Epiphanies that Cultivate Joy in Teaching

January 30, 2023

Livia Chan is an SFU Alumnus, author, blogger, and presenter with a passion for teaching, writing, community, leading with heart, and daily lifelong learning.

Since graduating from the Professional Development Program (PDP) 26 years ago, Livia has enjoyed her dual role as a Head Teacher and classroom teacher in Burnaby. Previously, she served on the District Staff Development Team in Learning Technologies supporting K-12 educators and presently serves as the Digital Content Coordinator for the Teach Better Team.

Visit Livia’s blog for teaching resources and inspiration and connect with her on Twitter at @LiviaChanL

Many discoveries and fond memories can be made in a quarter of a century! This January, I enjoyed reaching the milestone of teaching and building relationships in Burnaby schools for 25 years, and I would love to share a few epiphanies. 

Some say hindsight is 20/20. Looking back, my passion for teaching and learning was solidified 26 years ago in the Professional Development Program at SFU. The Faculty Associates (FAs) were instrumental in preparing me for the career I adore. They modelled and nurtured relationships and a strong sense of community on a daily basis. As a result, I adopted the same core values and began practicing them since my first day as a teacher in my own classroom. The value of relationships was so ingrained that I am blessed to be connected to students from my very first year of teaching. In 1998, they were in grade 2 and now are over 30 years old!  

Relationships are gifts and the key to teaching. The connection we have with ourselves, learners, and others make the biggest difference in our effectiveness as educators of the heart and mind. The richer the relationship and deeper the connection, the greater the impact. This leads to an incredibly safe, caring classroom community where we feel excited to return each day. I strived to replicate the feeling of belonging I had during my time at SFU.

The Importance of Relationships With Others and Yourself

“The three most important words in education are: relationships, relationships, relationships. Without them, we have nothing.”
- George Couros 

A couple years ago, my eyes opened to see the relationship with myself as an important one to develop and nurture. When I learned to better understand who I am, my strengths, core values, beliefs, how to have self-compassion and cultivate joy, my well-being improved exponentially. I was able to deal with adversity better because I could anchor into who I was. I became more in tune with what my body needed and intentionally found ways to bring more joy into my every day. For example, connecting, being kind to others, and feeling grateful are the most effective ways I increase happiness. When we take care of our own well-being, we have more love, patience, and discipline to meet the needs of ALL learners.

I belong to an incredibly supportive and inspirational network of educators from around the world, my PLN, that mostly stems from being a part of the Teach Better Team. The relationships we have cultivated are lifelong ones developed predominantly virtually. Gratefully, these connections led to numerous once unfathomable opportunities to strengthen my passion for sharing, writing, and speaking. My friendships fuel my desire for continual learning. We are truly better and stronger together.

Last year, I realized that if the basic building blocks of matter are atoms, then the basic building blocks of relationships are “atomic interactions”, a phrase I coined to mean every single interaction with others. Each interaction is an opportunity to intentionally uplift others through our love, kindness, and gratitude. How we make others feel has great potential to impact lives and make imprints on hearts too. Small acts over time can lead to transforming a life’s journey. Once I discovered the power of atomic interactions and seeing relationships as gifts, I experienced the joy-giving energy each warm interaction had on my effectiveness as a heart-led leader. 

Humans have a need to feel connected, loved, and they belong. Another epiphany was revealed when I made the most minute change in my teaching practice. Frequently telling and showing learners I love and appreciate them unexpectedly made the greatest impact, positively affecting classroom culture and how we mutually felt. I taught them how to sign “I love you” in ASL, so we express our love throughout each day and uplift ourselves when we uplift others.

The Importance of Lifelong Learning 

Being a reflective practitioner and a lifelong learner were two of SFU’s 10 program goals they wanted us to develop and that I still hold near and dear to my heart. Daily learning through reflection and being passionate about learning are at the essence of my effectiveness as a teacher. I enjoy the feeling of learning each day. I avidly read books and blogs, listen to podcasts, and reflect on experiences to become a better teacher. 

In the years since PDP, I’ve become more passionate about the work I am blessed to do because of continual personal and professional growth. The more I reflected and learned, the more my perspective expanded and evolved to see possibilities as opportunities, everyday things as gifts, the immense power of a professional learning network (PLN), and the true impact ONE teacher can make in a person’s life through relationships.

Cultivating Joy and Passion 

It is possible to cultivate joy, feel passionate about teaching and lifelong learning, and be in love with the gift of connection even in year 25. One of my favourite ways to gain positive energy is by being creative and making each day feel like an experience. When we have fun and enjoy each other’s company, the day brings such joy and fosters an infectious affection for teaching and learning. Making learning fun and engaging was another one of SFU’s goals I have held on to!

Learners feel significant when we genuinely love and believe in them. Visualize holding their heart in your cupped hands. If we fully understand our responsibility and power to improve a life’s trajectory, it makes our atomic interactions meaningful and purposeful. How will you help others feel loved, seen, valued, heard, and appreciated through your atomic interactions? 

Learn what brings you joy and cultivate it! 

My heart is full of sincerest gratitude to SFU’s PDP and to my FAs for nurturing a strong foundation in teaching and learning many years ago. My role as an educator continues to bring me much joy each day. I have such fond memories of my time in the program and am still friends with some of my fellow classmates. It would be an absolute honour and a privilege to return to SFU as an FA one day! It’s been on my bucket list since I finished the program!  In the meantime, I am thrilled to be working with my fourth student teacher from SFU starting today (January 30)!