Raise your hand if you have ever thought: “I should write down all of the crazy things I have done/seen/experienced as a small school educator- I’d have a book!” I know there are a lot of hands out there- I’ve heard that statement many times! With all of the hats we wear as educators in small schools, we encounter a vast array of experiences. Most of them wonderful, some of them awful, and occasionally, they are bizarre. To keep ourselves (and others) sane, we must have a sense of humor. And a sense of humor is one of the top most desired qualities of a new Head of School according to the parents, faculty & staff, and Board members I have surveyed. What does that mean - that community members want a Head with a sense of humor? I don’t believe it means they want a Head who is funny, although that would be fine I’m sure. My sense is more that the Head of a small school needs to have a positive temperament, be able to “look on the bright side” of situations, be flexible, and find humor in both positive and negative situations.
As I think back on my time as a Head of a small school, and some of the crazy things I had to respond to, I am hopeful that I was seen as having a sense of humor; that my responses were flexible and positive. Moving snakes out of the basement- who would believe!? Cleaning up after a sprinkler head broke and flooded a classroom (again)- are we in the Twilight Zone?! A teacher quits in September- we will survive! While I certainly was frustrated in each of those cases, I could have also gotten angry, reactionary, blaming. I don’t believe those responses would have helped my community move forward, however. Responding with a lighter touch emotionally sets a positive tone and enables others to move towards productive thinking and acting.
Humor is a very personal thing and not everyone finds the same things funny. Having a sense of humor is more of a way of being and responding rather than a type of comedy style. It is a collection of flexible, lighthearted responses over time. And none of this is to say that anyone should ever make light of another’s difficult situations, ”poke fun” at others, or try to be funny all the time. Like so many aspects of leadership, having a sense of humor starts with knowing yourself: your temperament, your strengths, what you find humorous, how you typically respond in stressful situations. You also need to understand your environment, culture, and community. With these understandings, you are then able to add levity to your responses when appropriate.
Community members in small schools understand that leadership is challenging. Over and over, I hear that they want someone to lead their school who can respond to the challenges in a lighthearted, flexible, positive way. Developing a sense of humor is not a skill that aspiring leaders typically work to develop. It should be!
Writes about small school leadership and governance