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BELLTONES: Can We Be Purveyors of Delight?

By Mary Ann Bell - Posted Sep 1, 2015
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During  spring 2015, I was fortunate to attend an Information Today, Inc. conference, this time Computers in Libraries in Washington, D.C. I always know these gatherings will provide top-notch presenters and yield new ideas and skills. One thing that stood out was the fact that in both of the first two keynotes, speakers stressed the need for us to bring delight to our patrons.It is a point well taken that along with more traditional services, librarians should be providing experiences that bring joy and delight to their users. This got me thinking that the same is true for those of us who work in schools. We need to be seeking ways to bring joy, delight, and good old-fashioned fun to our students and colleagues. However, this becomes very challenging in some schools and districts where tests and test preparation are the be-all and the end-all.I decided to turn to educators on the front lines, members of two internet message boards, LM_NET (Librarians and Media Specialists’ Network) and TLC (Texas Library Connection) to ask about the possibility of bringing delight and joy to their jobs. Even though I posted my query very late in the school year, when people were swamped with other obligations, I was met with a deluge of responses. About a third of the messages were predominantly discouraging, something I had feared. But the remaining two-thirds were upbeat and replete with great stories and ideas. I decided to post the positive offerings verbatim and to share them via a Google Doc, available at this link:

When There is No Joy ...

While my main purpose in this article is to share the positive ideas and stories, I do feel I owe it to those respondents who are having very trying times these days to share their frustrations. Without a doubt, there are factors that rob educators of the joy they once had in their jobs. Over-the-top testing and test preparation weigh heavy on many school families, affecting faculty, support staff, students, and all those involved with these schools. Other issues are behind the mounting pressure and in many ways go hand and hand with the testing. One in particular is cuts in funding and resulting cuts in positions. This adds stress and strife at all levels. Rigid adherence to scripted teaching, to Common Core, and to the tests can stifle pleasure at all levels.

It is an ongoing concern of mine that we hear a great deal from the far right about “failing schools” and “bad teachers” when in truth these claims are false. The other huge factor in a school climate is the building principal. This has always been true. I found it so way back in the 1970s, long before testing and budget cuts reigned supreme. Almost every response where the writer described a joyless school with no means of sharing positive experiences also described a principal who made it difficult, if not impossible, to transmit delight. What is one to do in such an environment?

All I know to say is this: First, try to be a little subversive and see if you can sneak in some positivity, starting with small steps and increasing, if possible. Beyond that, I do know sometimes parents can make themselves heard when teachers cannot. If concerned parents will express displeasure about the joyless climate, it might cause the principal to loosen up a bit. Finally, although I know often this is not an option, leaving a position may be worth it even if this calls for a longer commute or cut in pay. In my case long ago, I was able to quit at the end of my unhappy school year.

A Positive School Environment

One element essential to a positive school environment is the mindset of individuals. A former student of mine wrote, “I leave my problems at home.” Several others said, “I am an optimist by nature,” or, “I am ‘a glass half-full’ person.” While I am fully aware that stopping with this as a recipe for successis oversimplifying matters, it is still worth noting. Personally, my resolution for the coming school year is to inject more joy, delight, and just plain fun into my teaching. I want students to say at the end of the term that they had fun in my classes. Again, this is so important for administrators. A principal who shares good will can have a huge impact on every member of a school family.


A Tech Connection

Since this journal concentrates on using technology in education, I included a specific question about that in my listserv query. Here are some of the ideas that were shared:

  • For starters, if your school does not already allow students to use their own handheld devices or provide devices, it is time to campaign for change.
  •  One of the first responses I received happened to share one of my favorite ideas for spreading joy using technology. I think this could be done at any level and in just about any setting. This was shared by Alison, a school librarian at a primary school:

I don’t have teacher reactions yet, but before your email gets lost among all the rest I want to write to you about a project that I am doing right now with my Kindergarten and First grade students - answering your question #3. I’m the library media specialist at a primary building with approximately 400 students. We are creating thank you videos for the classroom teachers as end of year gifts. The LMS at the intermediate elementary school in my district made podcasts of her students saying what they love about their teacher with some nice intro/exit music and the response from teachers was extremely positive. I’ve been wanting to try out some stop action filming with my kiddos so I built on her idea.

Can you imagine receiving such a gift at the end of your school year? There is joy in the making, in the giving, and in the receiving. What a wonderful project!

