“There is little success
where there is little laughter.”
– Andrew Carnegie
We were talking about this at work. Not the quote, but an idea related to it. I work in a public elementary school and we were discussing the concept that school should be fun. Someone questioned whether this was possible; “How can school be fun?” he asked. And I thought, “Why should it be any other way?”.
For some time I have believed that school and work should be places where we look forward to coming. They should be places where we bring and receive energy and creativity. They should be places that bring people together to accomplish goals and achieve success. School and work should be places that support the individual while building the team. And school and work should be fun. Why not? In my mind, schools and workplaces that do not function to inspire and engage offer little incentive to the individual or the organization to grow and flourish. Who would want to devote maybe one-fourth or one-third of their day, five or more days a week, to an activity that brings little pleasure, or worse, creates or fosters apathy or stress? Who would look forward to getting up in the morning if they knew they were coming to learn or work in a boring environment that fails to stimulate the mind or the senses ? Who would willingly sign up for that? I know I wouldn’t, and yet haven’t many of us found ourselves working in situations that could be described that way?
When it comes to learning, I feel passionate that students be provided the opportunities to make positive emotional connections to their learning experiences. Learning should be fun. That isn’t to say that learning always comes easily or without challenge; sometimes learning takes time, sometimes longer than we anticipate. But, if a positive connection is made, even when learning is met with difficulty, chances are the lesson learned will make a lasting impression. Think about any skills or activities you learned or participated in as a child – chances are the activities you learned in a fun and positive setting, one that supported your confidence, you still do today. The activities that were learned in a setting that did not provide you with the support you needed to feel positive or successful, you aren’t doing today, or you do so with reluctance.
Sometimes I listen to teachers talking about what they do in the classroom and I think: they sound really passionate about teaching. I am glad for that, but what I would rather hear is that they are passionate about teaching children. A teacher may be a knowledgeable, intuitive educator, but if s/he lacks the “care factor”, students know it. Making learning fun isn’t just about finding ways to entertain or delight with exciting lesson plans or standing on your head while teaching. Learning is fun when students feel that their teacher cares about them, and is invested in their learning the same way that they are. A teacher who talks with his/her students and not at them earns the respect and attention that the students so eagerly want to give. Don’t we each want to please someone who gives us time and attention, who shows us that they care about what is happening in our daily life? When it comes to making learning fun and meaningful, the investment made in the personal connection will have as great, if not greater, an impact on the student than the efforts invested in teaching.
I am reminded of something I read some time ago in The Art of Happiness at Work written by H. H. The Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, M.D.. In the book, the Dalai Lama talks about “cultivating good relationships with people at work” and bringing “our basic good human qualities to the workplace”. In doing so, he offers, we can find satisfaction in our work and actually begin to look forward to going to work. When the culture at work supports the spirit of community and caring, the Dalai Lama says that we’ll be able to think, “Oh, I’m going to work to see my friends today!”
I like this idea. It makes the concept of “work” seem less separated from the concept of “home”, to me. At the school where I work, we often address the students as “friends”. I think that by using that language we can help to plant the seeds of community and caring into the minds of our staff and students, thereby creating an environment ripe for happiness and, yes, for fun. Of course we must go beyond language to meaningfully establish a genuinely supportive school or work community. To do that requires us to truly value each individual and what s/he brings to the whole. If we do not appreciate the individual, how can the individual develop a sense of belonging or commitment? Success in our schools and in our workplaces is the product of hard work in a supportive community where individuals matter.
Finally, I recognize the challenges and stresses that schools and teachers face each day. Lack of support from federal, state, and local governments mean they have to do more with less and students cannot get the supports needed. Expectations still remain high while funding for indispensable programs is cut. We live in a nation where education is not the top priority. Still, I do believe that challenge can light the spark to finding creative solutions, and that, in the end, regardless of the circumstances, we are our best resource; we create the environment we want to teach, learn, and work in. Can school be fun? Where great minds and dedicated hearts come together to make a difference in children’s lives, I say yes!