Spotlight On: Humour in Teaching

14 June 2019

This article first appeared in Queenwood News Weekly 14 June 2019.

Laughter is the shortest distance between two people. — Victor Borge

There are many studies that support the view that laughter is the best medicine. Laughter has been described as a potent drug with the contagious power of a virus and with benefits for mind and body. It releases endorphins in our brain, which are often referred to as the ‘runner’s high’- that feeling of wellbeing after extensive, vigorous exercise. Who doesn’t like to laugh? As human beings we seek out laughter and it is fundamental to relationships.

Good teachers differentiate, plan and deliver powerful lessons and provide effective feedback to their students – among many other things. But what of the great teacher? The traits of a great teacher in the 20th Century are no different from those of the 21st Century and will probably be the same in the 22nd Century. They provide all of the above but they also ensure they connect with their students. It is all about the relationship between the teacher and the child.

The effect of the teacher-student relationship has been researched extensively, and the results all point to the fact that good connectedness results in better social and academic outcomes. There are many ways that teachers connect with their students. They teach with passion, they treat students with respect, provide a safe and secure environment, display a positive attitude, they show an interest in the girls they are teaching both within and outside of the classroom. But on top of all this, they make learning fun. Children work hardest for the teachers that they love and respect and who go out of their way to make the classroom environment enjoyable.

One way to build this crucial connectedness is through humour in the classroom.

I recently attended a Positive Schools conference in Sydney and the central theme was connectedness, that special relationship between teacher and student. Richard Gerver, a former Head who worked against the odds to transform one of the worst schools in the UK to one of the most dynamic, was presenting. His mantra: living, learning and laughing. When asked by a friend how to go about choosing the right school, he told them that if you don’t hear laughter within the first few minutes, turn around and walk out.

I am not suggesting for a minute that the classroom has to become a stand-up comedy routine or the teacher has to be the all-singing, all-dancing clown, but humour in teaching is often undervalued. Appropriately targeted humour can help students learn and retain information. Humour can be used to break down barriers, making the day enjoyable. Laughter is contagious and can help form (and repair) relationships, promoting a sense of togetherness and safety.

Perhaps in the past we weren’t so confident about letting laughter into the classroom. Many thought that it was wise first to establish who was boss in the classroom and only gradually let your guard down: ‘Never smile before Easter’ was the saying.

But in the current era, when young people often feel overwhelmed by the pressures of standardised testing, managing their online image, getting good grades and demands to be the best (and not just their personal best), our girls need to value laughter and to see us laugh and smile. A smile is a curve that sets everything straight.

Mrs Angela Toohey
Head of Junior school