Fun seems to promote teaching and learning by increasing dopamine, endorphins, and oxygen in the brain
The flexibility to control your schedules is one of the major advantages of working as a teacher. In the educational world, the profession of a faculty member gives you the benefit of the autonomy to follow your intellectual and creative passions. Learning could be fun, but we need to figure out, HOW?
It is also suggested by various brain researches that fun is not just beneficial to teaching but, by many reports, required for authentic learning and long-term memory. The teaching and learning benefits of fun are highlighted in the book “Research-Based Strategies to Ignite Student Learning: Insights from a Neurologist and Classroom Teacher” (ASCD, 2006) by Neurologist and educator Judy Willis.
The book quotes,
“The truth is that when the joy and amenity are scrubbed from the classroom and swapped with homogeneity, and when spontaneity is swapped with conformity, students’ brains are distanced from effective information processing and long-term memory storage.” It says that “the highest-level executive thinking, making of connections, and “aha” moments are more probable to occur in an atmosphere of exuberant discovery. In such an atmosphere, students of all ages retain that kindergarten enthusiasm of embracing each day with the joy of learning.”
Therefore, fun seems to promote teaching and learning by increasing dopamine, endorphins, and oxygen in the brain. The question that arises here is, how can teachers break the monotony they go through to make learning fun for students and teaching fun for themselves? Well, here are some strategies for the same.
Strategy No. 1: Gracefully saying No
To spice things up a bit to make space for fun at work, it becomes very important as an academic to say no to things which might be important or sound exciting. The tricky thing here is that saying no can be difficult for many reasons. It depends entirely on the teacher on how to decide whether to accept a new work commitment or not. Categorizing the work based on priority and own’s comfort is the key.
Stalling for time unless the immediate reaction of a teacher to a work-related request is “Hell, yes!” as the task might not be important enough and the person who asked in the first place finds someone else to do it anyway. One should say yes to the work that will help the faculty member grow professionally.
Another point of consideration is that one should not get stuck in the trap of feeling that tenure or promotion is tied to how nice or accommodating people think you are. In some cases, people are denied tenure when they don’t contribute to their department. A teacher will get tenure based on their merit, not their collegiality. Gender inequality can also be a hurdle in the tenure process. But, in any case, he/she has pissed off the entire department, certainly, the colleagues won’t be generous during the tenure process.
Getting a senior colleague to do a task for you is also a smart option to get out of doing it.
For instance, if a senior professor asks you to perform some tasks, and it quickly becomes clear you are going to be stuck doing the bulk of the work. You can ask a mentor or a trusted colleague to intervene. The mentor/colleague can write a note advising you against the idea based on tenure criteria. It can then be forwarded to the prospective collaborator. It gets easier when you practice saying no. It’s always helpful to possess a subtle “no” ready.
Strategy No. 2: Schedule the Ugly Work
Another strategy or measure that can be opted to make space for fun is scheduling the “yuck” or the ugly work. This can be done by assigning an entire or a half-day to all the tasks that one hates to do. This may include tasks like paperwork, travel claims, assessment, checking assignments, etc. Try and finish all the tasks on this list during the decided hours. It certainly feels great to cross one small, annoying job after another off the lists. It’s similar to cleaning the house to clear the mind.
One should reward themselves for tiny little victories as well. Rewarding yourself for progress whenever a few annoying tasks are completed. A nice short walk or a great cup of tea or coffee shall do. Doing the “yuck” work in a pleasing setting or distracting oneself from the loathing of a task with fun tools like funky stationery proves to be indirectly helpful. Handwritten lists also are very satisfying as one feels good about cutting and scribbling the things done on the list. Certainly, every job entails some degree of dull, irritating, yet necessary work but motivating yourself by focusing on the part of the work which is accomplished rather than how much is left to do.
Strategy No. 3: Learning to Juggle
More and more service is expected as one climbs up the stairs of higher ranks. A load of teaching and research won’t lessen anyhow. To achieve an utmost of 80% fun goal, it is very essential to learn to handle the constant juggling and managing. Rearranging, juggling, and prioritizing is a daily, even hourly, part of faculty work which helps to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the work done by maintaining the work balance.
Learning a quick transition between the tasks minimizes the risk of inefficiency in multitasking. Rather than wasting time on social media and other distractions, one can take a walk around the campus, a garden maybe and see what trees and flowers are blooming, visiting the library and meandering the stacks. Facebook never helps anyone for good. A very useful skill is planning-ahead. If there are only 20 minutes, execute a 20-minute task. Efficiency in a short burst of time is also very important. It is all about breaking up the tasks so that they fit in your frame.
Strategy No. 4: Taking proper Rest
In the educational sector… not always are there a fun time to play along and work smoothly. One comes across a lot of people and situations which are difficult to deal with. One gets exhausted and probably sometimes all the energized effort leads to a collapse. Therefore, it is better to take a break and let your brain recharge.
The body and mind need not only rest but something to refresh things up. Watching some series, gardening, art, and sketching, etc may help to leap from the monotony. Any faculty won’t be able to perform and teach until and unless he/she is happy in whatever they do and this completely an internal process that takes time, focus and self-love. This might also help in setting an example for the future generation of scholars because as for today graduate students, especially women, express concerns that opting for a faculty career will tangle them up for years of stress and misery.
At the end of the day, we as faculties cherish our independence. Careers are long and it all gets done eventually. One might not meet the goal every day, but one must do whatever makes them happy. Taking control of the flexible, autonomous parts of faculty work is the ultimate reminder of not forgetting to have fun. Yes! It is important to be realistic about the faculty job market, which can cause stress and misery… Yes, there are sacrifices. Yes, there is stress. But, on balance, there is also a lot of fun one can have.
It’s much more fun for both the teachers and the students as they learn and discover new things together. Your job as a faculty is, of course, to educate, but why can’t that process include the tiny fun elements? It is all about letting down your authoritative guard, humbling yourself, and enjoying the lifelong journey together with the students even if it’s just for a few minutes.
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