One summer early in my teaching career, I attended a week-long seminar entitled the H.E.L.P. Institute – Healing, Education, Laughter and Play. It was one of my favorite learning experiences to date. For one whole week I got to listen to dynamic, funny speakers with a joyous outlook on life and learning who illustrated over and over how key laughter and play is to learning and to living a healthy life. I think most of us have experienced how effective humor can be to an audience when the speaker uses it artfully. Fun, joy, laughter and play when used skillfully in a classroom can be equally effective.
Research shows that humor can keep learners alert and engaged and create a low-anxiety, well-managed learning environment. This in turn helps students feel more comfortable participating and encourages risk-taking and creativity which are key components to art making.
I know all this. I fervently believe all this. So why is it that when I look over the joy trajectory in my teaching career I don’t like the direction it’s headed? Somewhere along the line I started taking myself and my job way too seriously and stopped having enough fun. I know that I am not alone in this struggle. Given the serious work with which educators are charged I think it is way too easy to look at all we are expected to do in the course of a year, put each of our noses to the proverbial grindstone, and lose sight of the joy and the benefits that laughter and fun bring to learning. One way to help you bring that joyous, playful spirit to the classroom is to make sure you are feeding that spirit outside of the classroom.
Back in college I remember hearing a presenter who talked about keeping happiness and balance in your life. She encouraged the attendees to list 20 things that made them happy and then try to incorporate 10 of them into each and every day. It sounds like a tall order, doesn’t it? With all the things you need to do for others in a day, who has time to do 10 things just for themselves each day? Happy people, that’s who! Who you are as a person impacts who you are as a teacher. We educators owe it to ourselves and to our students to remind ourselves what brings us joy and then to fill our lives with those things.
From that place, it should be much easier to keep that playful mindset that doesn’t forget AYP, CCSS, SLOs, IEPs, PLCs, RTIs and all the other acronyms we need to keep in mind but remembers that humor and play may actually be the most effective way to reaching our objectives.
Teaching and learning are very serious business but because they are so important, we educators must get serious about fun. It is in that relaxed but alert and engaged place where genuine learning happens. If we as educators can teach from that place and create that atmosphere in our classrooms, chances are that children will feel more positively about learning and will be more invested in and receptive to the process. And we will all have get to have some very serious fun!
Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.