Did you know that October 5th 2018 is World Smile Day?
If there is one thing that needs to go viral in a school then it’s smiling.
Smiling is good for the wellbeing of a school community as it fuels happiness and acts as a catalyst for building rapport and forging relationships: smile and the whole school smiles with you.
We know that the stress contagion effect spreads anxiety and can have a detrimental impact on students as it impedes their ability to reflect, learn, and adapt to new information and situations. Grumpy teachers = grumpy students.
But we also know that positive energy enhances performance and adopting a smiling mind-set can move mountains and is a powerful classroom management strategy. Smiles ripple outwards like a stone dropped in a pond and the social network effect can be profound because they are empowering.
Creating a learning environment your students like and enjoy coming to every day starts with a smile. You smile, they smile – no rocket science involved. Smiling is a wellbeing win-win.
It’s important to smile for our mental health too. It is one of the most natural and spontaneous things we can do and it makes a difference to how we see the world and how others see us.
Crack a smile
Teachers used to be told “Don’t smile before Christmas!” but this archaic recommendation is old-school humbug. This meaningless mind trap mantra is damaging because it creates frosty barriers that damage interaction.
Teachers should smile from day one because it sets a tone conducive to learning and behaving and it communicates kindness and politeness. It also builds our own resilience to challenging circumstances.
Smiling might increase our face value but smiling does more than just change the shape of our face. It can reduce worries, create a sense of calm, help us learn how to relax and regulate our emotions. It also develops a sense of empathy and connectedness and enhances creativity.
Schools can be tough places to work in where we can choose to ‘grin and bear it’ and spend our days frowning or we can adopt an optimistic outlook by electing to be what happiness expert Andy Cope calls being a ‘2%er’.
A 2%er refers to 2% of the population that choose to be happy.
2%ers are people who expect and accept turbulence in their lives but consciously and deliberately choose positive over negative every time. They remain realistically hopeful, energetic and effervescent and they don’t grip the seats in front of them expecting the worse.
When things get choppy, they adopt a 100% ‘can-do’ happy attitude, they oxygenate their thinking with positive thoughts and they make other people around them happier too.
Smile from ear to ear
Having a smiling mind doesn’t mean that you walk around with an inane smile plastered to your face but it does mean being committed to making a positive place to work and being an enlarged version of yourself.
It’s easy to fake a smile but these look phony and do no one any favours least of all the wearer. Authentic smiles have to come from smiling minds.
A smiling mind is something that we can all put into action through our own mindfulness by making positive thinking our default position, avoiding mood-hoovers, living life to the full, having a spring in our step and being enthusiastic.
Being mindful and training our minds to smile is a whole school endeavour so we can all shine but if we want positive, happy and energetic students, we have to consistently model that behaviour.
The empirical evidence for mindfulness-based approaches and positive education continues to grow. Proponents argue that it has the potential to enhance students’ attention and focus, and improve memory, self-acceptance, self-management skills, and self-understanding.
Mental health has never been more in the spotlight and mindfulness can play its part and helping all of us to be in good mental shape. Teaching wellbeing and mindfulness can improve academic results too.
Put a smile on someone’s face
A school culture isn’t something that is imposed but created by the people who make up the organisation. Schools can feel oppressive if there is the slightest hint of toxicity but they can feel happy if there are plenty of smiling minds and faces to brighten up the place.
Despite its apparent ubiquity, mindfulness is still underused, undervalued and misunderstood. It might seem like a fad but it has been practised for thousands of years.
There are loads of factors outside of our control when it comes to working in a school but smiling isn’t one of them. We don’t have to moan and we can be positive.
If the atmosphere of the school is positive and full of smiles then people like being there and want to be there.
Schools have hundreds of policies covering every aspect of school life but there is one important policy missing. This policy is essential and one policy that will benefit staff and students, promote health and wellbeing, and improve the whole school system: a ‘No Negativity Policy’.
We can choose to smile and make our schools emotionally intelligent and happy places to be. Smiling minds contribute more, they are more motivated, resilient and creative, and they are also healthier.
Smiling is an act of kindness, an act of charity and something we can do multiple times daily. It’s also a necessity as schools that smile really do sparkle. If you see a smile, pass it on. Better still, be the one that starts an outbreak.
By John Dabell
John Dabell is an experienced teacher, former school inspector for Ofsted, project manager, writer and editor: @John_Dabell