P2 News

Humor and Leadership: Interview with P2 Principals Swegles and Domagalski

By Jeff Bryan

Principal Jonathan Swegles of Lakeshore Middle School and Principal Mike Domagalski of St. Clair Middle School clearly show the character strength of humor. To help understand why humor bolsters their leadership — and their lives outside of school — I called them up to ask a few questions.

Jeff Bryan (JB): Since you are the examples for Humor Week, can you tell me where humor lands on your character strength profile?
Jonathan Swegles (JS): Humor is #3 for me. It goes kindness, forgiveness, and then humor.
Mike Domagalski (MD): Humor is #6 for me.
JB: What did you think when you learned that humor is classified as a character strength? 
JS: Well, it validates what I’ve been telling my wife for years. But, it really does make sense. When we’re not focusing on our strengths, we’re not going to have the impact and positive relationships we should. When we’re being intentional and really focusing on what we’re good at, that’s when we’re at our best. For me, humor isn’t about telling jokes or intentionally trying to be funny. It’s just keeping things light and always looking on the bright side.
JB: Can you explain how you decided to create these videos? Jonathan, you created your video first, right?
MD: Yeah, Jonathan’s was definitely first.
JS: So, the backstory is that we [Lakeshore Middle School] have our Family Meeting every Wednesday with announcements, birthdays, Positivity Project, and Lancer Leader of the Week. Our CI teacher, Ricky Rhodes, asked me, “If I write a rap, will you perform it at a Family Meeting?” So, I said “yes” and that started the duo of DJ Ricky Rhodes and MC Swegles. Then, during the string of snow days in January, a parent reached out on Facebook with positive pressure to create a video like we’d seen in other parts of the country. So I created “No School Monday.” But, my rap game is limited, which is why I only had one song.
MD: I saw the Swartz Creek viral video because I’m friends with the superintendent there. Then, I saw Jonathan’s video and then another principal. After that, parents and teachers started reaching out to me. Kids had been out for snow and cold and ice for a long time. Everyone was sick of it and they needed something positive. They needed something fun. So, inspired by others, I decided to create one. I was sitting at school and I thought, what can I do? I have a snowboard and gear in my car, so I can use that. And, I’ve gotta create a new song. So, I made up my own lyrics for “Regulators” in about 45-minutes and then filmed the video. I showed the video to my wife at lunch and she was laughing really hard.
Principal Swegles uses the character strength of humor in his "No School Monday" rap.
JB: What was the reaction like after you posted your videos?

JS: It was really cool to see the students’ reactions. The most fun for me was seeing students that I taught, as a teacher, from 7-8 years ago sharing it on social media. You know, this was just another way to build relationships.


MD: It created a positive buzz with parents and students. The students came back to school talking about it. Some students who you don’t talk to that much or who had discipline problems came up to me and talked about it. I think it helped them see me in a different light — and not just a disciplinarian. It was great. That’s what can happen when you put yourself out there.


JB: How has humor helped you as a leader?


MD: Well, it’s definitely helped me as a leader. And by “leader” I mean as a husband, father, and principal. Whether I’m mentoring kids, working with adults, or having a conversation with my wife, it’s important. Throughout my life, I’ve always used humor to lighten the mood. I don’t like negative attention or energy. So, it’s not really about joke telling for me, but just joking around to keep things light, to take people off task and think about things in a different way. A part of my office that I love is that we can laugh and joke about things. My assistant principal and I play off each other to help lighten the mood in tough situations or conversations. We’re always quoting Billy Madison or Tommy Boy and really utilizing that character strength. Using humor helps people have more hope & optimism, which is in that same virtue and really important. 

JS: Regardless of the position you’re in, education is a high-stress job. You’re dealing with humans every day. You can’t be afraid to step out of the box and put yourself out there. Showing vulnerability — which is what you do when you’re using humor — helps break down barriers and build those deep relationships that we’re going for. And, I think that especially as a middle school leader, being vulnerable and tapping into humor is really important. 
MD: I completely agree. Humor prevents us from getting caught up in some of the muck of education. I view the students and staff at St. Clair as a family. As a principal, I’ve had pies thrown in my face, my head shaved…it’s part of the gig. It’s part of our job — even if it’s not in the job description — to keep things light for everyone. 
JB: Awesome, thank you guys for sharing your wisdom and all you’re doing.

Jeff Bryan
CEO and Co-Founder of The Positivity Project

Jeff Bryan is the CEO and Co-Founder of The Positivity Project. In this role, he leads the organization to support educators to empower their students to build positive relationships and become their best selves.