"WE KNOW IT WILL BE A GOOD DAY"... SCHOOL PRINCIPALS' USE OF HUMOR IN MANAGEMENT.
Presentation at ISHS 2009 conference
Abstract Text: This paper presents the preliminary findings of my doctoral thesis. Semi structured interviews were conducted with 35 Israeli education workers - 15
veteran principals, 10 new principals, and 10 teachers. The purpose of this study was to discover if principals used humor as part of their daily interactions with their staff, what form these uses took, how it influenced the principal and teachers and what benefits or harm came from using humor.
Qualitative analysis was used to draw themes from the interviews. Findings show that while most principals have positive attitudes towards the use of humor most are not consciously aware of using it in their everyday interactions, although they feel it does exist. Those principals who use humor report positive results such as improving school atmosphere, better relations with their staff, diffusing conflict situations and the release of personal tension. One interesting finding is that principal's use of humor is influenced by their career stage, with veteran principals using more humor than novice principals.
Various researchers indicate humor is the seventh sense necessary for effective school leadership (Adelsward & Oberg,1989 ; Avolio, Howell & Sosik, 1999; Consalvo,;1998 Decker, 1987 ; Decker & Rotondo, 2001; Holmes & Marra, 2006; Morreall, 1991; Malone, 1980 ;Meyer, 2000;).
Results of a study examining elementary school principals' use of humor in their daily interactions with teachers found that humor seemed to enhance principals' messages to teachers and was used primarily to create and improve school climate, to communicate principals' understanding of teaching demands, to break down the rigidity of bureaucratic structures, and to convey sanctions and other necessary unpleasantries (Pierson and Bredeson 1993). Principals who share humor in the workplace have teachers with higher job satisfaction than those principals who share very little or no humor in the workplace (Hurren, 2006). However using humor as a management tool to detect and effect emotions in the staff room (Francis, 1994) is an ability that few principals seem to posses and is seldom sought out while choosing educational administrators.
This study endeavors to bring to light what influences these select principals who use humor successfully in their schools, how the use of humor affects their experiences and those of their staff and patterns of humor use in school management culture in Israel.
Semi structured interviews were conducted with 35 Israeli education workers – 15 veteran principals, 10 new principals, and 10 teachers. A qualitative narrative analysis was used to uncover the themes and subcategories emerging from the text. The primary texts (interview transcripts) are thus produced where reliability of method (of sampling, interviewing and analysis) and the generalizability of analyses follow through from the validity of data. The resulting texts were then coded according to the four-step analytic process recommended by Marshal and Rossman (1995, p.111): (1) comparing units of meaning across categories for inductive category coding; (2) refining categories; (3) "delimiting the theory" by exploring relationships and patterns across categories; and (4) integrating data to write theory.
In the next stage of the research observations will be carried out in several schools. These case studies of principals who use humor in their work will provide on site examples of how humor is incorporated into the daily interactions of school life.
Contribution of the study to humor theory
This thesis is a groundbreaking study on the occurrence of humor in work relations in the Israeli school system. Although several studies have related to the uses of humor in teaching in Israeli schools (Ziv, 1981, 1985, 1995) there are to our knowledge no studies focusing on the occurrence of humor in educational administration and the work relations between principal and staff or indeed on any aspect of humor at work in Israel.
Previous studies have noted the paucity of research regarding the importance of cultural constructs on use of humor. This study contributes new perspectives on use of humor in a culturally diverse workplace in Israeli society. Israel is an immigrant society and most school staffs are composed from a variety of cultural backgrounds.
As a majority of Israeli education workers are now female, this study will relate to the influence of gender when using humor as an interactional technique by male and female principals working with a predominantly female staff.
This study will also give considerable attention to the interaction between humor and culture – on three levels – as an aspect of the management culture created by a particular school principal, as an aspect of the work culture established by the wider school system and as an aspect of Israeli Jewish culture in modern day Israel.
Humor as a leadership tool for Israeli school principals.
