The Power of Shared Laughter

Jordan T. Nicodemus 
Principal – I
Ricardo V. Adriano Elementary School

“Why do I have to go? School’s not fun!” That quote came from a grade one pupil, asking his mother why he has to go every single day to this place that he was told was going to be very amusing, but has not lived up to his expectations. And if only he could elaborate further, he might say, “I am only six. I’d like to have fun, but school is not fun and from what I can tell, it’s just going to get worse every year, not better.”

This is all too real just to be ignored. That’s why teachers are always on the lookout for fun ways to engage and inspire students. However, teachers are not selected or trained to be comedians or entertainers. But studies show that the positive climate for learning and enjoyment is correlated with retention of acquired information and putting knowledge to work in everyday situations (and that includes tests).

Confusing, isn’t it? According to Ed Dunkelblau, former president of the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor, and the Director of the Institute for Emotionally Intelligent Learning and counselor to schools for both social and character, emotional learning approaches, as well as to families surviving with the stress of military service, “There is a need to bring humor in the classroom”.

But how can humor be brought in when teachers have so much to cover in their classes? He added, “In the current atmosphere of high stakes testing, financial challenges, bigger demands on educators and competition for learners’ attention, everyone in the school gains when humor is an embedded part of the pedagogy. Humor builds a learning bond through the joyful confluence of the head and the heart.” He points to a growing literature on how humor lessens stress and tension in the classroom, increases retention of information, and promotes imaginative understanding. “But most of all, it brings a perception of liking and thankfulness and creates a common, positive emotional event that the students share with each other and their teacher.”

Even if you are “humor challenged,” there are things you can do to reduce the load and dissipate the “fog” in your classroom. Just remember, above all, that mockery and sarcasm has no place in the school. Only “no hurt” humor must be accepted.

  • Laugh at yourself — when you just did something silly or wrong, say it and laugh at it.
  • Add humorous items to quizzes, homework or assignments – you can replace “True” and “False” with interestingly familiar fun words for a dual response test, for example.
  • Place a quotable quotes bulletin board or corner in your classroom — look for humor quotes and post them and persuade your students to do the same. Nowadays, “hugot lines” are trending in our country and can be very helpful.
  • Keep a cartoon file, and have a place where you can exhibit one or two in a day on a rotating basis, with students picking the choice.
  • Have Joke Friday (or any day) — ask students to bring in jokes to impart, either to start the day on Friday (or any day), to make a switch between lunchbreak and the following class, or at the end of the day (be sure to inspect the jokes in advance, of course).
  • Ask students to try to infuse humor into occasional assignments — that will start a discussion about what is funny, how they know something is funny, why various people find some things funny but some things are funny to almost everyone.
  • Have a funny mismatched socks day, or funny hat day, or colored teeth day, or some other funny dress-up moments.
  • Build artistic and humorous thinking by presenting cartoons and pictures without captions and asking students to make them — individually, in pair-shares, or small groups.
  • Request students to bring in books, magazines or readings they think are funny. Allow them to talk about why, and to use examples from the book.

For us Filipinos, laughter is still the best medicine and an excellent antidote to stress. As they say, “Those who laugh, last. Those who don’t, pay the price.” But really, it is the students who pay the price, and they should not have to.

Let’s add some more enjoyment to our school. It is not wrong to have a little bit of fun. We don’t need to be a clown, a magician, or a professional stand-up comedian, nor we have to make fools out of ourselves just to amuse them — a smile and a little levity can go a very long way. It’s time for us educators to take humor more seriously.