“I love your classroom,” a colleague said to me recently. “Every time I go in there, it feels like a cocktail party.”
I wasn’t sure at first how to take this comment, but it made me chuckle. I mean, hey, who wouldn’t want their classroom described as a cocktail party?
Later I followed up with her and she said: “Everyone in there is so happy and relaxed. The teachers and kids are all just having such a good time!”
In my classroom, we laugh. A lot. There is laughter between teachers, between kids, between teachers and kids. We bring out humor in even the most stressful situations. We appreciate how truly funny the kids are and we allow them to enjoy that in one another.
Teachers can’t help but bring their own style and approach to life into the culture of their classroom. They set the tone by virtue of their personality. The kids follow suit once they know what is expected of them and what is tolerated in terms of behavior. There is a distinct vibe that varies from classroom to classroom depending on the dynamics of the teachers and the kids.
Only recently have I realized how powerful humor can be in a classroom setting. Used appropriately, humor puts children at ease. Children at ease concentrate better, feel free to make mistakes, and recover quickly from failure. They are given room to decompress and keep things in perspective.
Humor allows kids to save face when something embarrassing happens. The other day, a little girl spilled a large pitcher of milk all over the table during lunch. It was a mess and was traveling across the table getting all the other kids’ lunches wet. The other kids all began yelling and the little girl was horrified. She froze. Someone shouted at her to get a paper towel. She began to cry.
When I realized what was going on, I admit my gut reaction was irritation. The kids looked at me to see how I was going to respond. They always do, and this is the opportunity to set the cocktail party tone. I first told the little girl calmly: “No big deal. We’ll fix it.” Then I made a silly joke asking who let the cow into the classroom. The group thought that was pretty funny and the heavy, tense energy in the room instantly dissipated.
School is stressful for most kids. There are so many different personalities and conflicts to navigate; both social and academic. Anything teachers can do to alleviate some of that stress helps to create a more effective academic environment and a community where learning is actually a fun experience.
Humor enhances relationships. When the classroom genuinely enjoys being together, a sense of intimacy develops among the group, thus making the classroom community all the more powerful. After all, it’s 5:00 somewhere!