Yesterday we set you up with a simple tool for reflecting on your past attempts to create a strong culture of learning in your school. Today, we offer the words of three experts in creating joyful, efficient classrooms. Take a few minutes to read the following excerpts and then a few more to plan for joy and efficiency in your learning space this year.

As you read keep this in mind: neither joy, nor efficiency, just happen on their own. Don’t leave these essential elements up to chance! Plan joy into the school day through routines – dance breaks, minute-to-win-it competitions, ten-second trivia challenges, etc. Develop efficiency by taking the time to plan and practice routines for entering classrooms, transitioning between groups, using and returning supplies.

From Eric Jensen, expert on infusing high poverty environments with joy:

“Kids either love learning or they don’t. They either like their teachers or they don’t. They either feel respected or they don’t. Ultimately, they’re either going to graduate or they won’t. Kids who leave school have good reasons to leave: they don’t feel liked, respected or emotionally connected to the school.  What was the common feature in all their decisions? Feelings!

I am NOT saying schools should be a “kum-ba-yah love fest.” What I’m saying is that you can have both: academic rigor and emotionally engaged students. Strong teachers do this ALL the time. How we feel is what’s real.  Take home message here is ‘Keep it real and keep the joy in kids. Sometimes you’re all they have.”

Kids take a wellness break between lesson segments! Image from

From a study on positive education programs by Martin Seligman:

Positive education is defined as education for both traditional skills and for happiness. The high prevalence worldwide of depression among young people, the small rise in life satisfaction, and the synergy between learning and positive emotion all argue that the skills for happiness should be taught in school. There is substantial evidence from well-controlled studies that skills that increase resilience, positive emotion, engagement and meaning can be taught to schoolchildren.

We conclude that well-being should be taught in school on three grounds: as an antidote to depression, as a vehicle for increasing life satisfaction, and as an aid to better learning and more creative thinking. Because most young people attend school, schools provide the opportunity to reach them and enhance their well-being on a wide scale.


Signature strengths lessons included interviewing family members to develop a ‘family tree’ of strengths, learning how to use strengths to overcome challenges, and developing a strength that was not among an individual’s top five. For the final strengths lesson, students identified campus leaders (students or teachers) whom they considered paragons of each strength. The process of identifying and developing strengths has given teachers and students a common language for discussing their lives.

After Signature Strengths, the next series of lessons for the 10th grade focused on building positive emotion. Students wrote gratitude letters to parents, learned how to savor good memories, how to overcome negativity bias, and how gratifying kindness is to the giver. The blessings journal, in which students nightly kept track of what went well (WWW) that day, is now a staple at GGS.


Doug Lemov, author of Teach Like a Champion, explains that, “People sometimes think ‘efficient’ is a dirty word when used to describe a classroom- as if the teacher was a corporate acolyte shooting for some questionable goal.  But really what being efficient means is being productive (more time spent doing the things that result in learning) and predictable (so kids know how things are supposed to work and can anticipate that and focus their cognition on learning content not adapting to shifting expectations).”

Principle: Efficient classrooms are productive and predictable, which maximizes time for intellectual work

Here are a sampling of techniques that Lemov suggests that teachers use as routines (as they appeared in this article by Jerry Webster, a special education specialist):

  • Technique 18: Check for Understanding This is an on your feet method of data collection, sort of a formative assessment on the run.
  • Technique 20: Exit ticket An exit ticket is a quick formative assessment of the lesson your students just finished.
  • Technique 30: Tight Transitions Transitions need to be scripted and rehearsed, so little time is wasted between instructional activities.
  • Technique 28: Entry Routine Having a structured entry routine expedites the beginning of instruction.
  • Technique 11: Draw the Map Drawing the map is controlling the environment by wisely grouping students through the seating chart.
  • Technique 15: Circulate Keep moving! Drawing the map suggests making room between the desks so the teacher move unhindered.