By Jason Dobrow, PhD

School is supposed to be fun! That is not a misprint, nor some pie in the sky ideal. While not every student will enjoy every school related task, overall school should be, and more importantly must be, fun for students. With high stakes testing, and the implementation of Common Core, the task of making school enjoyable for students is certainly more daunting than it once was, but it is not, I repeat, is not impossible. Creating a culture of fun, leads to enhanced school achievement and student success. To illustrate this point, I’m going to take you back in time, back to 2013, and share with you our story (emphasis on the our).

After finishing up my coursework and comprehensive exams for my doctorate, I found myself ready to go back to full-time employment in the summer of 2013. With a large dissertation left to write at a highly ranked program at a Research One University, I knew that I needed a job that gave me enough free time to complete my dissertation, but also provided a full-time income. Having worked as a School Counselor previously, I decided to return to Public Secondary Education for the first time since the 2009-10 school year. I was fortunate enough to get a job at a Suburban Public High School as the 9th Grade Counselor to begin the 2013-2014 School Year. Having not worked with students for several years, I was intent on finding a way to relate to them and to better understand where they were coming from, and this is where it all began.

From day one my goal was to do my best to make the students enjoy school so that they could learn what they were supposed to, obtain a diploma and ultimately lead happy and successful lives. Having a strong background in the Social Sciences, and some previous experience with education, I felt that the best way to achieve this objective was to find common ground with the students in order to form relationships. During the student’s 9th Grade Orientation, I attempted to set the tone by passing out questionnaires to get to know the students better. To start, I answered the questions I created so students could see where I was coming from and see my human side (something that many Adults seem to forget from time to time). Students were probably not surprised when I told them my favorite football team was the Denver Broncos (I’m from Denver) but appeared stunned when I told them my favorite musical artist of the moment was 2 Chainz. I happened to enjoy 2 Chainz as an Artist and Entertainer and was hoping that expressing this opinion might open some doors towards building rapport with the students.

I must have done something right because later that day Robert (his real name, because he would not want it any other way) approached me and said, “Mr. Morgan, I love you!” comparing me to his favorite teacher from the Middle School next door. Over the course of the next three years, and to this day (these students are now in their sophomore year in college, working, or in the military), the culture that Robert and his friends helped create was and continues to be one of fun, jokes, and ultimately happiness and success for the students and for myself. I always contend that I learn as much if not more from every student I work with, and in this circumstance that could not be more accurate.
From raffling off items for fun (the students took interest in random items in my office, and to be fair I setup free raffles, anyone for an anti-bullying video tape from 1999?), to creating various nicknames, to the One Direction Shrine in my office with a full Niall Horan cutout (I prefer not to talk about that one) to a petition on the White House Website to name the airport after a student who worked there (long story), we created a culture of humor and fun, which I hope led to excellence in the classroom and beyond. If several years down the road, students remember something funny we did, and something that made their High School experience more enjoyable, then we will have succeeded.

Schiller and Hinton (2015), seem to agree with the premise mentioned in the previous paragraph and found that happier students receive higher grades, and this is key, relationships are fundamental to happiness. In other words, the culture that we create directly influences student achievement and success. I will go a step further and say that in our current climate where school shootings are common, and disenfranchisement seems to be the norm, making students feel like they are accepted, and a part of something is key to student safety and mental health. While its impossible to make every student enjoy Algebra or master the art of writing an essay regarding a historical document, we all can do our part in creating a culture in which students find some enjoyment in school, feel supported, and ultimately succeed.

In other words, the culture that we create directly influences student achievement and success. Click To Tweet

References:
Schiller, L. & Hinton, C. (2015). It’s true: Happier Students get Higher Grades. The Conversation Official Website. Retrieved from http://theconversation.com/its-true-happier-students-get-higher-grades-41488

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