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Start With Joy: Book Review and Giveaway

It could be that Katie Egan Cunningham’s book, Start With Joy, hooked me from the start because she begins with an exchange between Christopher Robin and Pooh. You might know the one. It’s when Christopher Robin asks Pooh to promise never to forget him. And then, Katie asks us to think about what we really want for our students. What do you really want for your students? She names and validates the learning and thinking goals, but she also nudges at the importance of sustained happiness. 

Start With Joy is set up in three parts: Happiness Pillars, Invitations, and Appendices. In the first part, we learn about Katie’s seven pillars for joy, always from the lens of literacy instruction. Because she names these pillars– connection, choice, challenge, play, story, discovery, and movement– it’s easier for readers to follow and relate to the types of activities and ideas within them. Furthermore, Katie is a self-described designer, and each chapter in Part 1 ends with “Design for ______.” (Fill in the pillar!) This recurring text feature gives readers specific and doable tasks and strategies for building that pillar in their own classrooms. Concept, research, unpacking of ideas, and specific strategies for implementation…how great is that!

I have many favorite parts of this book, and one of them is within the pillar of challenge. “The only competition students should be in, especially in a literacy environment, is with themselves (80).” With an emphasis on a strength-based approach, Katie suggests monthly guiding questions, and if I had a classroom of my own, there is no doubt, I’d use these or create ones like them! Here’s a sampling:

  • September: What is a strength of mine you cannot see?
  • January: What is a new strength I hope to have this year?
  • April: When something is hard, how do I try again?

She offers questions for each month, and reminds readers that that “one of our challenges as educators is to shift their thinking about strength to something that comes from within and that is the result of effort rather than a false sense of natural ability (81).” I love that Katie uses research, and she does throughout the book. She also provides practical ways for the research to impact students in classrooms. 

Another favorite part of this book for me are Katie’s reflections around the pillar of discovery. “When children are positioned as ambassadors of their own learning, they feel trusted to try, ask for help when they need it, and extend their learning beyond the page and into the world (122).” I think about many “cycles” in my educational work– the writing cycle, inquiry cycle, research cycle… but Katie’s idea of an action cycle was new thinking for me. I think we all should think more about how we empower students to take action and teach them to reflect on the results. 

Part 2 of Start With Joy digs further into the realm of practicality with specific workshop-oriented lessons that teachers can use as is or tailor for their own classrooms. With connections to many different texts and picture books, these lessons will enhance reading and writing units as they emphasize habits of mind such as knowing and appreciating ourselves, paying attention to the world, asking important questions, and listening. While I first read them with the lens of the beginning of the year, I envision many of these lessons intertwining with units throughout the entire year. 

As with any great lesson, Katie leaves us with Part 3, a series of appendices designed to get readers to do some of this work themselves. How do I plan a lesson designed to prioritize happiness? She leaves us with tools and templates. What are some conversation prompts, story frames, and journaling prompts? Those are in Part 3, as well. 

Even if you don’t win the copy of Start With Joy as a giveaway from us, I hope you will consider adding it to your collection of professional books. Students face so many pressures and challenges in their daily lives, both in and out of school. Ultimately, we want them to learn, for sure, but we also want them to find joy in the process. This book not only reminds us of the importance of happiness, it also provides ways to design for joy.

GIVEAWAY INFORMATION:

  • This giveaway is for a copy of Start With Joy by Katie Egan Cunningham.  Many thanks to Stenhouse for donating a copy for one reader.
  • For a chance to win this copy of Start With Joy, please leave a comment about this post by Tuesday, March 3 at 11:59 p.m. EDT. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winner, whose names I will announce at the bottom of this post, by Thursday, March 5. You must have a U.S. mailing address to enter the giveaway.
  • Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. From there, my contact at Stenhouse will ship your book out to you.  (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
  • If you are the winner of the book, I will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – START WITH JOY. Please respond to my e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.

Melanie Meehan View All

I am the Writing and Social Studies Coordinator in Simsbury, CT, and I love what I do. I get to write and inspire others to write! Additionally, I am the mom to four fabulous daughters and the wife of a great husband.

80 thoughts on “Start With Joy: Book Review and Giveaway Leave a comment

  1. What a creative idea-teachers need to start with joy and continue to implement happiness in their classrooms! I’m looking forward to reading and using some of these ideas.

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  2. A friend told me about this book, and I’ve been meaning to
    follow up on the suggestion. Now I want to do so, even sooner. Winning it would be the frosting on the cake. Thank you for the review and the opportunity.

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  3. Joy seems to be a low levels in lots of classrooms. A colleague and I were just talking about this. Thanks for this timely post about a book we seem to need!

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  4. I had not heard of this book before your post but am enticed by the focus on student-powered learning. It is not easy to support the shift to students taking control of their own learning, internalizing their strengths and discovering their own path toward progress. Any support, especially one based in JOY, is helpful. I will add this book to my list. Thank you.

