An age-old education adage claims that teachers are not supposed to let their students see them smile for the first eight weeks. Smiling implies weakness. Analogous to a drop of blood that attracts a shark, a smile communicates to your students that you have a soft spot ripe to take advantage of. But you should absolutely smile on the first day of school – and there are 6 great reasons why!
I disagree with that, adamantly. Smiling is perhaps the most important communicative tool that a teacher possesses at the start of the year. What follows is a list of six real reasons to smile the first day of school.
Smiling makes your students happy
Mirror neurons are a funny little set of brain cells recently understood. When you watch someone behave, whether throw a ball or cry, mirror neurons in your brain make you think that you are actually performing the activity. For example, watching someone bounce a ball and mirror neurons cause your brain to think it is bouncing the ball.
Smile and the mirror neurons in your students’ brain make them think that they are smiling. They feel better.
Why does this work on the first day of school?
Despite what we think, the vast majority of students do not look forward to the first day. They are miserable. Miserable students are not receptive to anything. For a productive first day, our students need to be in the right, happy, frame of mind.
Smiling pushes them in that direction; take advantage of mirror neurons and crack a smile.
Smiling makes YOU happy…
…even on the first day of school.
Lets be honest, the first day of school is hard for everybody. It is down right stressful and it is easy to feel overwhelmed. Smiling, even fake smiling, communicates to your brain that you are happy. It was once thought that the brain controls the body, but it now known that the body can control the brain.
By fake smiling, you are tricking your brain into thinking that it is happy. It is called neural feedback. The result is that you start to feel happier.
Can’t fake a smile? Try chomping on a chopstick, or better yet, your pencil.
Smiling also decreases blood pressure and lowers heart rate both associated with stressful situations.
Smiling is an all around feel good exercise. Combine smiling with Amy Cuddy’s power postures and you have a recipe for first day success.
Students will trust you if you smile
To students on the first day, you are a stranger. Strangers that smile either want something from you, or are receptive and likely to offer help. Since your students know you are not going to ask them to buy something, a smile ensures them that they can trust you when it is time to ask for assistance.
Why does smiling increase trust? It is known the increase cooperation, which requires trust. Just as you are not proceeding through the year independently, the students acknowledge that they can’t get through the year without you. A school year is a cooperative relationship.
Ignite feelings of trust with a simple smile.
Smiling makes you in charge
Classroom management starts on the first day, make sure you set an appropriate tone.
Smiling is interpreted as a dominant behavior.
Someone in control and comfortable with their surroundings will be happy and have a happy smile. The happy smile says “I’m the leader.”
A nervous smile says something different. Returning to the blood and shark analogy, a nervous smile communicates weakness and your students will sense your insecurity.
A happy smile is easily discernable from a nervous smile and humans are intuitive when assessing facial expression. In other words, students will know what type of smile you express.
Andy would not be a good teacher with this nervous smile, but would rock the first day with this one:
Express the “I’m in control smile” and start managing your classroom from day one.
Your students will like you if you smile
There are two factors that have been identified that largely determine whether or not students like an instructor: organization and personality.
To over simplify, students will like you if you have a neat desk and if you are a nice person.
A nice person is approachable and nothing advertises this personality trait quite like a smile. A smile beams “I’m here to help!”
You want your students to like you because students will succeed in a classroom where they respect and admire the instructor.
Smiling makes you happy and being happy makes you more productive
Or is it the other way around… you are more happy because you are productive?
Shawn Achor weighed in on this confusing issue in his fantastic book The Happiness Advantage and says that people who are happy are more productive.
The start of the school year is an in-your-face time because little things dominate an educator’s to-do. Paperwork, classroom policy, and initial curriculum preparation requires a can-do attitude to conquer.
Smiling gives you a happiness edge to attack the little things with aggressive vigor.
Aside from the rhetorical reasons for smiling, it has concrete advantages. At the start of the year, you are competing for limited mental real estate within the brains of your students. Give yourself the edge and don’t be afraid to bear your pearly whites.
How do you use your personality as a tool to begin the school year? Connect with Chris and share your ideas.
Featured image via Flickr