others hear Curry’s laughter, you can watch “the smiles migrate, row to row, toward the plane’s rear, to people who have no idea what led to that laugh in the first place.” Ask yourself, who can do that in your current school setting? We may not all be Steph Curry, but surely we can bring a little more joy and laughter to work with us every day.

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