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  5. This has been on my list of books to buy for a while now, but your details about specific information shared in the book have bumped it up to a higher priority. You’ve certainly convinced me that it’s a must-read. Thanks for the convincing recommendation!

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  6. I love that this book gets teachers to reflect back on the joy they want to cultivate in their students and classrooms. So much of the PD I’m asked to provide for my teachers is focused on instruction, data, and strategies, I fear the focus on joy is missing.

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  7. Anything with the word, Joy in it, for me is a must read. We are constantly trying to find ways to bring more Joy into our school and classroom, this would be a step in the right direction. Thank you for the opportunity to add this book to my shelf. (Of course after I read it first. 🙂 )

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  8. I’m adding this to my TBR list. I was especially taken by your quote from the book about how students should only be in competition with themselves.

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  9. I have been working on what brings us “JOY” in the classroom and in our lives this year. We selected our words, shared them and some even asked for help to make the words attainable. Having a choice is huge for us. I am always telling them to do what brings them happiness, what brings them joy. It looks like this book will give me and my students the opportunity to explore that more.
    Thanks for the review and for recommending a title to add to my TBR list.

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  10. How this book echoes my own teaching philosophy – helping students do what they thought could not be done. Finding joy in the work – as well as challenge, and strength – is the very foundation of successful learning. And living.

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  11. You are the second person to recommend this book to me so it’s finding it’s way to my bedside, to my coaching bag, to my friends is inevitable. I skimmed in a meeting a few weeks ago, drawn to a title that includes Joy. We seem to discuss joy and lack there of in staff meetings, in coaching meetings, in professional development. Own the time to act in consciously bringing joy to our work, to our days, to our purpose.

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  12. In a time when the rigor of instruction continues to increase for our little learners, the “fun” and “joy” in teaching and learning seems to be slipping away. This book seems like it is a great step back to again embracing what we are losing. Thanks for the blog.

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  13. My one little word this year is joy! Therefore, I am so excited to read this book. If we don’t find joy in the little successes each day, then what makes you come back tomorrow? It can be a simple phrase such as, “I know where your room is. May I stop by?” As I respond, “YES!” I will welcome you always!

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  14. I love this! I want to use this at home with my own children. Do you think these ideas could be modified and adopted for the college classroom? In particular, I am thinking of a curriculum designed for the developmental readers and writers who need remedial classes at the community college where I teach.

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  15. This is such a needed text at this time in education! Intentionally adding elements of joy to our students’ lives in the classroom will add joy to our classroom days as well!

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  16. Thinking about the many students that come to school angry or mad all the time due to their outside of school environment…this would be a great read with strategies to create a community of learners with joy.

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  17. In an age where teachers are being in so many different directions (aka initiatives!), this sounds like a book that teachers and schools could use to focus their work. What a great measuring stick for all decisions that involve our students!

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  18. What a neat book. I haven’t read it, nor heard of it, but it sounds like a great read. So many of our students in our elementary do not love learning, but it would be great to be able to instill that in them through my teaching. It would be great to share with my colleagues as well!

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  19. A classroom filled with joy is a learning space I would like to create. I have no doubt that kids who are happy learning, will learn more!

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  20. This is the book I need right now. As a teacher and a coach. There is no doubt in my mind that some of the most incredible learning happens in joyful spaces. How great that there is now a book with lots of thinking and suggestions and strategies for being intentional in cultivating joy in our classrooms and with the students we teach. And I am so excited to add it to my collection.

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  21. My motto is elevate joy. This book is one I am over the moon with excitement to read. Why didn’t I write this?!?!? Thank you, as always, for sharing valuable information with the community.

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  22. I would LOVE a copy of this book to read, as I am a literacy coach who loves to share joy. thank you for the book rec – sounds like an amazing book.

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    • Thank you for this book review. This book has been popping up in many places and I think your review is my final call that I need to read it and pass it on to my staff. It also made me think of my middle son’s teacher and the way she communicates with her 4th grade class about their work – writing and other subjects. Her positive feedback about effort and comments to his thought on where he is with the material allows me to also follow up. I have wished all teachers would have the skills she does. I think this book could have the needed methods for other teachers to understand what she does. Thanks again!

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  23. This book sounds perfect for where we are in my school! We need to bring the joy back in learning. Even if I don’t win the copy, it’s on my TBR list! Thank you for sharing!

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  24. I love the concept of this book, and especially love the fact that Pooh and Piglet are brought in early on. I would love to learn more about her process, pillars, and workshop lessons. Thank you for this contest, and the chance to win.

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  25. This is what is missing in so many schools. We’ve lost out way. We’ve lost our joy, and as a result our students have too. I’d love to win this book.

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  26. How refreshing! In this stay on schedule world we work in, it would be nice to consider some of the ideas presented in this book! Thank you for the chance to win it!

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  27. This would be a lovely addition to my professional library! Perhaps it would even add to teacher happiness!!!! thanks for the chance to win.

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