Education is important. Easily one of, if not the most important things we do for ourselves and our children. We take our responsibilities seriously, but at what cost? Despite the seriousness of our efforts, education is best accomplished with joy. We can learn so much more when we are happy, inspired, and engaged. Often the best ideas come from near nothingness in moments of jubilation.
Why does education have to be a profession of seriousness? Why does being a professional have to also mean that you are stark and lacking emotion. Kids see adults, they connect with the ones that are authentic and rebuff the ones that are not.
When I was in High School we had two assistant principals. One was my former soccer coach and I had developed a rapport with him already. He was personable yet commanded the kind of respect you would expect of a Lt. Colonel in the Marines. The other was Bert Kerns. For the first three years I simply tried to avoid him. He seemed like the opposite of personable and I rarely found him looking like he truly enjoyed what he did. In the fourth year some friends and I decided to start a competitive chess team. Mr. Kerns was an expert chess player and agreed to coach our team. It was there, in the school library, after most of the other kids had gone home, that I saw him for the first time. He was funny, witty, intelligent, and caring. His joy in teaching us chess, the fun he had, created a connection that I will never forget. For the rest of that year I was happy to see and speak with Mr. Kerns in the halls. In thinking back on that now, I wonder, what if he could have shared that joy with everyone? What if the Bert Kerns that I knew in the library with the chess team was the same one that interacted with all the kids in the school?
I ask these questions, and others for a reason. I heard a principal talking about a mentor of hers that was a superintendent. She talked about him being funny despite having such a serious job and how we don’t think of superintendent as being a fun position. Some would say that of any leadership position. I then ask myself, why not? Where is it written in the job description that inspiring learning has to be done without laughter? Without joy? I would say that it should be in as many ways possible, the exact opposite.
My father was a child psychologist with middle schoolers for nearly 35 years. He always told me as he put on his outrageous ties, “You dress for your clientele.” I would say it is deeper than that. At the root of learning and growth are curiosity and the joy of discovery. Inspiring that curiosity and sharing in that joy is best built through powerful relationships. To connect with those we teach, we need to stop focussing on if this is”professional” and start focussing on, modeling the curiosity and joy that inspires learning. Seriously, can’t being a leader be fun?