Leading a school in today’s stressful environment is a very serious and demanding business, but a new study published in Educational Studies concludes that principals who manage to inject some levity into their schools create a happier workplace.
Principals have been shown to exert a major influence on a school’s climate and culture, writes researcher Lee Hurren of the University of North Alabama. A principal with a sense of humor translates into higher teacher satisfaction with often-pressure-filled jobs. “To many,” he says, “a sense of humor is a necessary attribute of a good leader.”
To examine the effect of humor on teacher job satisfaction Hurren surveyed 471 Nevada teachers. A total of 209 elementary school teachers, 99 middle school teachers and 157 secondary school teachers returned surveys.
Participants in the study were given a definition of humor and asked to evaluate the frequency of humor used by their principals in general and in several specific situations: private meetings (principal and teacher), small meetings (2-10 teachers), and large meetings (more than 10 teachers). The definition of humor used in the survey was “any message, verbal or nonverbal, that is communicated by the principal and evokes feelings of positive amusement by the participant.” For each situation, teachers were asked to indicate how often their principal used humor during 30 minutes of communication.
Teachers showed higher job satisfaction scores when principals share any number of humorous comments during 30 minutes of communication than when zero humorous comments are shared by the principal.
Overall, the more humor used during the meetings the higher the level of job satisfaction. The survey contained 17 items and a five-point Likert-type rating scale ranging from a high of 85 to a low of 17 for job satisfaction. Hurren concedes that there are several risks to injecting more humor into schools, including the fear that it can cause an unnecessary distraction.
“A principal using humor may cause participants in a meeting to want to tell their own humorous stories during the meeting. It is also possible that some will think the message is not very important if the principal is going to joke about it.” But he concludes, “This study has found reason to believe that as more principals dare to share humor and laugh with their teachers, more schools will become better places to teach and learn.” Be careful in advising others to use more levity, however. Hurren notes that almost everyone thinks they have a good sense of humor.
“The effects of principals’ humor on teachers’ job satisfaction,” by B. Lee Hurren, Educational Studies, Volume 32, Number 4, December 2006, pp. 373-385.