  • Many respondents mentioned the value of having devices accessible for student use. In some cases, these were BYOD, and, in others, the school provided them. The universal advantage shared was allowing students to use devices with apps and activities that they enjoyed which allowed them to be creative rather than just doing drill work.
  • Other devices were mentioned beyond hand-held, and one that received several comments was the smart board. I personally have loved using the boards with students of all ages since the late 1990s. The key is to allow the kids to be at the board rather than the teacher/librarian using it as a presentation device. 
  • One librarian who, like many, has to divide time between more than one school, has read stories to kids via Google Hangouts.
  • Another respondent described how her beloved principal had fun with JibJab, sending out funny messages to teachers or posting them school-wide via internal TV broadcasting.
  • Years ago I took part in BookCrossing ( for personal book sharing, and remembered this because of a suggestion to do the activity within a school or schools. She used donated books that were in good condition and called the activity Drop the Rock. She would leave books in various classrooms, and students could then read or carry the books to other locations in the school. There was a website where they could share comments, just as in BookCrossing. There are other sharing sites including readergirlz, for teens (
  • Where permitted, and we must keep pressing for reasonable online access, having a presence via Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc., is a great way to connect with kids both at schools and at home. I heard from someone at Apex Elementary School ( in North Carolina, where the Twitter feed is featured prominently on its school page. I continue to hope that showing reluctant administrators how social sites are being used successfully at other schools will help loosen 
    draconian filters.
  • There are more apps to use with students than can be shared here, with new ones appearing continuously. Here are some you might want to look up, and there are more at the Google Doc previously shared: Tellagami, JibJab, Voki, Stack the States (social studies), bookabi,  Book Creator, Educreations, Grammar Jammers, Super WHY!, and Do Ink (like iMovie).
  • Someone mentioned, “Anything by Leslie Fisher,” who describes herself thus:  “You have stumbled onto the website of Leslie Fisher. Providing informative educational presentations for K-20 and Digital Photography. I am also somewhat certifiably wacky (in the nonharmful fun sense).”
  • Makerspaces are popular in libraries and classrooms and can be technology-oriented or centered on other activities.  I think a combination is ideal, and there are many articles and websites where information is shared. One other option, which may be helpful to librarians who are traveling between schools, is to have an online-shared makerspace One lucky person described with enthusiasm the value of a 3D printer.
  • Another popular activity to engage students and teachers as well as librarians is Skype sessions with authors.

And Beyond Tech ...

While using devices, apps, and social networking can do great things to provide joy at school, there are many other elements we can bring to the table that have been around for many years and do not depend on computers. I know I am repeating myself, but heartfelt messages from educators fortunate enough to be in schools with positive, supportive principals made the influence of a dynamic administrator very clear. One person described a principal who was willing to do “almost anything” to promote reading, including being duct-taped to a wall. Two others shared school-wide initiatives. One was built upon the content of Dean Shareski’s TED talk about teaching with joy (;search%3Atag%3A%22tedxwestvancouvered%22). The other was based on a model for a positive school environment called the FISH philosophy of Pike Place Market:  Be There; Make Their Day; Choose Your Attitude; Play! Staging programming events such as Dr. Seuss Day, etc., continue to bring delight to young readers and their teachers. 

The range of ideas and activities is limited only by one’s imagination. I did my student teaching many years ago at a junior high school with a teacher known to be tough but fair. She was also much loved by her students, and I still remember words of wisdom from her. One statement was, “Your students may look like they are nearly adults but they are still children in many ways. They need to have a little fun now and then.” The other was, “If you treat your students with respect, you will get it back from them.” I’ve told her before how much she means to me, but here’s a shout-out to you, Mrs. R. O. Fadal of Waco, Texas. In today’s regimented schools with so much pressure from those who would have us turn schools into fact factories where kids are spoon fed information that can then be regurgitated via standardized tests, it is challenging to find delight. Teachers and students alike deserve respect, and we all need to find ways to lighten up and share delightful learning experiences. It’s up to us. We are the professionals and the grownups. If we have to be a bit subversive, so be it. Here’s wishing a joyful 2015–2016 school year to all readers!


I am heartened to discover that there is a great deal of interest in the topic of my article, and I have been able to locate some excellent resources for additional inspiration.

Bell, Mary Ann. “Can We Be Purveyors of Delight?” ( This is a verbatim listing of responses to questions described in this article and asked of members of Texas Library Connection and Library Media Network members.

Denning, Steve. “Do We Need Libraries?” (Forbes, April 28, 2015; This is an article by the second keynoter at Computers in Libraries to talk about the need for us to provide delight in order to remain relevant and vital to patrons today.

Fisher, Leslie ( Leslie Fisher is a longtime leader in educational technology, now a sought-after speaker and consultant. There are some great ideas at her website as well as information about how to book her as a speaker.

Hawkins, Don. “Creating a New Nostalgia” ( This is a blog posting about the keynote presentation that got me thinking about joy and delight in schools and libraries in the first place.

Principals Caught Up in FISH! Philosophy” (Education World; This article gives a great overview of the FISH! Philosophy and how it is finding growing success and popularity in schools. Additional resources are included.

Shelton-Colangelo, Sharon, Carolina Mancuso, Mimi Duvall, eds., Teaching With Joy. (Rowman and Littlefield: 2007). This collection of essays offers numerous practices for teaching with joy and delight. Ideas range from practical to spiritual and ethical. This book should be available in any university library and will make an excellent addition to a school’s professional collection.

Starr, Rebecca. “Delightful Programs: Takeaways From Computers in Libraries 2015”. ( This is a blog entry about the second keynote presentation at Computers in Libraries to speak about delight and solidify my desire to research and write about the topic.

Hensley, Pat. “11 Ways to Bring Joy Into the Classroom,” ( This article references Steven Wolk’s 2008 Educational Leadership article “Joy in School” 2008 and gives some excellent starting tips for injecting more joy into the classroom. Many can be applied even in schools where curriculum is more closely regimented.


Contact Mary Ann at

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