What did Studying the Arts Mean For Your Education?

What did Studying the Arts Mean For Your Education?

The arts are critical to our foundational skills and understanding.

For National Arts in Education Week, we’ve asked members of our team at Kiddom what studying the arts meant to their education. Here’s what they said!

I always thought I was “bad” at all things artistic, and avoided taking art classes all through school. I only gained an appreciation for arts education after I began teaching high school, and met colleagues who supported our students’ sense of self-efficacy through hands-on art projects. During my years teaching at an alternative high school for over-aged, under-credited high school students coming from incarceration or transitional housing, I watched students who had struggled to find a voice at school blossom in art classes taught by a dear friend and colleague, Lisa Barnshaw. Students in her class learned that it was ok to make mistakes and how to express their pain, activism, and aspirations in a multitude of ways. She created a calm, warm classroom environment filled with opportunities for choice and collaboration, and framed all of her feedback with positivity and a growth mindset. In fact, on days when I was particularly stressed about my own lesson plans or classes, I would retreat to the back of her room to sketch or create alongside our students — it was one of the most meditative and safe classrooms I’ve witnessed in 10 years in public education. Thanks for all you do, Lisa!

Studying the arts taught me that art (music, poetry, illustrations, paintings, etc) doesn’t start and end with the piece itself. It’s a timestamp of thoughts, feelings and issues, in a point in human history. Art not only becomes something to admire, but a window into one’s mind in an era and place.

Shout out to Ms. Leatherman, my 4–6th grade music teacher.

Throughout middle school and high school, art class was the space I had to clear my mind and think creatively amidst busy school days. As a student who always felt the pressure to achieve academic perfection, understanding that everything had right and wrong answers, studying art helped to balance my personal perspective on performance. Studying art provided room for subjective expression, room to test the waters in an area where perfection cannot be defined. I learned that even in a field where technique can be studied and basics can be learned, it takes courage to think abstractly and take risks on a canvas that will not let you know you are on the right path. Having confidence and having faith in the process in art is just as important as the end product, one that can always be changed, improved, and interpreted in many ways.

Shout out to Ms. Gourieux for creating an open, creative, and relaxed atmosphere where we could learn about different types of art and appreciate a space different from our core content subjects. She formed genuine connections with her students and took the time to learn about our interests and our talents. I took her classes every chance I could get!

As a child, I gravitated towards theatre and performance. I still remember my first play at age 9, looking out into the audience from the stage, hearing the applause, and thinking “this is what I want to do when I grow up.” I went on to study theatre in college, and realized that theatre is so much more than just putting on a show.

Studying the arts taught me how to look at the world through different perspectives. It cultivated my ability to collaborate, to work with a group of people, to bring a story to life. It taught me empathy, compassion, critical thinking, creative problem solving. It taught me vulnerability. Studying the arts taught me who I am.

Shout out to all my acting, dance, and singing teachers in high school for encouraging me throughout the years.

I didn’t appreciate the arts until I started a rock band in high school. As the singer and lyricist of the band, I quickly realized this was going to be anything but formulaic, which is how I learned a lot of the core subjects in school. I struggled a lot through this project, but it helped me realize art can help eliminate the borders of isolated disciplines in schools. It’s inclusive, ignites curiosity, and gets young people to get messy. And it’s totally okay to get messy!

Studying the arts taught me how big the world is, and the different ways in which different people perceive things. I remember being blown away when I discovered that vanishing points weren’t used in early paintings because they weren’t invented yet. I thought the painters had chosen not to use perspective, when in truth the concept hadn’t been discovered yet. Now it seems so obvious! While studying the arts I was also amazed by the similarities in humanity; like the vibrant colors we see in early Greek statues. Ancient Greek sculpture looks so solemn and serious to us now, but when you learn how they were painted back then, there was just as much bling as we see in modern culture — they just didn’t have access to neon lights!

Studying the arts taught me how to “get the metaphor.” It taught me how to understand and accept the fact that certain concepts can never be contained fully with words, and can only ever be touched on with the help of stories, sounds, images… you know, art! This was crucial for my education, and ultimately helped me accept bigger things, like that life is more complicated than the easy labels we use every day, and that sometimes “the metaphor” is the only way to create an area of mutual understanding between two people. One thing I’m still learning from the arts is how different types of art convey meaning differently for people. For me, prose, poetry, and music were the best means to land a breakthrough. But for another person, photography might be the vehicle. Breakdancing, baking. It takes all kinds.

