Integrating Humor & Sims in K-12 Leadership

July 1, 2021

By Danielle Miller & Nick Kovalcik

Work is often devoid of humor. If we’re trying to solve big problems or make money, jokes and laughter don’t always seem appropriate. However, levity will potentially assist us in achieving our serious objectives. We all know that humor can be beneficial, but the statistics were intriguing, particularly given how serious and difficult K-12 leadership can be. Leaders who have a sense of humor are 27% more inspiring, motivating, and admired (the teachers and staff can probably use whatever additional motivation may be possible). Employees are 15% more committed (it’s impossible not to support students). Even a bad joke may be beneficial.

Why is this important? The feeling of closeness and confidence is heightened when people laugh together. Laughter creates intimacy and a bond that not only creates joy in the workplace but allows people to feel satisfied in what they are doing. There is a chemical connection that explains this. Laughter reduces the production of Cortisol, the stress hormone, while also releasing Endorphins and also Oxytocin. This response creates the feeling of a runner’s high while making us feel more trusting and generous to who we are with.

Efficient educational leaders can laugh at themselves and recognize that they are only human and that they, too, can make mistakes. It’s fine to be a perfectionist, but it’s also fine to laugh at yourself when things go wrong. Even if you can’t bring yourself to laugh at yourself in regular life, don’t ruin everyone else’s fun by creating an environment that discourages laughter. On the other hand, you must ensure that humor is not used inappropriately. Never make jokes or find comedy in anything that degrades, embarrasses, exploits, or bullies another person or group. Everyone in the educational environment should follow and understand this guideline. Make sure you stick to it at all times.

Simulations have a fundamental value in that it organically and tastefully incorporates opportunities for satire into the game. We don’t use humor to minimize the importance of a scene; rather, it creates a certain amount of distance that allows participants to see some humor in things, but more importantly, it encourages participants to think about and share their stories, which are often processed, at least partially, humorously, and the chemical reactions are elicited.

As we used simulations in workshops in several countries including in Latin America, Sonia, a character in the simulation, soon became a word to represent all the related leadership tensions and challenges. As you played the role of a principal in a school, Sonia was the assistant principal who thought she was going to be promoted, but ultimately was not. So while you are navigating a challenging leadership problem in the school, she was still on your team and was kind of a saboteur making things even harder. We’d be midway through a workshop session in the Dominican Republic or Colombia, for instance, despite the clearly Chilean context and accents of the sim, and the participants engaged each other eagerly asking “Como es tu Sonia?? – What is your Sonia like?” According to Dr. Mike Johanek, Director of Mid-Career Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership at the University of Pennsylvania, “She had transcended the simulation, and now simply signified all the messy interpersonal and organizational challenges in that scenario. In this way, simulations often bring practitioners to a level both mired in local detail and transcendent of it, allowing concrete exchange across varied contexts.”

The relatability of the sim characters allows those participating in a synchronous session to find brevity, which leads to participants being comfortable and encourages collaboration, making a fun environment to be in.

So ask yourself, have you had a Sonia-like experience?


Works Cited

Aaker, Jennifer, and Naomi Bagdonas. “How to Be Funny at Work.” Harvard Business Review, 5 Feb. 2021, Accessed 24 May 2021.