We recently sat down to talk with Katie Egan Cunningham about her new book coming in September, Start with Joy. Find out why she wrote it and how it can help you bring joy into your literacy instruction.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your background and what you do professionally?
A: I'm a teacher of teachers. I’m an associate professor at Manhattanville College in the literacy and English education department.
Right out of college, I was an assistant teacher with fifth graders at an all-girls school. Then I was a fourth-grade teacher at an international school in New York City with kids from all over the world.
Then I taught for six years in an all-boys school, which was hugely valuable given that I have never been a boy! I think that boys are wildly misunderstood in school. It gave me time to understand that, and consider the social, emotional, physical needs of all kids.
Q: Tell us about your new book, Start with Joy.
A: I spent nine months last year digging into the science of happiness and reading as much as I could, thinking about why we are not yet applying the science of happiness to elementary and middle school students. So from all of my research, I distilled seven pillars that I thought were really concrete, evidence-based, simple ideas for teachers to hold onto while thinking about their planning and their teaching. If you're attending to at least some of those pillars, then you know that you're intentionally starting with joy. If you know that you struggle with some of those pillars, the book serves as a guide for how to help you strengthen that.
Start with Joy is a guide to help teachers bridge what we know about social and emotional learning with literacy learning. Every school year, every day, every period of the day in school needs to start somewhere. So if you start from a place of joy, both in terms of your mindset and the ways you're thinking about the student experience, then students will be happier and teachers will be happier in the process.
Q: What inspired you to write Start with Joy?
A: I am somebody who believes that the purpose of school is not just academic learning but it's to learn how to have a happy life. And if school is not supporting students with those strategies, this book could help.
It's a call-to-action for teachers of all levels to recognize that we can't wait to support children because their school experience inoculates them from anxiety, depression, addiction. Childhood goes quickly, and so we must start somewhere. I don't think we can wait until high school or college for kids to get strategies for building that happy life. Since what we read, write, talk about, and listen to has everything to do with making a happy life, language arts and literacy is the ideal block for supporting kids with these happiness ideas.
Q: How do see teachers using this book in their classrooms?
A: The idea with these seven pillars is that it could serve as a mental checklist, like the gradual release of responsibility—it becomes automatic for teachers if they've been doing it for a little while. It becomes a part of you.
I think each teacher will find the pillars that resonate with them the most and use them as inner checkpoints in themselves. The pillars draw on your strength. If your strength is connection, then make sure you lead your lesson with that, complimenting students that might need that. If your strength is being playful, then that's where you start. There are different ways in which you can start and reset in any given moment.
I hope that these seven pillars could become automatic for teachers. I think there are many teachers for whom these pillars are automatic already; it's just how they teach and live their lives. But for the teachers that might need some help, this book can do that.
Start the next school year off right by instilling happiness into your instruction and pre-order Katie’s book today. Start with Joy will be available in September.