Shout out to Mr. Williams, a former lit teacher who first sparked my love for literature and writing. He made a point to give my class stories that broadened our perspectives. Through those stories we learned how varied yet similar the human condition is, which was so good for a class of small-town kids in East Tennessee, where many of us hadn’t travelled far beyond ourselves.

And that concludes our team post for National Education in the Arts Week. We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did, and that you gained a sense of how important the arts are to our foundational skills and understanding, as evidenced even in this small sample size.

If you are an arts educator, check out our free eBook, Standards Based Grading in the Arts to learn how teachers of all subjects use Kiddom to quickly create arts-based lessons that align to standards with one click. And as always, happy teaching and learning!

Teaching the Gray Areas of Conflict: an Opportunity for Critical Thinking

Teaching the Gray Areas of Conflict: an Opportunity for Critical Thinking

Dan Thalkar

Dan Thalkar

Middle School Teacher, Los Angeles, CA

I try to teach and learn. Middle school teacher in Los Angeles.

We like tidy narratives. Heroes and villains. Beginnings, middles, and ends. You need only look at the latest Marvel Blockbusters to see the formula writ large. There is an inherent danger to this structure, as we impose labels and story-arcs over people and events that rarely, if ever, conform to such a convenient structure. The opposite, though, the absence of narrative, is no better.

Unfortunately, for an example of the latter, you could just watch the news.

Not only do we increasingly like our current event stories to be clear-cut, they often seem to move so quickly that there is no time for ambiguity or complexity to evolve. Google “news cycle” and you will see a plethora of quantitative data and existential hand-wringing about the increasing speed — or complete erasure — of the news cycle. “Donald Trump killed the news cycle,” writes the Columbia Journalism Review. “Self-contained storylines that once would have risen and fallen in distinct waves of public attention have given way to information overload and frequent confusion.” The New York Times opines that, “. . . nothing matters long enough to matter.”

Labels and the illusion of character arc are still present — look at any recent story about North Korea — but context is left behind.

Forget simplistic narratives; it seems that in the news we’re often left with no narrative at all.

What does this mean for educators? It means that we need to complicate. . . everything.

We can no more teach Westward Expansion as a clear-cut moral story than we can allow our students to believe that a story no longer being talked about consistently is equivalent to the story no longer existing.

Any educator who teaches in the humanities or has the opportunity to develop students’ civic engagement, whether in class or an advisory period, has the responsibility to help students make sense of the world around them.That means identifying fake news, reading multiple sources, and identifying bias and assumptions. It also means acknowledging that very, very few events have easy-to-trace beginnings and ends or fit into convenient, all-encompassing summaries.

Case in point: Syria. The war there, which started in 2011, is still happening. It is also very, very complicated. The same can be said for Yemen, which also isn’t exactly in great shape, though you aren’t likely to hear about it either if you glance at the latest headlines. And the justifiable uproar of family separation has masked the potentially more destructive removal of asylum for those seeking refuge from domestic abuse or gang violence.

It’s impossible for every teacher to help their students fully understand every one of these issues. It’s impossible for any person to fully understand every one of these issues. But we can refuse to buy into the mindset that nothing matters long enough to matter.

We should work with our students to identify issues they are interested in, research context, and follow events as they unfold over the course of a school year. This is different from just learning history or just talking about headlines. It’s a shift in the way we perceive time and learning. Instead of a predetermined lesson or objective, we have ambiguity. Instead of a backwards-planned unit, we have uncertainty. Instead of resolution, we have the beautiful, chaotic mess of life.

If we want our students to genuinely enact democracy, to engage with the world, then our classrooms need to authentically engage with the world while it is happening. As John Dewey wrote, “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”

I am not advocating that we forego curriculum in order to only follow current events, or that it’s even possible to track every major news story. (What counts as a “major” news story, anyway?), but I am advocating that we open our classrooms to uncertainty and vulnerability.

