What is it with teenagers? When do they hit an age when it suddenly becomes uncool to smile? And when did using laughter to brush away life's minor stresses become so unfashionable among our pupils? The greatest irony of all is that pupils consistently tell us that their favourite teachers are the ones that make them laugh.
We all know that adolescence is a testing time, that there is nothing more all consuming in a Year 10 girl's mind than a soap opera-style personal drama; that many Year 11 boys would be quite happy if you left then to sleep in their darkened bedrooms, emerging at midday for a plate of food, then to re-enter their dens to moodily strum a bass guitar.
After dealing with several innocuous incidents as a pastoral manager that could easily have been sorted out by the Year 11s themselves one week, I decided that an assembly on the importance of humour was a must. I have used it several times since and it never fails to leave pupils departing the assembly hall with a smile on their faces.
Play pupils in and out of the assembly hall with the upbeat and energising "Smile" by The Supernaturals, or how about the highly irritating but memorable "Laughing Policeman"?
Start with PowerPoint slides of some popular comedians: Jonathan Ross, Ricky Gervais, and ask them to recommend their favourites. My next slide normally shows staff from the school in various humorous guises designed to provoke a smile. Photos of staff sporting fancy dress or male staff dressed as women for school fundraising activities go down a treat.
A week or so before your assembly, survey a range of pupils in your classes about who they think is the funniest member of staff. Your next slide can show the results in a drumroll countdown with a small prize for the winner. Invite the winning teacher to the assembly, and they will undoubtedly be given a spontaneous round of applause by pupils. Explain why it's good being in that member of staff's class and how pupils learn and smile at the same time.
Become a little more serious with some facts and figures about smiling (see panel) and for older pupils the message that serious points can be made with humour. Cue some political cartoons of Gordon Brown et al. Try www.timesonline.co.uktolcommentcartoon and also look at www.cartoonstock.comdirectory, paying attention to copyright rules.
Finish with a slide of reasons to smile. I include a few merit-worthy facts about school life, school events to look forward to and reasons to be cheerful.
Jo Smith is deputy head at Long Field School in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire
Reasons to smile
- A smile is the universal expression of happiness and recognised by all human beings. But did you know that smiling can help improve your mental health?
- Smiling releases endorphins and makes us feel better.
- Faking a smile can lead to us feeling happier.
- Studies show smiling can make us feel happy and not the other way around.
- Smiling is so powerful that its positive effects can be felt by someone on the other end of the phone.
- A smile is the only human facial expression that can be recognised at a distance of 300 feet.
- 72 per cent of people think people who smile frequently as being more confident and successful.