August is a wonderful time for reflection. The new school year is on the horizon and the past school year is now fading a bit in the distance. As a teacher or administrator, you face tremendous pressure to support students to achieve significant academic progress. Under this pressure, it can seem like every minute counts and academic learning must be packed into every nook and cranny.
Yet most of us did not get into education to fill brains. We are here because we get satisfaction and joy when we see the light in a child’s eyes when they “get it”, or discover something new, or get curious. We enjoy the process of learning together, of sharing new ideas, or a sense of wonder. Learning can be really fun!
We also know that play is good for the human brain. Play can:
- Relieve stress. Play can stimulate the release of the bodies natural “feel good” hormones, endorphins.
- Improve brain function. Solving puzzles or doing fun activities that challenge the brain improves brain function.
- Boost creativity and mental flexibility. We all learn new tasks better when we are safe, relaxed and the activity is fun. Play can also stimulate imagination and promote problem solving.
Now is a great time to make a plan to bring a little more joy and playfulness into your classroom. This is not about making students happy, but rather being able to be spontaneous and joyful at appropriate times. Here are some ideas:
- Be “in the moment”. When you greet each student, make sure you are there “with” them for that few seconds.
- Share what makes learning fun for you. This isn’t a mini lecture, but rather one or two sentences here and there. “You know, sometimes when I solve a really tough math problem, I just feel accomplished afterwards.” “One thing I love about reading stories is that it helps me think about things differently.” “Seeing a movie about a different country makes me want to learn more and wonder what it would be like to be there.” “Isn’t it interesting how all of our science groups came up with slightly different answers to the same problem?”
- Be willing to laugh with (but not at) your students. Sometimes things happen in the classroom that really are funny. It might be a mistake you made, or something that surprises all of you.
- Reflect and celebrate. Pause occasionally during the day and invite your students to reflect on one thing they learned. What have you learned?
- Be you. You are a teacher for a reason. What will help you keep that alive when the going gets rough? Your students will notice and appreciate your passion.