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☰ All That I'm After Is A School Full of Laughter

Head's Blog

All That I’m After Is A School Full of Laughter

Posted on September 27 2017

Last week I attended the Independent School Association Head’s meeting in Cheadle where, amongst other topics, we were discussing how to improve our schools – particularly with a focus on ISI inspection. There were many varied and diverse questions banded about. The majority looking at how assessment data can be used to evidence progress as well as how teachers can plan better lessons. The gathering headteachers were also asked to think of ways they had previously developed a school they lead and moved it forward. During this discussion, one particular question stood out to me the most: "What do you think was the most strategically important decision you took that helped you improve your school?" 

I have to admit that my answer to this didn't come straight away, but then I woke up one morning with a smile on my face and it hit me: as a school we laugh a lot and encourage children to do so, too. If we wander back to our childhood, what do we remember? We certainly remember traumatic events, but also, just as clear-cut, are the funny ones. This idea intrigues me as Forest Park has always been a place to smile, to laugh and giggle – but also a place where we work hard alongside these fun moments. 

I wondered if any research had been conducted into laughter in the school environment. I was unable to find much within the UK, but in America it would appear they recognise how necessary humour is for the creation of well-rounded establishments and individuals. One thesis talked of the contagious nature of humour and how it develops a sense of community by lowering defences and bringing people together. How very true.

In many areas in our society we recognise this as essential, but I visit too many schools that are oppressive places, with assemblies devoid of any spark, few close relationships and not a smile to be seen. It is time to bring humour and laughter back to our schools. 

'School is meant to be fun'

This approach runs through the very essence of Forest Park. Both staff and children see it as a vital part of each and every day. The best part about my new office is its location, first floor of the main house at the heart of the school. Virtually every child in the school can be heard from my seat and it is music to my ears – the laughter of children. They say that laughter is the best medicine and this is so true. It creates such a positive mood within the school and it brings other benefits, too. Laughter activates our sense of wonder, it relieves underlying stress, it encourages an atmosphere of openness, and it improves teacher retention and develops divergent thinking among pupils. 

Neuroscience research reveals that humour systematically activates the release of dopamine in the brain and is linked to goal-orientated motivation and long-term memory. It has alone been proven to boost the immune system as well. Enough of the facts – let's look at the reality of our work environments. We all hopefully try our best to ensure every individual reaches their potential. Does this need to be in a regime of oppression? Certainly it could be said that some of our children experience upset or stress in their own lives, and it is our job at Forest Park to help create a much more positive outlook on life; to boost the self-esteem of every child so that they feel happy, safe and want to succeed.

Visitors to Forest Park all join in the fun. They have no choice, no matter who they are. Even inspectors have joined in (well, nearly always). The highlight of our last ISI inspection was the reporting inspector feeding back that Forest Park was the happiest school he had ever set foot in, by far the most important outcome for me and my school. My children see laughter as part of school life, and why shouldn't they? School is meant to be fun. 

Over time too many in education have forgotten this. We forget our core purpose is, and always will be, to get our pupils to want to be at school and to want to succeed. This enjoyment of both life and school can be contagious. Our staff treasure the time they have in this job. Our school community shares and benefits from this ethos and the sounds of laughter resonate both inside and outside the school building. In fact, it is our parents who love it the most. They take great pride in hearing about the fun and exciting activities that take place in school every day; in fact our parents are often actively involved in many of them.

As we start the new academic year, setting targets and next steps to achieve, may I offer one of the most important to fellow headteachers and teachers: let's make 2017/18 a better one by smiling more and making our pupils do the same.

Nick Tucker

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