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Earlier this week, I saw a hilarious video created by a principal and teacher in Kentucky that communicated out to students and the community that school was closed due to severe weather, something those of us on the east coast have grown accustomed to during one of the worst winters in recent memory. If you haven’t seen the video that has almost 2 million hits in under a week, it’s worth your 52 seconds.
After viewing, I shared the video on my Facebook page for my friends, colleagues and family to enjoy. One friend I respect very much commented: “Very funny but I have to say that those two have too much time on their hands!” I responded, “I think every employee appreciates an employer with a sense of humor.” This short interaction got me thinking further on the balance and expectations for humor and seriousness in our schools.
I think this is an issue for educators and especially school leaders. Depending on the culture of the organization, those who break the expected routine of being 150% serious and task-oriented are sometimes questioned for “wasting time” or “off-task” when there are “more pressing things” to be doing. I’d argue that leaders who keep it light, show some personality while role modeling technology, humor and relational trust is vital for today’s school leader looking to build relationships amongst stakeholders and repair lagging teacher morale.
Starring in the aforementioned Bohemian Rhapsody video are Stephens Elementary (KY) principal James Detwiler and drama teacher Chad Caddell. When asked by WKRC in Burlington, Kentucky why they created the video? They responded, “We wanted to show the kids how they can be creative with technology. We also thought parents needed a little entertainment after all the bad weather.”
Like teacher flash mobs for state test preparations or to kick off a new school year, I hope these two have started a trend of acceptable and anticipated humor within the field. Here are three reflections on their act of leadership.
1) Proactive Creativity
Detwiler and Caddell didn’t create this announcement at 4AM the day school was closed when most superintendents and principals are up talking to colleagues in neighboring districts trying to make a group decision on whether to close or not. They saw the writing on the wall last week that more severe weather was coming and planned something clever to step away from something that probably sounded like “This is Stephens Elementary School Principal James Detwiler. Due to the severe weather, school will be closed today. All after school and evening activities are canceled” These two switched it up, while role-modeling a creative use of technology that most likely inspired some students and teachers at Stephens Elementary leading up to Digital Learning Day. I can already see the wheels turning in the minds of two characters of my PLN: Joe Sanfelippo & Tony Sinanis, hosts of the new BrandED Radio Show on the BAM Radio Network.
2) Why so serious?
The video added humor to a frustrating situation for many.
When school is canceled an hour before parents are due into work, it is not just a tough situation for school officials, transportation and custodial departments, but working parents must make accommodations for young children if their employer expects them in that day. One of my favorite examples of how an organization has leveraged humor to be successful is Southwest Airlines. Their results in building a strong “brand” over the years show that people with a distinct sense of humor can more easily reduce the customer’s frustration and despair. At the same time, humorously inclined employees handle such situations better and are less exposed to aggression because they can more easily communicate with difficult customers. Think of educators, secretaries, school leaders through the same lens. Southwest Airlines’ former CEO, Herbert (Herb) Kelleher (82), lives by the motto “Work is important – don’t spoil it with seriousness.” For some humor comes naturally. For others, we have to work at it. Ask a colleague if you tend to be more on the serious or humor side.
3) I’d like to add them to my PLN. Are these guys on Twitter?
“We are nothing without our employees. They must enjoy themselves – and most importantly they must have a good time. Love and passion. A company is much stronger if love, not fear, is the glue that holds the employees together.” — Another great quote from Kelleher that brings home the importance of relationships in the workplace.
After seeing the video, I immediately looked the two up on Twitter to see if they were connected. I thought to myself, these two edu-personalities sound like the kind of light-hearted perspective I want to see in my newsfeed each day. I did find them both and have since followed. James Detwiler (@JamesDetwiler1) doesn’t tweet very often, but maybe a couple shout outs of gratitude for the creative school closing idea will get him sharing or even blogging about more of his work. The drama teacher, Chad Caddell (@laughwithchad) is an active tweeter. Judging from his timeline, if I had to guess I’d saying this was his idea. Something tells me the performance we saw wasn’t the only thing these two have up their sleeves.
Yep here’s the encore performance with a special challenge for Stephens ES students.
For more on the Southwest experience, check out Nuts! (1998).