Education is serious work. Teachers, administrators, and staff are responsible for the health, well-being, and education of young people, all of which have far-reaching consequences for the individuals, our community, and the larger society. At Dana Hall School, I often tell people that we — the adults in the community — take our work very seriously…but we don’t take ourselves too seriously. Not only does this make coming to work each day a lot of fun, but it provides important lessons for our students, too.
I have earned something of a reputation for performing songs for accepted student revisit days, in which I rewrite the lyrics to a popular song in order to sing about Dana Hall. This tends to elicit some confusion and excitement from students who don’t typically see me sing onstage, but the goal of this little exercise is not to garner applause. Instead, I want to communicate to prospective families that we love what we do at Dana Hall, and I want to remind all students that we must be willing to take risks and push ourselves beyond our comfort zones – even as adults.
The first time I did this was in April 2017, at which point my family and I were obsessed with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit musical sensation, Hamilton. I rewrote the opening rap to sing about Dana Hall, not about one of America’s founding fathers. As I stood on stage in front of 400+ people and hinted that the end of my speech might be a bit unconventional, I was terrified. Shaking, actually. I didn’t know if my voice would crack or if I could enunciate the words well enough for the audience to understand them. But I pushed on and did my best…and I had so much fun doing so! The shock and surprise from the audience was rewarding, but the comments I got later from visiting families and current students were even better. “I didn’t know you could sing!” led to conversations about what students could achieve if they took a bit of a risk themselves. We talk to students all the time about the importance of risk-taking, but we need to do more modeling of this important skill for our students. My silly singing at revisit days is just one small way that I try to model reasonable (and fun!) risk-taking for the Dana Hall community.
Other examples abound. The faculty and staff give a “gift” to the senior class each May at Senior Convocation, typically by performing a song, dance, or even flash mob in their honor. A few years ago, the Upper School faculty and staff recorded a spoof of James Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke” to kick off the school year. We have a faculty “Jug Band” that performs for students each year, showcasing musical talent for the community in a low-key, fun-filled fashion. Student leaders have encouraged students to participate in “Just Dance” games at Morning Meeting…and the list goes on. In all of these examples, students and adults alike model joy and reasonable risk-taking – both of which are essential for a strong learning community.
There is plenty of research available that studies the importance of play in learning for elementary and middle school students. KQED’s Mind/Shift blog cites research about the importance of playfulness in high schools as well. As all of us engage in the critically important work of educating young women in order to prepare them “for the challenges and choices they will face as women and citizens of the world,” it is important to have some fun in the process!