To Smile Or Not To Smile?

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Do you smile enough?

“Don’t smile until Christmas” seems to me to be one of the stupidest pieces of advice one could possibly give. What on earth are people thinking?!

Who are we? Police officers at a hostile protest? Prison officers attending some kind of riot? Customs officers at an airport diligently protecting the country? No. We are teachers. Refraining from smiling isn’t going to help us, or the students. It is simply bad advice and I believe it creates barriers that are simply not needed in our schools.

Time to smile

We need to stop pretending we are something we are not and at times remember we are all human beings coming together to grow and learn. And I know that we are the adults and we need professional standards and boundaries – but I am talking about smiling for goodness sake!

My advice is that we need a bit more smiling in our profession. It is good for our personal wellbeing and good for the students.

The science of smiling

The science of smiling is quite simple. When our facial muscles contract they fire signals back to our brain that in turn releases hormones called endorphins. Smiling makes our brain happy and a happy brain makes us smile!

We need more happiness in our lives and so we need to smile more. Smiling is contagious and can spread to those around us. Try smiling at someone on a busy tube train – hopefully, they will smile back! Smiling can reduce stress and lower our heart rate in tense situations. There is science behind it and so we need to take smiling seriously.

I am of course no medical specialist but I am sure you can research a little deeper. One thing I have read is that it actually takes many more muscles to frown than it does to smile. There are lots of different figures around, but it is roughly 43 muscles to frown and 17 to smile. As teachers I bet we frown too much, so we can basically save energy if we smile more. We probably need to laugh a bit more as well, but that’s for another blog.

So when are the best times to smile?

  1. First thing in the morning when we greet our tutor group or our first class of the day. A good smile will break the ice, settle the class and start the day off positively.
  2. At the start of an exam when tensions are high and the atmosphere is solemn. A nice big smile at your students will help them to calm down and relax before embarking on an exam.
  3. It is always nice to smile at a member of staff undergoing an observation once in a while. If things are going badly for that teacher then a smile might be just what they need – after all we want the lesson to go well!
  4. When we walk around school we don’t need to be like centurions on guard; a nice smile on our face will make us approachable to the students.
  5. Parents’ evening is a great place for a good smile and I think that is a two-way thing. Smiling might not only put parents at ease but also help with the more difficult conversations.
  6. Smile at each other in the staffroom, remembering that “we have all been there”. The Senior Leadership Team (SLT) can help to create positive working environments by ensuring that they smile at staff and make them feel at ease, particularly when “walk through weeks” or Performance Management is going on.

Now, of course, there are times when we should maybe hold back on a massive smile, for example when telling a student off or addressing a serious issue with a parent. But in every situation, we should be seeking something positive or a positive overall outcome. In time we can learn how to strategically bring the smile in when needed and when necessary.

So if you don’t smile until Christmas then you will miss out on all the benefits of smiling. It is something we can always do more and it will no doubt lead to a better classroom environment and a nicer staffroom. Teaching is tough, it is demanding, but smiling might just change it, and so it is worth giving it a try

James Manwaring

James Manwaring is Director of Music for Windsor Learning Partnership, a Multi-Academy Trust in Windsor, Berkshire. He oversees music for the 4 schools in the trust and has been working in music education for 16 years. James has been nominated for a National Music Education Award for the last 4 years and is a member of the Incorporated Society of Musicians and MMA. He is passionate about music education and aims to provide opportunities for all students to get involved in learning, creating and performing music.

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