Watching the world unfold in real-time is a terrifying, wondrous proposition. Follow any story closely enough, and conflict will arise in your community. Students will have differing opinions, will question why something matters, will venture into realms that are uncomfortably personal. Rather than seen as a cause for concern, we should view this for what it is — a beautiful opportunity.

Conflict within the context of learning is an opportunity not just to speak about civics and civil discourse, but to actually practice it. Not just to speak about restorative justice, but to struggle through it. Not just to theorize about right and wrong, but to wrestle with its embodied meaning for us as human beings.

So, as you develop your curriculum for the upcoming year, schedule some room for ambiguity. Give students a chance to decide what stories they want to follow. Learn what matters to your community. Make a few predictions about issues that you think will become increasingly important. And then, over the course of the year, get to know the people involved. Research the places, the histories, the futures. Help students see the connections between the content you are studying and the events unfolding around them.

Situate your classroom in the world and dwell there. Let the world matter long enough to matter.

Guest Post by: Dan Thalkar (@dthalkar) Humanities Teacher in Los Angeles, CA

An Attempt to Teach Students How to Begin to Recognize Emotions

An Attempt to Teach Students How to Begin to Recognize Emotions

Sara Giroux

Sara Giroux

Learning Specialist, Franklin Academy

Sara went to Syracuse University to get her undergraduate degree in secondary science education. While teaching, she realized how many students with disabilities were flying under the radar and not receiving the air that they needed from teachers. She decided to attend Southern Connecticut State University to get her Master’s in special education with a concentration in assistive technology.

In my time working with students on the autism spectrum, I’ve witnessed them struggle to recognize emotions and acknowledge non-verbal cues from others.

Throughout their schooling, my high school students have heard that this is one of their social challenges, but rarely do they know why this is the case. One student told me that one of her teachers told her “don’t worry, the other students know you have autism so they’ll try to explain what they’re feeling.” At 17, she was nervous that when she went off to college she would have to explain her diagnosis to everyone so they could understand her. Why should she have to disclose that information instead of trying to learn how to understand both herself and those around her?

Finding Social Emotional Teaching Resources

I struggled to find ways to teach students with a range of cognitive abilities how and why they need to recognize emotions of themselves and others in a concrete way. There were lots of complicated scientific studies explaining why individuals on the spectrum have trouble recognizing emotions, but most of my students aren’t able to grasp that information. So I simply typed “emotions” as a search term in Kiddom’s K12 library of teaching resources to see if any of the results would work for my students.


Using Kiddom’s free library to search for content.

The first search result turned out to be the perfect assignment: “Are Emotions Contagious?” This video explained the science of mirror neurons in an understandable way for middle and high schoolers and allowed them to better see how important it is to recognize emotions and what the impact of mirroring emotions can be.

From my experience, students are able to more easily recognize times when someone else impacted their lives than they are able to recognize how they impact everyone else. This assignment challenged them to identify how the emotions of their peers have affected them as well as how their emotions can have an effect on their peers. I selected the video and assigned it to my students as homework via Kiddom, along with a reflection piece about how the video connects to their lives.

The assignment was challenging for many of my students. They found the video interesting, but struggled to connect it to their own lives. I got responses like “I am an independent person so no one can change my emotions but me” and “some people will see a friend looking sad so they start to feel sad, but I am never sad, so I just cheer friends up.”

I was heartbroken. These responses illustrated that my students couldn’t acknowledge how emotions were a part of their experiences, or even what emotions they were displaying to the world. As I kept reading through the responses, some breakthroughs trickled through, “Once, I was having a very hard day. My friend told a horrible joke, but when she started laughing, I couldn’t help but start laughing too.” “One day I was having a bad day. I think I made my friends have a bad day. I spread my negativity.”

These responses gave me hope that I can eventually help my students get to a place where they can better recognize not only the emotions of someone they are talking to, but also an awareness of their own emotions and how they can impact those around them.

We still have a ways to go, but maybe if I display happiness and other positive emotions, I can help my students get there. One thing is for sure, the proliferation of social emotional learning resources is wonderful.


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Teaching ASD Success Stories

Teaching ASD Success Stories

Sara Giroux

Sara Giroux

Learning Specialist, Franklin Academy

Sara went to Syracuse University to get her undergraduate degree in secondary science education. While teaching, she realized how many students with disabilities were flying under the radar and not receiving the air that they needed from teachers. She decided to attend Southern Connecticut State University to get her Master's in special education with a concentration in assistive technology.

