K-12 Magazine, March 22, 2000
Clemmons counselor uses humor and fun in after-school program
that teaches kids to be kids and parents to be kids, too

By Michael Huie

Scott Ertl is a published author and a respected school counselor at Clemmons Elementary School, who has a graduate degree in Education. He is also a clown, a buffoon and a practical joker who encourages kids to play in school.
    And he wants you to know that clown is not a bad word and laughter may not only be the best medicine, it can be an extremely effective teaching tool.
    For three years now, Ertl has been inviting parents, teachers and students to Clemmons Elementary after school to participate in playshops. During a typical playshop, students, teachers and parents break into groups of eight to 10 and move through various stations to accomplish fun and creative tasks.
    And although the tasks may include building a Lego tower or catching bubbles blown by one of your teammates, Ertl says he feels that the experience can be invaluable in many different ways. “Everyone is at the same level here--teachers, students and parents,” he says. “That’s a real important part for everybody, it helps establish rapport.” Other benefits Ertl attributes to the group activities are improved communication, teamwork, imagination and definitely fun.
    “Each team works at the different stations to accomplish a goal,” says Ertl. “There are no winners and losers.”
    Ertl begins each playshop with a silly song-and-dance warm-up. “It’s really an icebreaker,” he says. Adults and kids are asked to contort their bodies into hysterical, pretzel-like positions. “After we’ve finished that I tell them ‘you’re not going to look any more ridiculous than you do now.’”
    With the playshops, Ertl tries to create a safe atmosphere where adults and kids can let go of fears and inhibitions and be
  silly while trying to complete a team-oriented task. And often it’s the adults who enjoy it the most. “I tell kids, ‘Some grown-ups forget how to play,’” he says. “But after it’s over I have parents come up to me and say, ‘I haven’t blown a bubble in over 10 years. That was so much fun.’”
    Ertl has held playshops for students at each grade level at Clemmons Elementary and says that the hour of silliness and creativity has had an impact on day-to-day school life. “It helps us to grow closer as a community,” he says. “After a playshop, it’s always easier dealing with parents and kids on school business. The playshops make it easier for me and the teachers to call parents. Once they know who I am [through the playshop], they know I’m not the scary counselor.”
    On the contrary, most kids at the school seem to know Ertl as the “funny counselor.” As he walks through the school halls, kids respond to him with broad smiles and high-fives. His work with kids as an educator and performer has taken him all over the world. From 1988-1995, he performed a comedy/magic/juggling act with various circuses along the East Coast. He has also conducted educational workshops in Russia, Costa Rica, Finland, Sweden, and Denmark. Later this year, Ertl will be attending a Humor and Creativity Conference.
    He says he feels that humor and imagination are exactly what schools today need more of. “People don’t take humor seriously,” he says. “A lot of people think if you’re laughing you’re wasting time. As a school counselor, I use a lot of humor and creativity. Kids listen to what I’m saying, because they don’t want to miss the next joke. Humor is like a lubricant. Otherwise we get all dried up--we get stuck. Just think how much lighter and healthier we all feel after a good laugh.”
    For more information about Ertl’s work and playshops, take a look at: www.playshops.com