“What you got?”

Last Saturday I was reminded of the unbounded joy of creative play. Sitting comfortably in the audience at San Dieguito High School Academy’s “Cabaret Night,” an evening of performances diverse enough to include singers, dancers, and a bell choir’s rendition of Lady Gaga’s Just Dance, I was startled into action by an invitation I couldn’t refuse.

Our ComedySportz team had just taken the stage. Gifted at improvisation, these lightning quick student comedians work wonders in wit. Earlier in the night a group of ComedySportz performers had ended the first act with a synchronized swimming display to Blue Danube …without water. They were back on stage now for a language rich game, more Groucho than Harpo, called: “What you got?”

photo (3)…and they invited me to play.

I’ve read a lot about play, looking at it through the eyes of an educator and a dad. Stuart Brown’s book Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul was one of the first I read on the subject. I’ve written about that book before, in conjunction to a book club I participated in with parents and teachers, and I came back to it after Saturday night, finding resonance in the line: “Play can become a doorway to a new self, one much more in tune with the world. Because play is all about trying on new behaviors and thoughts, it frees us from established patterns.” Play can be a path to learning.

Other research bears out the importance of play in the lives of students, and I’d argue that it vital for adults as well. Beyon that, there is huge value in students seeing the adults on their campus engaged in play.

As a high school principal, I believe that it is important that my students see me as approachable, honest, and supportive. I also know how important it is that they see me as human. Jogging through the aisle and up to join a smiling group of student performers on the stage, I thought I should add “willing to look the fool” to the list.

We often encourage our students to take chances and stretch their worlds by presenting to the class, joining a club, or following their passion and working to make a difference. As the adults in our kids’ lives, we talk about expanding our comfort zone and being willing to try something new. We talk about school as a safe place to fail.

Looking out at the audience, past the student referee’s grin, I realized that I had an opportunity to show my school community that I was willing to do those things.

How’d it go?

In a word: fun. I wasn’t the best at “What you got?” but the crowd seemed to chuckle at my buffoonery and revel in the ability of the student performers. More than that, I hope I was able to show that it isn’t just the students who can benefit from trying something new. We all can make our lives richer by stepping out of our comfort zones, engaging with new challenges, and allowing ourselves, even publicly, to play.

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