If you want your child to do well at school: smile at them!

It’s the first week of term and I’m seeing quite a few nervous faces amongst both pupils and staff! I always feel anxious at the beginning of the school term. It’s a pretty traumatic time for teachers, especially ones who have had exam classes. Even though there may have been big successes, inevitably there are always students who don’t achieve their potential and questions to be answered. Parents, pupils, managers and senior staff can all come knocking, asking awkward questions and, in some cases, getting rather heated. And the trouble is that teachers like me can get defensive and become demoralised.  It’s easy to lose confidence.

Smiling could be the key to succeeding at school...

I’m going to work hard this year not to become demoralised — or complacent. I’ve become increasingly convinced that maintaining a positive attitude and smiling is the key. There’s quite a bit of evidence that smiling, even though you might feel miserable, has a positive effect upon your mood. In fact, I’m convinced that smiling possibly has a much bigger influence upon a child and teacher’s achievements at school than many other things. A smiling child is usually a happy child and a happy child remains confident when they don’t understand something or encounter a problem; such a pupil is more up for problem-solving and learning fundamentally. The classic self-help book, How To Win Friends and Influence People, cites smiling as one of the most important things you can do if you want to be successful in life.

I thought this quote was good from the book: “You don’t feel like smiling? Then what? Two things. First, force yourself to smile. If you are alone, force yourself to whistle or hum a tune or sing. Act as if you were already happy, and that will tend to make you happy. Here is the way the psychologist and philosopher William James put it: “Action seems to follow feeling, but really action and feeling go together; and by regulating the action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling, which is not.”

Smiling is also infectious. I reckon that if you’re worried that your child is doing poorly at school you could do much worse than smile at them consciously and regularly. I bet it would have more positive effect than making them do extra work every night.


Published by: @wonderfrancis

Francis Gilbert is a Lecturer in Education at Goldsmiths, University of London, teaching on the PGCE Secondary English programme. He also teaches the Creative Writing module on the MA in Children’s Literature, which is run by Maggie Pitfield and Professor Michael Rosen. Previously, he worked for a quarter of a century in various English state schools teaching English and Media Studies to 11-18 year olds. He has, at times, moonlighted as a journalist, novelist and social commentator. He is the author of ‘Teacher On The Run’, ‘Yob Nation’, ‘Parent Power’, ‘Working The System -- How To Get The Very Best State Education for Your Child’, and a novel about school, ‘The Last Day Of Term’. His first book, ‘I'm A Teacher, Get Me Out Of Here’ was a big hit, becoming a bestseller and being serialised on Radio 4. In his role as an English teacher, he has taught many classic texts over the years and has developed a great many resources to assist readers with understanding, appreciating and responding to them both analytically and creatively. This led him to set up his own small publishing company FGI Publishing (fgipublishing.com) which has published his study guides as well as a number of books by other authors, including Roger Titcombe’s ‘Learning Matters’ and anthology of creative writing 'The Gold Room'. He is the co-founder, with Melissa Benn and Fiona Millar, of The Local Schools Network, www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk, a blog that celebrates non-selective state schools, and has his own website, www.francisgilbert.co.uk. He has appeared numerous times on radio and TV, including Newsnight, the Today Programme, Woman’s Hour and the Russell Brand Show. In June 2015, he was awarded a PhD in Creative Writing and Education by Goldsmiths.

Categories Behaviour, LearningTags, 2 Comments

2 thoughts on “If you want your child to do well at school: smile at them!”

  1. Really, Francis, this contribution is not worthy of someone who aspires to be a “researcher”.

    The ‘benefits of smiling’ is a topic worthy of a school assembly for infants; it’s not a serious contribution to adult debate about education or society (or anything).

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