Joy Matters

Call it the five second rule.

That is how long it takes for an experienced educator to walk into a classroom and to know if there is authentic learning happening.

They don't need to see the curriculum. They don't need to see the test scores. They know it by the eyes. Of the students. Of the teacher.

The sparkle. That mysterious thing called joy.

Real learning is joyful. And they know it. And you cannot fake it.

Hard learning. Deep learning. Real learning.

As educators from around the state and, indeed, from around the world, came to visit Dayton, they immediately knew that what was happening there was truly a profound transformation of a learning culture.

They walked into the building and they could immediately feel the joy.

Brené Brown talks about how joy is our most vulnerable emotion. And she is right.

In joy, we are in our most egoless, unprotected state. It seems to flows through us. We feel it, we are vitalized by it. But we really don't understand it. Yet it is real.

Once Jami recognized the importance of joy, that became what she looked for and judged success by. When she walked into a classroom, did she see it? If not, she would ask, why not?

By courageously naming and claiming joy, she empowered her staff and the students to do the same.

One evening, with beers in our hands, we were reflecting on this journey. At the table with us was Ward Cunningham, one of the original signers of the Agile Manifesto.

We were exploring parallels between the experiences in Dayton with the experiences that he and Kent Beck had when they were working together back in the mid-nineties. Experiences that led to the development of Extreme Programming (XP) and, ultimately, to the launch of the Agile movement.

What was that shared experience that bound together different worlds and different times? And then Jami hit on it: “The Joyful Sandbox”. I looked over at Ward and his eyes beamed.

Yes, that is what he was experiencing with Kent as they experimented with pair programming using Smalltalk, Alan Kay's radically new software language that was designed to usher in a new way of thinking and creating with computers. That experience which became the catalyst for a profound transformation in the software industry and beyond.

And that was what was happening in the classrooms at Dayton.

Joy made real, made matter.