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Since deciding that my One Word for 2016 was going to be joy, I have had parts of a handful of posts floating around in my head. I think about joy a lot; which is likely why I chose it as my focus for the year ahead. That, and because I actually want to be thinking about it more. I think about what joy is, what it isn’t, how to find it and how to tune in so that we can truly experience it. It’s not as simple as you might think.

Let’s clear something up. Joy and fun are not the same thing. One might experience joy when one is having fun. Or maybe not. But simply having a good time and doing something that is fun is not automatically going to mean that you will experience joy.

I think people confuse these ideas a great deal. It’s a lot like the way people confuse the concepts of fairness and equality (read about my ideas on that if you are curious).

Fun is defined as “enjoyment, amusement, or lighthearted pleasure”. I think it is worth noting that some synonyms suggested are enjoyment, entertainment, amusement and pleasure. Not joy.

Joy is “a feeling of great pleasure and happiness”. And while there is overlap in the use of the word “pleasure” in these definitions, you should note that the various synonyms – delight, bliss, glee, elation, euphoria, rejoicing, exultation, happiness and exhilaration – make no mention of “fun” or “having fun”.

And yet, one of the things I hear A LOT as a school director surrounds the notion of having fun. In particular, because I run a supplemental (part-time) religious school, I have listened to many discussions over the years about finding ways to make school “fun” for students. I suppose the concept there is that if it is fun, kids will want to come and therefore, by some magical osmosis, if they want to be there AND they have fun when they are there, then, by default, they will learn. Ugh.

Students say, “This is boring, why can’t we just have fun?”

Parents ask, “What can you do to make religious school fun for my child?”

Teachers say, “I need ideas to make my lessons more fun.”

It’s a terrible cycle, actually. The kids complain so the parents do, too. Or worse, the parents bring their own baggage to the game (yup, we are a faith-based school after all) and recall that they didn’t have fun and assume (you know what they say about assuming, right?) that their kids won’t have fun, either. So we end up with teachers who figure that if they make their lessons more fun no one will complain. Again, ugh.

Here’s the thing folks. Fun isn’t joy.

And here is a revelation. I don’t really care if my students are having fun. (GASP!) I want my students to experience joy. I want my students to connect to something we do or discuss or argue about in a way that makes them feel elated, exhilarated and gleeful. I want them to have a moment (or many moments) that they experience in their whole bodies, in their souls and that sticks with them long after they have left my classroom.

It’s time to move away from fun. Let’s figure out what we can do to help our students experience joy.

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