There is a great video that’s been around for a few years from TheFunTheory.com that shows how making something ‘fun’ can get people to do something they otherwise wouldn’t want to do. The video is called Piano Stairs and it’s worth a second look, even if you’ve seen it before. I’ve used this video over the years during staff professional development, as well as at parent meetings, to start a conversation about the importance of ‘fun’, and how ‘fun’ can/should be incorporated into our schools.
I would guess that when most people traditionally think about incorporating fun into school, it’s in the context of a reading, math, social studies or science lesson. As in, “Wow, that was a really fun science lesson today!” But I have challenged myself, and my staff, to think about ‘fun’ in a more targeted manner as we reset our PBIS behavior expectations this month. In general, I think it’s been harder to consider the idea of ‘fun’ when we are teaching replacement behaviors or behavior expectations to students. After all, until PBIS hit the scene a few decades ago, schools would predominantly focus on changing behaviors through a deficit-mindset or through punishment-to-change-behavior.
I think it’s easy to forget that to students, letting go of old behaviors and relearning new replacement behaviors is not only uncomfortable and confusing, it’s simply not fun. During our PBIS reset this past month I’ve spent a significant amount of time listening and learning from our students as to what type of ‘fun’ motivates them. Previously at our school we’ve provided the relatively common ideas such as extra recess, pajama day, crazy hat day, etc., as motivators, but you can only get so much mileage from that sort of fun. Sometimes with the more challenging behaviors there needs to be some serious thought – out of the box, unique thought – as to what type of ‘fun’ is needed to encourage the necessary productive struggle that leads children to a change in behavior.
It’s not as easy as it seems to define exactly what is fun for students. That process can quickly turn into a generation-gap issue. As much as I love old Atari games, Electronic Football, Electronic Battleship, and other 80’s retro-cool fun, many of the students in our classrooms today want Ozobots or iPADs…which means I have to do my research and learn how to use these items (which isn’t always comfortable for me!). But I recognize it’s crucial to step outside myself to accurately define what fun looks like for students in 2018. So I’m always keeping my eyes open for the latest educational tools/tech that I can bring into the school and use creatively with PBIS. Tools/tech that can be used in large groups, as well as ones that can be used with individual students.
It’s been reassuring to discover that some old-school fun has stood the test of time when it comes to changing behaviors. For instance, the simplicity of a Nerf basketball hoop. I had one in my classroom when I began my career as a 1st Grade teacher in 1998, and still have one in my office as a Principal. I have had hundreds of conversations with students about behavior while shooting hoops in my classroom or office. As educators, we all know the science behind physical activity and it’s positive relationship to working through thoughts/feelings, but the hoop adds a ‘fun’ component. “Let’s shoot hoops and you can tell me how your day is going.” “Let’s shoot hoops and we can talk about what happened in the classroom earlier today.”
Sometimes it’s just that little bit of fun that moves a child into an emotional space to embrace the productive struggle needed to change behavior.
This type of thinking has been a part of me as an educator since the first day I stepped into a classroom many years ago.
This generation of students is expecting us to provide more fun for them in school. They are expecting that productive struggle and fun will be paired to make their very complicated work a bit easier for them to handle. And that includes the way in which we teach/reinforce behaviors and behavior expectations. I’m sure the thought of an educator utilizing a Nerf hoop can be described as a bit unorthodox, and in many ways I recognize that it is. But given all the conversations and all the behaviors that I’ve seen change because of those items, it’s worth it to find the fun.
I welcome your thoughts and comments!