Why do you divide SIN by TAN? Just COS! Silly? Yes. Will you remember it? Most likely. Will students remember it if a teacher throws it in during a trigonometry lesson? You bet. (They’ll likely groan, too.) But I know the joke will forever stay in their memory bank. It’s what I like to call the lasting gift of a good giggle.
Encouraging humour has always been important to me as an educator, and I value the moments of lightheartedness I share with students. Fortunately for me, I encounter laughter many times during the school day. It’s not uncommon for me to find groups of students working outside my office door where the wide hallways of our beautiful Castle invite collaboration. Everything from group work, to lunchtime meetings, to impromptu dance rehearsals seems to take place within earshot of my door. And oftentimes in these moments something amusing occurs, resulting in giggles that echo through the halls. The lure of that delightful sound is hard to resist, and I often find myself stepping away from my desk to investigate the source of the fun. Students have come to know that, rather than discouraging laughter, I love to join in.
Laughter isn’t time away from learning. In fact, laughter can be learning’s best friend. Research shows that interjecting humour into learning can increase recall and retention, help students perform better on learning tasks, and reduce anxiety. It makes perfect sense. Humour causes the brain to release neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin and endorphins which, in turn, enhance motivation and attention, improve cognitive functioning, and increase our sense of well being – important ingredients for a successful school day. I’m not promoting silly behavior or suggesting that we inundate students with random knock-knock jokes (and I always recommend avoiding sarcasm with children). But content-related jokes, amusing stories, and funny props go a long way toward making a lesson not only more enjoyable but also more memorable.
Humour also helps to build community, particularly during times of stress. In the article, “Why Dictators Don’t Like Jokes” the authors explore the power of laughtivism, the combining of humour and activism as a form of social protest. They detail how the use of humour helped create cohesion amongst protestors during events such as the war in Bosnia, Occupy Wall Street, and the Arab Spring uprising. The ridiculous sight of young Egyptians performing the Harlem Shake as a form of protest against Mohamed Morsi served to embolden others in their fight for democratic reform. As noted by the authors, “humour breaks fear and builds confidence” amongst individuals and, in doing so, strengthens the bonds that tie us together.
In the case of students and schools, good-hearted humour builds friendship. It creates moments of shared enjoyment and makes memories of good times spent together. So I’m glad we encourage laughter in our hallways and classrooms at Trafalgar. I hope the girls keep giggling outside my door, and I hope I’m never too busy to join them, if only for a moment.