The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer somebody else up. ~ Mark Twain
Have you ever stood near children playing and listened to the noises they make? That might be a slightly strange question, but in my line of work I tend to spend a lot of time on the playground or school field listening to our children. I’ve been teaching for twelve years now and I’ve noticed a difference in what I hear.
I was sorting through my classroom cupboard and found a couple of old video tapes that I’ve been carrying around with my resources for years. I thought I’d have a look to see what was on them before the video player becomes obsolete and found some footage of my pupils from my first class in 1999 working together at a break time to put together a dance for the school talent show. I have no idea why it was ever filmed (or why I’m still carrying it around with me… let’s save a discussion about why teachers hoard so much rubbish for another occasion!) but I noticed that there was lots of laughter and the children were obviously enjoying working together to prepare a dance to Steps – that makes me feel so old!
Fast-forward to my current school playground in 2011 and the pupils were making up a dance to some music I didn’t even recognise (really feeling old now!) so that they could perform in assembly. I was unsure why this group was choosing to do this activity as they constantly argued, insulted each other and looked miserable for the entire ten minutes I was watching; I don’t think I saw one smile from any of them. I asked some of them afterwards if they’d enjoyed what they’d been doing and they all said yes. They certainly had a strange way of showing it!
When I returned to my classroom I asked my pupils what made them happy and was sad to find that although some of them suggested things like spending time with their family, playing with their friends or eating chocolate; some couldn’t think of anything.
Around my classroom I have lots of different inspirational quotes and I decided that we needed another – the Mark Twain quote seemed to be appropriate in this situation. I shared it with my children and asked them how they could cheer other people up and make their lives a bit happier. They came up with some really good ideas for the kinds of things they could do; sometimes nine year olds can be incredibly nice to each other! Some of their suggestions included sharing a smile, giving each other friendship tokens – little pieces of paper telling them something they likes about the other person and being more positive about other peoples ideas. One of my pupils went home and made a poster which said ‘If you see someone without a smile, give them one of yours!’ Bless!
It’s definitely having an effect, far more smiles in my classroom and they’re even sharing it around the school – one noticed that a teacher was having a tough day with her class and drew a smile on a post-it note and went and left it on her desk – she said it really brightened her day.
I think our children live in a far more stressful world than existed ten years ago and sometimes need to be reminded that being happy is not a bad thing – a lot of the things they watch on tv show people in all kinds of dramas and not a great deal of happiness. They are also bombarded with advertisers saying ‘buy this and you’ll be happy’ and they need to be reminded that happiness can be free. It’s our responsibility to show them how to share happiness and give them opportunities to make happy memories for themselves.