NO SMILING ZONE
In the 6-weeks before I started teaching (crash course of “everything you need to know about education and what we didn’t cover you can find in this book”) I heard the same statement from every single one of my teachers, advisors, mentors, and administrators each day – “whatever you do – DON’T SMILE.”
Hearing it from so many people who presented with so much experience and knowledge, I fought what came naturally to me because I kept telling myself there is no way that all these highly educated, extremely experienced people could be wrong. But in my opinion, they were wrong – VERY WRONG!
That first year with my first “real” class, I did not smile. This advice from the experts in my field left me with a class that was scared, indifferent, and generally over the idea of being in the 6th grade before October ended. It was the last and first time I approached teaching without smiling.
Unfortunately this mentality of not smiling still resonates in education today. Even as a principal I was told don’t smile at your students or your staff. I felt like I was reliving year one all over again at the same time as questioning myself and what I knew to be the truth when it comes to kids, adults, anyone for that matter. Who wants to engage with someone who is staring at you with their unfriendly, unapproachable, uncaring, not smiling face?
WHY SMILING MATTERS
According to a post on Psychology Today, “Each time you smile you throw a little feel-good party in your brain. The act of smiling activates neural messaging that benefits your health and happiness.” As educators know, teaching can be stressful, so anything to help encourage happiness and health while reducing stress is a win-win in the education world.
The post also goes on to say, “Looking at the bigger picture, each time you smile at a person, their brain coaxes them to return the favor. You are creating a symbiotic relationship that allows both of you to release feel good chemicals in your brain, activate reward centers, make you both more attractive and increase the chances of you both living longer, healthier lives.” If that is not argument alone, I don’t know what else could persuade you.
In this day in age, a smile means so much more with it comes to communication. We are surrounded by technology and often communicate through the written word relying, on 140 characters to get our message across. Often times those messages use pictures to convey emotion. It is a lot faster to insert a :o) or a >;( or the ever popular emoji’s as we type than write out how we feel. Without them, a statement like, “What do you mean?” could be very vague to a reader, but add some emoji’s and that same statement can go from, “What do you mean? :o)” to “What do you mean? :<(” making it clear to the receiver how you are feeling.
Nowadays our students spend more time communicating in text and images that those smiles are a key to deciphering their thinking. Even commercials promote emoji’s like this one from Chevy
As an advocate of encouraging code switching (more on that to come in a blog post this week!) it is important to encourage our students to communicate no matter what the method, even if that means that we as educators become prolific in emoji speak. ( ————-> for those who didn’t get that it, it says “To be or not to be, that is the question?”
If smiling has all these advantages in communication, how then do we as educators balance between the belief that smiling is a sign of weakness and smiling makes us caring, approachable, and encouraging? We find our own balance with our students and smiling.
This does not mean that when your class has completely devolved into chaos you stand in front of your students grinning from ear to ear as try to regain control. Rather it means that when you greet your students you will find that they will better respond to you if you say hello with a smile, regardless of the age.
If we wait until November, December, even Holiday break to smile it certainly sends a message to our students that no matter how successful they are at something, we just don’t care. Telling a student “great job” with an indifferent face sends a very mixed message with our body language certainly having more power than our words.
As educators, we are role models. If we expect to be greeted with a smile, then we should be modeling the same. So if I can impart any wisdom from all my years in education it would be to smile but be firm, Be approachable but with boundaries, be caring but with a great sense of professionalism, be human. At the end of the day remember, you very well may be the only person in a child’s life who took the time to smile at them that day and that alone is one of the most powerful teachable moments you could have.
Want to learn more about the power of smiling; here are some other sites that preach the power of a smile;