There is no doubt in my mind that all teachers want better learning opportunities for their students. Even the most seasoned veterans, armed with the experience and knowledge of what works in their classroom, not prone to jumping on the newest band wagon, strive to stretch their class to learn as much as they possibly can. So, in earnest, master teachers buckle down to create the best environment that they can for learning. Bulletin boards are filled with motivating catch phrases, classrooms are rearranged to provide multiple avenues to learning, and teachers give formative feedback and conference with kids to ensure they understand how to get better. All of these are noble endeavors.
Here’s a reminder though, don’t forget to laugh. When I think back on my career, the happiest times in my professional life were when I taught with good friends. Every morning we would get to school good and early. We’d get our prepping done, and we’d get ourselves down to the staffroom . . . every day! Why? We’d share some type of silly antics and we’d get a good chuckle. Energized by the moment, we’d head into our classrooms with a smile on our faces. I remember the number of silly little practical jokes our staff would play on each other, kids often a part of them. We’d laugh with each other, and the students would laugh with us. The laughter was infectious. Guess what that did? It broke down barriers between the teachers and the kids and the learning became easier. It’s always easier to learn when you are relaxed and happy.
I’m not just postulating here, there is science to back my claim. The American Psychological Association has come to the conclusion that humor provides psychological and physiological benefits that help students learn. A teacher, they claim, who is perceived as witty and provides opportunity for laughter, can improve student performance by reducing anxiety, boosting participation and increasing students’ motivation to focus on the material. That little hit of dopamine that is released gets us ready to learn. In fact, the APA suggest that teachers who can laugh in class and get the class laughing are seen as being more competent communicators and more responsive to students’ needs than dry instructors. As a disclaimer, however, there is a limit. Students want appropriate humor that is relevant, lightens the mood and makes the information memorable.
But laughter is even more profound than a tool that simply easing student stress and making them comfortable. It makes teachers happier. A happy teacher is a better teacher. As a young beginning teacher I remember loving going to work each day. Of course I loved the kids in my care, but I also had a wonderful group of colleagues that were friends. We laughed a lot and it made my job great. I am lucky enough to have many of the students I taught back in those days teaching in our district now. Many of them recall the fact that the school was fun and they could see the energy of the staff as a group of friends who cared deeply for each other. We were models for them.
In my current assignment, I have the luxury of getting to a variety of schools. From the moment I enter the school, I can tell a lot from the laughter emanating from the staff room. Almost without exception, schools that have laughter in their staff room seem happier in general. The laughter rings through the halls and sticks to the walls. They are happy places.
My challenge to you – find the opportunity to laugh in your life. Laugh in the staffroom, laugh in your classroom, laugh in your living room. Just laugh. It’ll make the day more pleasant for everyone.
And . . . . keep on learning