Some time ago, I came across a really cool TED talk by Ron Gutman about the power of smiling (see video below). It intrigued me because I’ve noticed how impactful the small act of a smile can be in the classroom. When relating to children and while watching how children relate to each other, our universal facial language never ceases to amaze me. As Gutman says, “[s]miling is one of the most basic, biologically uniform expressions of all humans.” Across our global tapestry of diverse cultures, languages, words, and gestures, smiling appears to be a commonly understood and recognized link that connects us all.
FUN FACTS ABOUT SMILING:
We are born smiling.
Seeing lots of smiles early in life can help children self-regulate and assume more control of their emotions1
Smiling reduces stress.
Researchers found that one smile stimulates the brain as much as up to 2000 bars of chocolate!2
The act of smiling makes us feel better3
Your smile can even predict how long you’ll live (and happy people live longer!)4
HOW SMILES CHANGE THE CLASSROOM
New teachers often hear the advice that they shouldn’t smile until Christmas. Well, based on what we know about smiling, that would be ill-advised. In fact, smiling and a positive greeting each morning might even have the power to raise kids’ grades!5
Ron Gutman cites research that shows children have smiling superpowers and tend to smile 400 times a day. On the opposite end of the spectrum are adults, who smile just around 20 times per day. Perhaps this is one of the reasons we adults often feel happier around children – yet another confirmation as to why Mme Reason and I often say that we have the best job in the world!
Research shows that it’s hard to frown when around others who are smiling. Happiness is contagious. The power that smiling confers isn’t some naive, Pollyanna form of denial; research shows that we test and analyze the sincerity of another’s smile through smiling back at them. In one study, individuals who gripped a pencil in their mouths (preventing them from smiling) were unable to determine whether or not those speaking to them were telling the truth. Those who were allowed to move their faces mirrored the speakers’ smiles and were able to discern which were sincere and identify those who were lying.4
Kaitlyn Roig-DeBellis, one of the Sandy Hook Elementary teachers and heroes, writes a beautiful essay about the power of smiling, in which she states: “When you smile, you are sending a message to those around you that you are accepted, you are welcome, all is well.”6 What better message could we wish to send to children when we are with them? Before children learn a new language, before they learn to count or to read, before they can learn to play together, they need to feel happy, positive, and accepted.
Smiling also grows our interpersonal connections — which of course is a huge benefit in the classroom. Students don’t want to learn or work if they don’t feel loved or cared for. Associating school with joy, play and fun leads to excitement about school and a willingness to try new things in the classroom.7
As more and more researchers explore and write about many benefits of smiling, it always amazes me how such a simple act can hold so much potential for goodness, connection and acceptance, both in the classroom and beyond. I smile as I think about the following words from Mother Theresa. She says, in her classic humble fashion, “I will never understand all the good that a simple smile can accomplish.”