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Newsletter: Fall 2023

Spark Joy in Teaching

Issue 1, Fall 2023

Colorful image depicting the text "Spark Joy in Teaching" surrounded by sparkles, suns, hearts, and other joyful images.

Does your classroom spark joy?

If you feel burned out from the endless demands of teaching, pivoting to emergency remote instruction and back again, navigating a new landscape of student motivation, philosophizing the use of generative AI, and needing to cover more and more content, then this newsletter is for you.  


Here’s an antidote: spark more joy in your classrooms. What would that look like? How would it transform your experience with teaching? Would it alleviate the pressure? Would it help engage your students? Would it be more fun? Research shows joy can help heal trauma, advance equity, build community, and rekindle a spirit of authentic knowledge exchange.  


Lest you fear we are suggesting you abandon ‘rigor,’ let us reassure you we simply suggest a way of reframing rigor to making learning less about endurance and more about discovery. After all, joy is more than momentary happiness or pleasure. It encompasses all the complexity of life--such as grief, pain, and ambiguity as well as excitement, peace, and healing--and is about finding a place of wholeness therein. Essayist Ross Gay “has a hunch that joy, emerging from our common sorrow—which does not necessarily mean we have the same sorrow, but that we, in common, sorrow—might draw us together. It might depolarize us and de-atomize us enough that we can consider what, in common, we love... studying that might help us survive” (Inciting Joy, 2022, p. 10). As such, it connects with hope—something our students (and some of us teachers) are thirsting for now, more than ever.  

The good news is that joy is a ‘renewable resource,’ a part of all of us, waiting to be activated! Let us, then, discover ways to prioritize and energize pedagogical joy and reap the benefits it brings.  

Welcome to the inaugural Teaching Commons newsletter! We’re here to help promote joy-informed pedagogy as a critical component of the UC Merced educational promise. However, YOU (and your own well-being) are an essential partner in this work!  What sparks joy for you? Share your story with us! We would be thrilled to feature you in an upcoming issue.  


Upcoming Events

Banner image for Teaching Open House depicting the classroom and office building at UC Merced, the beginnings statue, and a classroom. The text "oberve to learn" is in the top right corner.

Teaching Open House

Monday, November 27 &

Thursday, November 30

Conversation Salon in KL 316

All UC Merced faculty are invited to our second faculty observation event. Join a class to observe great teaching. After class, faculty attendees will discuss pedagogy in our conversation salon over coffee, tea, and pastries. Enjoy observing and learning from your colleagues!  

Register to Observe!

Banner image for Teaching Open House depicting the classroom and office building at UC Merced, the beginnings statue, and a classroom. The text "oberve to learn" is in the top right corner.

Joy 'Jam Session'

Virtual Discussion

Friday, December 1

Log On from 12:00–1:00 PM 

To celebrate our new theme, the Center for Engaged Teaching & Learning will be hosting monthly virtual drop-in sessions dedicated to exploring opportunities for joy and uplifting teaching and learning experiences. 

Register for Zoom Link

Banner image depicting the text "Lunch and Learn" followed by

Faculty Lunch & Learn

12:00–1:00 PM in KL 316

Wednesday, December 6

Meet casually and discuss pedagogy in an informal setting. Pedagogical consultants from the Teaching Commons will be available to provide "Just-In-Time" tips and feedback on pedagogical discussions. Come lunch and chat teaching with us!





Banner image for Teaching Open House depicting the classroom and office building at UC Merced, the beginnings statue, and a classroom. The text "oberve to learn" is in the top right corner.

Teaching Commons Grand Opening

Wednesday, December 13

11:00 AM –1:00 PM (drop in, anytime)

You are invited to be a part of the Grand Opening of the Teaching Commons, a floor dedicated to instructional support. Come drop by for food and tour the One Button Studio, Learning Glass technology space, the faculty ideation lounge, and meet your instructional support team. WELCOME! 



Joyful Teaching Tips


Spark joy by decluttering your curriculum.

If you feel overwhelmed by content coverage, try doing more with less. Inspired by Marie Kondo's exploration of the Japanese concept of kurashi, or “way of life,” we encourage you to focus on those essentials that activate curiosity, deepen learning, and inspire meaning-making. Toss out strategies that no longer serve you or your students! 


Connecting content to AWE inspires joy!

We feel awe in the presence of something vast and bigger than ourselves. As such, it is an antidote to narcissism and the foundation of human community. When we connect our course content to awe (e.g., asking big questions, telling amazing stories, teaching outdoors, etc.), even as a simple reflection on a single class day, we can inspire joy and gratitude on a deeper level.  


Discover what sparks joy from student feedback.

Consider having your classroom observed to collect data by Students Assessing Teaching and Learning (SATAL) program. You will discover meaningful teaching practices that are supporting your students and recognize areas to declutter and focus on meaningful experiences! 


Use templates to create simple, beautiful, and accessible CatCourses pages. 

Spark joy in your students by creating CatCourses they can easily navigate. To find templates, head to the Commons in CatCourses and search for "Starter and Power Templates" by Sushma Jolly. Import the module template and customize for your course!


Uplifting Faculty Stories


Rudy Ortiz: Finding Joy by Letting Go

After participating in the Mobile Institute for Scientific Teaching this past summer (facilitated by UC Merced Teaching Professor Marcos García-Ojeda, UCSD Teaching Professor Stanley Lo, and CETL's Jackie Shay), Professor Rudy Ortiz decided to reshape his Human Physiology course by removing exams, including more group work, and creating deeper student engagement during his lectures. Here is what Rudy shared about his pedagogy mindset:


"I am enjoying teaching for the first time in a long time! The students are doing more in class and it has been fun, and the students are more engaged. Now, I look forward to teaching!" 


To observe, Rudy's course, attend Teaching Open House! Rudy is one of our hosts! 


Articles that Spark Joy


How to Nurture Your Joy in Teaching

Teachers can find enjoyment at work without ignoring real challenges, and doing so may help them and their students continue to learn and grow.


Read article

Gen Z Students holding images of technology symbols

From Antagonist to Protagonist: Shifting the Stories to Support Gen Z Students

This article offers a more complex and compassionate view of Gen Z students and suggests some pedagogical strategies that can promote mutual flourishing.

Read article

Infusing Joy into the University Classroom

There are many opportunities to spark joy in your classrooms. This article explores the rationale for joy in higher education and provides various examples of how to implement joy in pedagogy.

Read article


A Final Note

Along with being a positive feeling, joy can promote an embodied learning experience. A great way to tap into the feeling is through music. So, here’s a playlist to get you started! 


We are here to help! 

The Teaching Commons is a collective of pedagogy and technology specialists from the Center for Engaged Teaching and Learning (CETL) and Academic Emerging Technologies (AET). We are here to support you in your instructional needs. 


Connect with us anytime!


Book a Consultation!

In joyful solidarity,

The Teaching Commons Team

Eileen Camfield

Interim Director



Rachel Bellofatto

Director AET



Jackie Shay


Associate Director


Sushma Jolly


Senior Instructional Designer AET

Joan Holmquist

Senior Instructional Designer AET


Adriana Signorini

SATAL Program Coordinator CETL


Ramsin Tamraz


Instructional Video Coordinator AET


Alex Hernandez


Service Delivery Manager


James Cha



Learning Technologies Manager




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