Dear IMS Community,
This week, we have begun new faculty orientation, and are thrilled to welcome new colleagues to IMS. We also eagerly anticipate our students’ return to campus, bringing with them the exuberant energy that we miss during the summer months. One of the gifts of the “school calendar” is the opportunity to start anew each September. Summer months provide opportunities for rest, but also reflection and a time to prepare for and think about the focus of each new year.
On a walk this summer, a friend mentioned something she had seen on social media about a college summer league baseball team called the “Savannah Bananas.” This team has been widely covered by major media outlets (not to mention their millions of followers on TikTok), so you may have heard of them already. My interest in this team was immediately piqued, so I looked into the stories about the creation and success of this team and franchise. To make a long story short, the mission of this organization is to “make baseball fun.” The owners took a struggling franchise, rebuilt and rebranded, and now sell-out every game, and dominate their league. The Savannah Bananas have built a community around baseball that encourages play, increases emotional investment, helps their players to improve at their sport, and makes people feel connected. In one news article the team’s owner commented, “When you have fun, you play better.” One player notes in the same story, “It’s [also] about belonging and being part of something.”
I recently finished The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World. This book focuses on a series of conversations between the Dalai Lama and the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu. I was instantly drawn to the book as it is described as “an invitation to more joy and happiness.” The authors emphasize that it is a focus on others that makes us healthier and more joyful. They also share research on joy and its connection to our wellbeing: “The factors that psychologist Sonja Lyumbomirsky has found to have the greatest influence on our happiness…our perspective toward life…Our capacity to experience gratitude, and our choice to be kind and generous…” As I read, I reflected on our school and the ways in which we inspire joy, deep learning, intellectual engagement, wellness, and a focus on our community. Supported by research, our school motto of “Life Through Service” — encouraging members of our community to think about the “we” before the “me” — also appears to be better for our mental health, feelings of connectedness, and our ability to experience deep joy.
In the latest spring/summer edition of the Magazine of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, I was likewise drawn to an article titled, “A Space for Joy: Educators talk about the impact COVID has had on school happiness.” In the article, research from the Neuroscience of Joyful Education was cited: “The truth is that when we scrub joy and comfort from the classroom, we distance our students from effective information processing and long-term memory storage.” They went further to explain, “Neuroimaging studies and measurement of brain chemical transmitters reveal that ‘when students are engaged and motivated and feel minimal stress, information flows freely through the affective filter in the amygdala and they achieve higher levels of cognition, make connections, and experience aha moments. Such learning comes not from quiet classrooms and directed lectures, but from classrooms with an atmosphere of exuberant discovery.”
These three examples of joy have left me with great enthusiasm for the year ahead. And, as we return to school, we will redouble efforts to ensure that IMS is a playful, joyful place to learn. We know that creating these conditions for learning and community-building are most effective for supporting the health, wellness, and development of our young people. IMS has a long tradition of focusing on the joys of childhood and embracing the power of play. We want our students to eagerly come to school each day, to learn in a community that encourages and celebrates their unique perspectives and backgrounds, and that understands that fun and learning are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they depend on each other.
As we re-enter school this year, with less of an intense focus on Covid-19, we are ready to turn our attention to celebrating our School’s 100th year and the opening of some spectacular new facilities. There will be ample opportunities to come together as a community. We cannot wait to greet new colleagues, students, and their families with optimism and enthusiasm for all that lies ahead.
Joyfully and with gratitude,
Jody Reilly Soja