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  • Writer's pictureDr. Sue Chapman

Joy Works: A Message for Educators in Challenging Times

Updated: Oct 31, 2022

I cannot be my best as an educator if I’m not finding joy in the work I do. Joy is my energy to keep going, to keep striving, to press on when things are tough. No matter how difficult the circumstances, it seems like there are opportunities for joy in each day if you just look for them.

~ Dr. David Geurin

Future Driven: Will Your Students Thrive in An Unpredictable World?

I felt overworked and undervalued. My focus had slowly begun to shift more toward resenting certain structures, norms, and philosophies that were embedded within the system and my role. I was allowing specific circumstances to have total influence over my joy. (Dr. Joy, p. 2)

This is the context that caused one educator to take stock of her career and choose to recapture the joy that she had once felt in her daily work as a teacher and education leader. In her book Joy Works: 8 Lessons for Educators, Dr. Joy shares her learning journey and offers educators a wealth of concrete ideas for tapping into the powerful emotion of joy as a way of navigating challenges in teaching and school leadership.

It didn’t initially occur to me that I was the person most responsible for my joy as an educator. (Dr. Joy, p. 2)

This realization that joy is a choice shifted Dr. Joy’s mindset and actions. I recently had the opportunity to talk with Dr. Joy about her book. Here are some highlights of our conversation.

Dr. Joy:

I wrote this book for educators like myself who recognize and feel the enormous issues that exist in education right now and still want to find joy in their role.

Click here to listen to Dr. Joy talk about Joy Works.


You tell us that choosing joy requires ongoing work and you admit that you consider yourself to be a work in progress. Why is it important that we accept that we are all “works in progress?”

Dr. Joy:

The work never ends. We all need growth and opportunities to learn. Every time I think I have something down pat, I’m always reminded that I don’t. So, one of the things I keep in mind is that when I develop a habit and it's working, I have to keep doing it even when the going gets good. Even when things seem all mellow, I have to stay the course.


What are some routines that help you to continue engaging in your joy work?

Dr. Joy:

One thing that immediately comes to mind is setting myself up for the day. I can’t just wake up in the morning and let everything start hitting me. I create structures to ensure that I start each day with joy. These structures change over time depending on circumstances. I used to feel I needed to be energized at the beginning of the day, I worked out, I needed to feel pumped. Then I started to raise teenagers, and I realized that I needed calm. I need to start my day with ease and peace, so I could respond to my children’s needs. Now I am intentional about taking time to think about my day in a quiet manner, listening to some jazz music, and just little things like breathing, and stretching. I’m definitely in a “momma needs to be calm” phase of my life right now.

LEARNING ACTIVITY: Starting Your Day with Joy

Before my feet even hit the floor in the morning, I need to do a gratitude check; that is, I have to immediately think of something that I am grateful for. Beginning each morning with a gratitude check helps me to enter my day with a healthier perspective. The only thing I need to do a gratitude check is, well…me. I can’t wait to be inspired to find gratitude; I just have to be intentional.

How can you intentionally incorporate gratitude checks into your day?

~ Dr. Joy, Joy Works, p. 74

According to Dr. Joy,

Joy work is exactly that…it’s work. It takes effort, a great deal of practice, extreme vulnerability, and a willingness to learn and unlearn. Most importantly, it takes a shift in thinking that requires us to move from emotional rigidity, that is getting consumed by thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that don’t serve us well to emotional agility, which allows us to face our difficult emotions with courage and intention. (p. 3)

LEARNING ACTIVITY: Supports and Barriers to Joy Take a minute to reflect on feelings, behaviors, and thoughts that help you to feel joy in your work as an educator. Here are some possibilities:

  • Patience

  • Empathy

  • Confidence

  • Contentment

  • Forgiveness

Next, identify feelings, behaviors, and thoughts that hinder your joy. Some possibilities include:

  • Impatience

  • Frustration

  • Inadequacy

  • Discontentment

  • Resentment

Now, make a plan for your personal joy work:

  • Using the ideas you generated, what is one virtue that you want to tap into more often? How will this emotion support you in your role?

  • What is one negative emotion that you will work to minimize? How will intentionally walking away from this emotion benefit you?


We both work with pre-service teachers in teacher preparation programs. When I think about the skills a new teacher needs today, I’m struck by how different this skill set is from when I first began teaching. What understandings and skills do you think new teachers need related to their own social-emotional intelligence?