At least three times a week I hear one of my students say “I can’t do this, I’m autistic.”

This is really frustrating, not because I just want them to do what I’m asking (though, that would be nice), but because I hate that they think that their diagnosis is so limiting. They are stunted by thinking only about a worst case scenario, instead of all of the possibilities that exist for them. I have tried many strategies to reframe their perspective. We’ve implemented growth mindset vocabulary into every class, shown them work from the start of the year and now to reflect on improvement, and more. It works for some students for a little bit, but they quickly go back to the “I’m autistic” mindset.

There was one day where multiple students in each of my classes blamed their autism on everything they did (or didn’t do). At my wits end, I turned to social-emotional learning curriculum from Kiddom’s library of teaching resources.



I was searching for something about how to effectively teach students how to cope with things with which they struggle. I came across a TedEd lesson, “The world needs all kinds of minds,” without noticing the author. This sounded perfect, but I was nervous how my students would react to some random person, who was probably neurotypical, telling them that their differences were beneficial in the world. I clicked on it anyway, and Temple Grandinstarted speaking.

As soon as the video started, I knew we had to watch it. My hope was that if parents, teachers and others couldn’t get through to them, maybe someone with the same diagnosis would have better luck. I was right. I have rarely seen my students so engaged. They stayed off of their cell phones, asked questions, and laughed at every joke Grandin made. After the video, we had a discussion about the ideas brought forth in the video and used the questions from the lesson we found on Kiddom. They were then to write about how Temple Grandin made them feel.

It was incredible. Their responses included:


“It was awesome seeing someone like me up on stage”

“If you think you’re gonna succeed you will succeed”

“Made me feel like I could do anything”



Seeing these kinds of comments coming from students who normally struggle to feel empowered was incredible.

It’s nice to see education technology companies like Kiddom integrate social emotional learning resources into their library of free resourcesAnd it’s great to be able to access resources like this directly from the tool I already use to monitor class progress.

P.S. Want to dive right in? Click here to access a demo class!

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“It’s Not You, It’s Me”: Mind-Body Interventions for Teachers

“It’s Not You, It’s Me”: Mind-Body Interventions for Teachers


“Teaching is not what it used to be,” says a 40-year veteran teacher at my building. I’ve been around for 10 years, but I can agree, things have changed a lot in the past decade. It’s hard to articulate exactly what the change is or where it’s coming from. However, I think most teachers can agree that things are increasingly more… stressful.

Passing in the hallway, an appropriate greeting consists of a grunt or at best, “It’s Friday.” Conversations in the staff lounge center around the uncertainties and anxiety facing our teaching profession from the greater political cultural climate. A recent survey cited 51% of teachers feel significant stress at work several times a week. While technology and innovation have considerable benefits, the new skills and information we are expected to personally process and then apply to our instruction, has teachers feeling like hamsters on a wheel. Not to mention the data on us! Teacher performance is being continually monitored and tracked by standardized testing.

As I sit at my back table, administering a reading test, I look up and see the little girl sitting in front of me. Except, I see her, seeing me. Hunched shoulders. Furrowed brows. Clenched jaw. My body communicates what my brain can’t fully comprehend. I am stressed. Much to my surprise and horror… her body language was matching mine. She was mirroring me.

This realization hit me hard. I noticed students all around exhibiting stress signals. Hiding under tables. Making excuses to leave the classroom and wander the halls. Destroying classroom supplies. These behaviors were symptoms of emotional turmoil, and it was standing in the way of students achieving their academic potential.

Now, I know that many of these issues are complex and multilayered. I am by no means blaming teachers for all behavioral problems. However, the first step to an emotionally regulated classroom is to be emotionally regulated yourself.

YOU are the intervention

The good news is, even if your brain is not yet convinced, you can begin with your body.

Here are three tips to get started.

  1. Set an intention for the day for yourself and your classroom

Before you get out of bed, think about how you want to show up today. Words like strong, healthy, at ease, organized, peaceful. Imagine what it looks like and feels like. Now imagine the one thing that would make your classroom great today. This intention could be, “students working well together in pairs” or “excitement for a new project.” Visualize these intentions then write them down. I have found that writing an intention down and visualizing the outcome takes less than a minute. However, most days, this fortune actually comes to fruition. A worthy time investment.

