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A Serious Look At Humor In Schools

        In this article in Independent School, California school leaders Duncan Lyon and Olaf Jorgenson report on their exploration of the role of humor in school leadership. They quote Alison Beard from a 2014 Harvard Business Review article: “Laughter relieves stress and boredom, boosts engagement and well-being, and spurs not only creativity and collaboration but also analytic precision and productivity.” Humor can also be a memory aid because funny moments are emotionally charged, and can help de-escalate conflicts, making people less argumentative and defensive.

        But research shows that after the age of 23, Americans laugh less than when they were younger; their self-perception turns toward seriousness. Lyon and Jorgenson offer these suggestions to ramp up people’s “humor IQ”:

  •         Laugh at yourself. Self-deprecation paradoxically signals self-confidence, humanizes a leader, balances positional authority, creates connections with others, and implicitly gives permission for others to be funny.
  •         Be authentic, using the kind of humor that works for you. “It’s not whether you’re funny,” say the authors, “it’s what kind of funny you are.”
  •         Being clever is often enough. “If you can’t be ‘ha-ha’ funny, at least be ‘a-ha!’” say Lyon and Jorgenson.
  •         Create an in-group. Humor can be like a conspiracy, especially if it’s about things everyone is worried about.
  •         Occasionally be goofy. One school leader covered everything in a colleague’s office with aluminum foil.
  •         Avoid aggressive humor. This includes roasts, teasing, sarcasm, mocking, and punching down to lower-status colleagues.

        Everyone surveyed for this article, conclude Lyon and Jorgenson, “agreed that the most successful school leaders have an evolved sense of humor – whether by default or practiced design – and that humor is an inextricable trait of a healthy school culture.”

“Laughing Matters” by Duncan Lyon and Olaf Jorgenson in Independent School, Spring 2019 (Vol. 78, #3, p. 51-54), no e-link; Lyon is at dlyon@careyschool.org, Jorgenson at

ojorgenson@almadencountryday.org.

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