The following blog was contributed by Jodee Blanco, New York Times best-selling author and consultant.
We all know that gratitude practices can mean the difference between having a deeply contented or a restless heart. When I go into schools to implement my anti-bullying program or do professional development, I include creative strategies for focusing on gratitude that I use in my own daily life and the results are palpable.
While gratitude, like eating right and exercising, can be a game-changer, there’s another powerful habit that once we adopt can be equally as transformational—remembering to smile, the kind that radiates from the soul and lights up whomever you’re smiling at. I hadn’t realized it myself until a couple weeks ago on a school tour that included multiple professional development sessions.
I was doing a student engagement training for a small group of teachers who were all new to the school, and some, new to teaching. I could tell how hard they were concentrating and was both moved and humbled by their earnestness. I noticed too that they were so determined to do a good job and accomplish as much as they could in our limited time together, that they weren’t smiling. That’s when it hit me. Was I doing the same thing? Was I so focused as the presenter on covering all the material that I had stopped smiling too? It was as if God gently poked me on the nose.
Getting the hint, I immediately smiled, and everyone instead of just digesting information became more fully present and joyous. I felt the energy in the room shift.
I told them that as helpful as the content of the presentation might be, the most vital take away was that very moment, that we all need to remember to smile when we’re teaching, that when we are jubilant in God’s grace and are wearing his smile on our faces, it turns on all the lights in the classroom. If school is a grind for the teacher, then it will be for the student too. When the teacher can’t wait to teach, the student can’t wait to learn, and nothing communicates that excitement more than a smile.
It seems simple right? Not always. When we’re frustrated with a student for being disruptive or for behaving badly, smiling can almost feel counterintuitive. Ironically, that same child who’s likely acting out in a cry for help may need that smile from us much more than the classmate who’s always winning the approval of adults.
Sometimes a student may be so used to negative attention at home that they bring it on themselves at school without knowing it because, for them, negative attention is better than no attention. A smile from a teacher, one that expresses patience, tolerance, forgiveness and above all, God’s goodness, says to that student, you are deserving of kindness.
One of the ways to keep smiling when you’re having a rough day is to access your inner child. What activities did you love to do as a kid? I asked each of the teachers in that student engagement training this question and their answers ranged from climbing trees, making forts with blankets, eating berries warmed by the sun to playing and splashing in the rain. Just talking about those memories made everyone giggle. Try it right now. Think of a favorite childhood activity. Are you smiling? For me, it would be looking for fossils! If you can summon that sense of wonder and innocence and bring its magic to class, you could end up changing a kid’s whole perspective.
It wasn’t only the training I did with those wonderful teachers that reminded me of what a smile can do not just for students, but for oneself. I have a dear friend with Down syndrome. His name is Kenny. Every few months I take him out for lunch at one of his favorite restaurants and shopping for books and DVDs. He’s an avid reader and film buff. We had an outing yesterday and I was distracted and rushed thinking about everything I had to do to get ready for my next school tour. Kenny sensed I was stressed and he tried to hurry along his shopping, which is something he loves to take his time doing and that I usually love to enjoy with him. We zipped in and out of that store so quickly, I barely remember paying.
Kenny’s life is simple. He lives in a house that’s part of a government program for the developmentally challenged. When I come to pick him up, it’s one of the highlights of his month and usually mine too. As we got out of the car and began unloading his packages, he stopped to admire his reflection in the passenger side window. He kept standing there looking at himself, then said, “You know, I look like Matt Damon!”
“Yes, you do!” I replied, realizing it was the first time since I’d picked him up that day that I actually smiled. “Come to think of it, I look a lot like Ben Affleck too,” he added, confidently. I forgot all about my tour and crazy to-do list, and I’d wished that I’d remembered to smile earlier, that I hadn’t lost that precious time with him, distracted by things that in the end, really, truly didn’t matter.
About the Author
Jodee Blanco is the author of the seminal New York Times bestseller Please Stop Laughing at Me… and anti-bullying’s first voice. Dioceses turn to her regularly for professional development and to implement her anti-bullying program in their schools. Jodee is the author of a series of books for NCEA and a content provider for The Andrew M. Greeley Center for Catholic Education at Loyola University in the areas of anti-bullying and governance. She also consults for schools and dioceses on enlightened parent communication practices, SEL and Catholic values-based crisis management. For more information, please visit: https://www.jodeeblanco.com/catholic-schools/.
Jodee’s Publications with NCEA: