________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIII Number 17 . . . . January 13, 2017


Teaching with Humor, Compassion, and Conviction: Helping Our Students Become Literate, Considerate, Passionate Human Beings.

Heather Hollis.
Markham, ON: Pembroke, 2016.
92 pp., trade pbk. & pdf, $24.95 (pbk.), $21.95 (pdf).
ISBN 978-1-55138-316-3 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55138-918-9 (pdf).

Subject Headings:
Effective teaching.
Elementary School teaching.


Review by Kristen Ferguson.

*** /4



As literacy teachers, our goal is to teach students how to read, write, and communicate clearly and articulately so that they can understand others and make themselves understood. You could do this in a classroom where students are required to be serious, keep their heads down, and work, work, work all the time. But why would you want to? I'd rather have dental surgery than teach in a classroom like that. (That was an exaggeration for the purposes of the story. Please do not tell my dentist.) During the school year, we spend the majority of our waking hours at school, and so do our students. That's way too much time to waste being miserable and stressed out. We owe it to them, and ourselves, to make our classrooms places of joy. (p. 7)

Teaching with Humor, Compassion and Conviction, by Heather Hollis, is a relatively short professional book for teachers about bringing humanity back into the classroom. While there is some emphasis on literacy in the book, Teaching with Humor, Compassion and Conviction is a book about being a teacher, first and foremost. While I have reviewed many professional books by Pembroke Publishers, this one feels different as it is less a pedagogical book and more a personal and teacher development book.

      In Chapter 1, Hollis outlines some literature about teaching with humour, compassion and conviction, as well as student engagement. Chapter 2 specifically focuses on humour, and Hollis shares some of her favourite humourous authors as well as how to use and how not to use humour in the classroom. Compassion is the focus of Chapter 3. This was my favourite chapter, and Hollis shares ideas on how to create a safe space for students by both feeling compassion and teaching it. Chapter 4 is about conviction and focuses on getting students to take a stance on issues important to them, such as justice and equality.

      Hollis is also the author of the blog Suburban Princess Teacher. The writing style in Teaching with Humor, Compassion and Conviction is informal and often feels like a blog post. This tone is set immediately in the preface:

Let's face it. Teaching is serious business. We teachers are helping to mold the minds of our future leaders. Therefore, we must always be vigilant and stay the course. No funny business allowed.

Oh puleeze!

Teaching should be a joy! Kids are funny!
(p. 5)

      While this writing style makes it an easy and quick read, the writing style may be unappealing or unexpected for those looking for a more scholarly book.

      While I have been researching and publishing in the area of teacher stress and coping for over a decade, I'm now seeing a huge trend in school and teacher wellness. It's a hot topic that is more than worthy of the attention it is currently getting. Teachers need to be healthy to be the best teachers they can be. Teaching with Humor, Compassion and Conviction is a book that fits very well with teacher wellness. Its positive and reaffirming stance about teaching and the teaching profession is a good reminder of why we, as teachers, do what we do.

      While Teaching with Humor, Compassion and Conviction contains some pedagogical strategies, the strength of the book is not in activities or blackline masters for teachers. Its strength is Hollis' frank discussion about the challenges and joys of being a teacher. She is very candid in the book, even telling of her own mental breakdown and taking a leave of absence. Teaching with Humor, Compassion and Conviction would be a great book for practicing teachers of all grade levels to read over the summer or holiday break to reignite the spark and passion for teaching. After reading the book, I felt like I got to know Heather Hollis. She'd be the type of teacher that I would enjoy having as a colleague –a good teacher who loves what she does, but keeps it real.


Dr. Kristen Ferguson teaches literacy education at the Schulich School of Education at Nipissing University in North Bay, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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