2. Take a breathing break

Teachers never stop. Heck, we usually don’t even slow down. I have seen teachers eating their lunch while walking down the hallway! During your prep, your lunch, transitions between classes… intentionally take 5–10 breaths. Inhale for 2 counts and exhale for 4 counts. I even like to close my eyes and bring back my intention from the morning.

3. Unwind your nervous system

Good ol’ fight or flight. Your body doesn’t know if you are running away from a hungry predator or if you are preparing to be observed by your principal. All it knows, is it’s time to send in the stress hormones! Your frontal cortex can’t talk its way out of this response. “Body, I am not being chased by a predator, it’s just my annual observation.” However, there are key trigger points in the body that activate when the sympathetic nervous system kicks in. This means, if we can release the body, the brain will believe that everything is okay.


Inhale breath and when you exhale stick out your tongue. For added effect add a nice long “hah” sound. I even like to massage the opening that is created next to my ears while my jaw is open.


Rub your hands together to create heat and place them on your eyes. And/or gently smooth out the brow line from center to outer eye, say to yourself “soft eyes”. (Yes, unfurrow that teacher brow.)


Interlace fingers behind your back for a chest expansion and take three slow deep breaths. Teachers spend a great deal of time hunched over students, and simply opening the shoulders can be a total mood changer.

Hip Flexors:

Lunge back with right foot and left foot forward in a bent knee lunge, take a few breaths, then switch sides. Your hip flexors and psoas are your flight muscles, so release them!

I began to realize that same little girl, mirroring my furrowed brow and hunched shoulders, began to mirror my deep breathing. When doing a backbend stretch during a transition she commented, “It feels good to stretch, doesn’t it?” Yes. It does.

This isn’t the magic bullet. However, when we release the tension and anxiety held in the body, we are able to be present.The present moment has no stress. This intervention for your body is an important first step for creating a peaceful classroom for your students.



As I began this body work, I noticed other things around me begin to shift. I realized that being overwhelmed is often as unproductive as doing nothing. I changed my focus and redefined what was important.

This process led me back to my students. How can I bring this mind-body awareness into my instruction? I began working with 1000-petals, an organization training educators in Mindful Movement, to integrate these strategies via Social Emotional Learning standards and Academic Learning Standards. The results were amazing. Follow this blog series to learn more about creating a positive, emotionally regulated classroom through mindful movement.

Stephanie Kennelly is a third grade teacher in West Saint Paul, Minnesota. Contact her here for comments and questions.


Guest Post by:  Stephanie Kennelly

Teaching Was My “Aha! Moment”

Teaching Was My “Aha! Moment”


From a young age, I always knew I wanted to be a teacher. As I got older, however, I began to get the impression that becoming a teacher wouldn’t be challenging enough for me or wouldn’t be reaching high enough to match my academic performance.

Perhaps this was because in high school, when my classmates and I began talking about what we wanted for our futures, I’d hear someone say, “I’m not sure what I’ll do, I want to coach football, so maybe I’ll teach or something.” Or something…was teaching so unimportant that it was a way into something better? Perhaps it was learning the difference in a teacher’s salary and doctor’s salary that told me that educators weren’t valued as much as other professionals. Along the way, the image I’d had of a teacher challenging students and igniting curiosity was replaced by a teacher asking students to copy definitions from a textbook. I began to believe that teaching was not a competitive, respected, or prestigious profession. My high-achieving friends dreamed of being lawyers, scientists, and engineers; teacher was not what the “best” would boast to pursue.

Even as I entered the profession, I continued to believe that teaching was easy. How hard can it be? My education fit the standard model of textbooks, papers, class discussions, and tests. What else was there? After college, I decided to spend some time in the classroom before graduate school. I learned about alternative teacher certification programs that supported underserved students and was motivated to make a difference and return to my childhood dream of teaching. I thought, of course I can do this.

And then…

My “Aha! Moment” as an educator came not at once, but all throughout my first year in the classroom. My simplistic understanding of the teaching profession could not have been more inaccurate. My appreciation of what it takes to be an effective teacher now came from experience, something that often goes unrecognized.

