What Makes You Smile? | Hooray for Monday

December 13, 2021

By Aleta Margolis, Founder and President, Center for Inspired Teaching

Hooray for Monday is a weekly blog filled with questions, ideas, reflections, and actions we can all take to remodel the school experience for students. 


This past week I got to engage online with the smiling faces of teachers from around the region and around the world. We came together to experience, and learn about, laughter, something I’ve written about in the past.

Participants included kindergarten, elementary, middle, and high school teachers, including a teacher from Saudi Arabia who was so eager to experience laughter with us that he joined us from 3:00 – 5:00am local time before starting his school day!

At the beginning of the session, each participant received, via private chat, a secret partner for an activity called Finding Smiles. The directions were: throughout the session, pay attention to your secret partner, notice something they do, or something about them that makes you smile.

As always, we engaged in improvisation-based learning including:

  • Two Minutes of Smiles – in which we spent two minutes in silence communicating with each other only through smiles.

  • Gifts of Joy – we gave each other imaginary joy-inducing gifts and shared how we would use them.

  • No Laughing Matter – we played with humor through absurdity as partners came up with increasingly outlandish examples of how difficult a day can be.

  • A discussion of what makes something funny and what makes us laugh. (One participant said, “Puns, farts and poop are my students’ most popular forms of humor. I like being with them in a setting where I don’t have to shut that down and pretend that body functions aren’t funny.”)

At the end of the evening, everyone was invited to reveal the name of their secret partner, and to share something about that person that had evoked a smile. Observations included “You had a generous way of giving your smile to others,” “Your comment about the relationship between laughter and trust has really stuck with me,” and “I loved the look of genuine surprise on your face when you unwrapped the imaginary six-foot wooden camel!”

This simple activity, which works at least as well in person as it does online, is a powerful way of building community. Sometimes, during conventional PD sessions, teachers are invited to give a compliment to a colleague. That direction generally results in something like, “I love your sweater,” or “You’re always friendly.” Sharing compliments has the same intention as the Finding Smiles activity, but producing compliments on demand can feel forced and generic. Finding Smiles focuses our observation on the how and the why, which elevates both the giver and receiver of feedback.

Try it this week and see what happens! Look for things people do that make you smile, and let them know they’ve brought you joy. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself smiling more than usual. When we focus our attention, we get better at seeing what we’re looking for.

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