Ben-Gurion University, Israel. Debbie Iancu-Haddad, Department of education,
1. How is humor expressed in interactions between principal and staff?
- How is humor used?
- By whom is humor used?
- In which situations is humor used?
2. What functions does humor fulfill in the work of principals?
3. What are the antecedents of humor use by the principal?
4. What are the consequences of humor use?
Contribution of the study.
l Ground breaking study on humor in work relations in the Israeli school system.
l Highlighting aspects of culture and context in the day to day use of humor.
l Examining changes in humor use throughout an individuals career.
l Examining motivation and personal benefits.
l Humor was defined as any expression that led to laughter or amusement reported by a participant.
l Semi structured interviews were conducted with 35 Israeli education workers – 15 veteran principals, 10 new principals, and 10 teachers.
l Qualitative analysis & Grounded theory were used to uncover themes and subcategories emerging from the text.
- Humor and leadership
l Humor has been found to enhance principals' messages to teachers.
l create and improve school climate,
l communicate principals' understanding of teaching demands,
l break down the rigidity of bureaucratic structures,
l convey sanctions and other necessary unpleasantries (Pierson and Bredeson 1993).
l Principals who share humor in the workplace have teachers with higher job satisfaction (Hurren, 2006).
- Findings: factors affecting use of humor.
l Tenure and seniority – veteran principals described how as their confidence in their managerial skills grew, so did their use of humor.
l Principals who had held previous leadership positions (assistant principal) felt more confident using humor in their first years of principalship.
l Personality and disposition. Reverting to comfort zone.
l Perceptions of humor.
- I'm not the class clown.
- I need to maintain my distance.
- They need to take me seriously.
- Humor lets me reduce my stress.
- Humor helps me get along / get my way.
- Humor is being myself.
- Findings: humor and culture.
Three levels of culture at work
1. Management culture created by a particular school principal.
2. Work culture established by the wider school system
3. Humor as an aspect of Israeli Jewish culture in modern day Israel.
Humor as an aspect of Israeli Ministry of Education culture.
l Most teachers have tenure and cannot be fired, principals have few resources and can rarely reward a teacer financially.
l Principals are usually teachers who have advanced through the system, often from inside the school they manage – having to negotiate the move from being "one of the gang" to becoming a superior.
l During the past two decades principals have become more academized, requiring a graduate degree, while principal age drops.
A two way street: Humor as interaction between principal and teachers.
l Enabling humor in the workplace enables teachers to communicate messages to the principal in a non- threatening way.
l Findings of teacher interviews and survey found that teacher perceptions of whether their principal was funny were influenced by their relationship with the principal, the closer circle reporting more humor.
A principal described how her staff joked about her at the end of year party, describing how they could tell her mood by the way she wrote messages on the board in the staff room:
... “when she (the principal) writes a notice that ends in exclamation marks... then watch out, get out of her way today. But when she writes the message and even puts on a smiley face, we know it's going to be a good day". I laughed so much... but I also listened to what they were telling me. My mood was affecting my staff. They didn't confront me, but the message got through.
Humor as an aspect of Israeli culture.
l Informal work relations are common in Israeli culture. Lack of distance and few behaviors displaying formal hierarchy (informal dress codes, first name basis).
l Culturally diverse workplace - Israel is an immigrant society (russian, ethiopian, mizrachi and ashkenazi).
l Gender - The majority of Israeli teachers are female. Male and female principals work with a predominantly female staff.
Complex and uncertain political reality: Humor under fire.
l A principal described how she used humor to control her staff under extreme circumstances when they were forced to run to a bomb shelter during the missile attacks on the south:
l "One teacher was lagging behind so to speed her up I called out to her; three, two, one – Boom, You're dead. What would you like us to write on your tombstone?'.
l Principals use humor to soften the tone of authority in a complex situation.
l In ambivalent situations there is a thin line between superior and fellow human being.
l Shared meaning and relation to context are the most important ways for a principal to generate effective managerial humor.
l Uses of humor are viewed through the lense of ongoing interpersonal relationships and provide an insight into the relationship.