I learned that teaching one lesson was not enough. During my first year in a Nashville middle school, I quickly found that one approach to any lesson would not be nearly enough to serve my students well. My eighth graders ranged from elementary to high school level in math. This was not unique to my students — in all classes, there are ranges of student needs and abilities that teachers constantly try to address. Many of my English Language Learner students needed vocabulary support, and my students with IEP goals needed modification on assignments big and small. I learned strategies to differentiate my lessons, but learning how to personalize learning for students takes years of practice, and a deep knowledge of each student’s abilities and learning style.

I learned there are different ways to teach a class. My own education consisted of sitting in assigned seats, in rows of desks, where we took notes, and received graded homework. When I began teaching, my default approach was similar to what I had experienced. I soon learned that not only did I want to include different kinds of instructional strategies, but that it was necessary if I was going to make learning more engaging for all. Later, I discovered small group instruction, blended learning, exploratory learning and other strategies to serve different learning modalities. Though challenging, this is how my teaching improved and my students grew. I saw how teaching is truly an art and a science.

I learned that good teaching goes beyond content. As a new teacher, I was thrilled to teach a subject that I loved. To prepare, I taught summer school in the Mississippi Delta. Riding through town to school, I first noticed the boarded-up businesses and lack of activity. Meeting my students and coming to town, I knew that I’d need to understand more than my lessons to teach them well. I needed to know my students and where they came from before my lessons on decimals would be relevant and make a lasting impact.

I learned that at any given time, teachers juggle many things. Even my best days with my students in that first year felt like I was balancing 10 spinning plates overhead. Lesson plans, questioning, behavior management, differentiation, pacing, and assessments were tasks that required my constant attention. Teachers must be both resourceful and strategic, well-planned and flexible. Effective teachers will excel at many different tasks because they problem-solve their way through work daily.

I learned how many hours teachers actually work. Teacher responsibility is never limited to the hours within the school day. Planning, grading, meeting, calling families, after-school activities, and graduate courses are the norm for hours after last period. I struggled to maintain a work-life balance to start and found from other educators that this was not unique to my experience. I dreamed about the educator summer vacation, then learned that teachers use this time to plan with colleagues, attend professional development summits, and begin scoping out the next school year.

also learned why teachers begin to refer to their students as “their kids.”

During my first week in the classroom, my students and I spent time learning about each other. To build relationships for deeper learning, I wrote my students a letter, sharing my background and promising I’d do whatever it took to support their learning. In return, I asked the students to write me a letter about themselves. My students’ honesty, optimism, and promises to try their hardest were humbling and eye-opening. I knew from then that teaching would be so much more complicated than I had planned.

As a teacher, I had the privilege of helping struggling students after class and see them smile for the first time, understanding a difficult concept. I was invited by students’ parents for family dinners, quinceañera birthday parties, and soccer team cookouts. I was introduced to parents as a student’s “second mom,” and surprised with a “We missed you!” card when I was away. Hearing “thank you” from students meant more than any bonus check I could have ever received. I never knew that I would learn so much from them, as I’d prepared for them to learn from me. When someone asks about my teaching experience, I feel an overwhelming range of emotions. Teaching brought me the biggest challenges I’ve ever faced. Teaching was a prestigious privilege, hopefully helping young people prepare for future successes.

Teaching is not easy. It takes a significant amount of mental, emotional, and physical strength to get you through. Teachers are some of the most resilient professionals. Seeing my students faces motivated me to go back to school when I was most tired. The authentic relationships with them motivated me to bring my best every single day. In turn, when I would lose my voice, they would teach for me, when I was having a rough day, they were patient with me, and after they graduated, they came back to visit.

My misconception of the profession has been forever changed, especially now as I support educators with Kiddom. Teachers need help and teaching requires better tools. The idea that teaching is easy is something we must dispel. Today’s teachers will shape the next generation of learners and carry immense responsibility. That’s why at Kiddom, we build technology to unburden teachers with the number of tasks they shoulder so they can support all their students’ needs. Providing the best for teachers is the least we can do after what they do for students. We want teachers to experience “Aha! Moments” with their students and have more moments of joy and inspiration.