Dr. Joy:

The first element is self-awareness. Teachers need to regularly reflect on how they feel and how they respond when confronted with challenging situations and behaviors. Understanding these things about yourself is essential to providing for the needs of diverse learners.

LEARNING ACTIVITY: Reflecting on Reflection According to Dr. Joy, Reflection is by far the most important aspect of joy work. Whether we are looking back or looking forward, taking the time to observe our lives will certainly result in greater joy. We will find ourselves being increasingly at ease when adapting to change. Our relationships can improve as we learn to communicate and comprehend better. We may even find greater clarity when making everyday or difficult decisions. My personal favorite is how it serves as a catalyst for creativity and being open to risk-taking and continuous growth and change. Dr. Joy suggests the following ways of incorporating reflection into our daily lives:

  • Choose a process that matches your needs and interests. Consider connecting it with an activity you enjoy (such as reading or working out).

  • Tap into a thought partner.

  • Identify guiding questions.

  • Schedule small increments of time. (p. 18-19)

Together with your team, share strategies that effectively integrate reflection into your daily routines. Brainstorm structures that busy educators can use to set aside time for reflection. ​


How are the ideas in Joy Works important for our students?

Dr. Joy:

Once we internalize the skills and understandings of joy work, we can share them with our students. These reflective practices can help our students to grow as learners and as people, to know their own strengths, and to value and embrace others. We need to help our students see that they have ownership over their own joy. They can’t leave it in others’ hands. That’s learning to advocate for yourself.

​How will I make sure my students experience joy when they enter the building and my classroom each day? ~ Dr. Joy

Click here to listen to Dr. Joy talk about joy work as a tool for taking action toward equity.

LEARNING ACTIVITY: Start a Conversation about Joy

Does your school or team need a boost of joy? Do your education colleagues need to be reminded that they can step into joy even in challenging circumstances?

Share the following quotes with a group of educators. Ask individuals to choose a quote that resonates with them and discuss with a partner. Debrief as a group by brainstorming ways to claim and share joy in our work as educators on a daily basis.

We need joy as we need air. We need love as we need water. We need each other as the earth we share. (Dr. Maya Angelou)

Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day. (Henri J.M Nouwen)

Don’t be so preoccupied with what is happening around you. Pay more attention to what is going on within you. (Mary Frances-Winters)

You will find joy in overcoming challenges. (Helen Keller)

Joy is a decision, a really brave one, about how you are going to respond to life. (Wes Stafford)

Every quality of a good educator multiplies with joy. And every school is a better place as the people there learn to be joyful together. (Dr. David Geurin)

Joy work is life work. (Dr. Joy)

Dr. Joy tells us that choosing joy is a powerful and effective way of navigating challenges and combatting negative emotions such as anger, fear, discouragement, depression, and hurt. Choosing joy requires ongoing work but, like all mindset work, it becomes easier with practice. The book Joy Works is a quick and uplifting read and a valuable source of practical ideas for creating and sharing joy in the important work we do as educators. As we ended our conversation, Dr. Joy offered this closing advice:

If you don’t give joy work a chance, you don’t know what’s inside of you. Don’t be afraid to be happy in what you do. You can find your purpose right where you are.


Over the next few days, complete the following prompts. Take time to capture the joy around you. Consider if you have missed opportunities to acknowledge the joy in your role.

  • I felt so satisfied when…

  • …really makes me smile

  • I have been inspired and motivated by…

  • I couldn’t believe how good it felt to… (Dr. Joy, p. 28-29)

With all of the challenges that exist in our education system, it takes work for us to sustain our joy as educators. Without some type of intentional work, we cannot fulfill our roles or serve joyfully.

~ Dr. Joy

Connect with Dr. Joy on Twitter @joyworkedu and on her website JOY WORK EDU.

November is a time of year when we’re reminded of the importance of gratitude. Dr. Joy says, “Gratitude is a skill that, once practiced, will over time boost every area of your life; it is the master key to unlocking joy in your role.” (p. 75)

Together with your team or on your own, read the blog post Capturing Confetti: 4 Ways to Growing a Culture of Gratitude in Your School or Organization. Decide on one or more routines you will use this month to relish and share the power of gratitude.


Dr. Joy, (2022). Joy works: 8 lessons for educators. Alexandria, VA: EduMatch.

Sue Chapman is a professional learning consultant and author of MathVentures: 33 Teacher-Coach Investigations to Grow Students as Mathematicians. Learn more about her at and connect with her on Twitter at @SueChapmanLearn.

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