Worth a Thousand Words

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IMG_2615  Scott Todnem
“Smile; it’s free therapy.” – Douglas Horton

Back to school. And back to the drawing board.

This marks the beginning of the 16th school year for me, teaching Health Education to today’s youth.

Some major life events have occurred in that time, the most recent of which is the birth of my youngest son, who is two weeks old today. Starting back up in the classroom is a definite change from time at home with family through the last few summer months. I always have my fitness business going, where I coach and plan workouts year round, but the break from full-time teaching allows a bit of a reset before each fall term.

It is during this time of return when I feel the rejuvenating energy from students, back and alive in the hallways and classrooms, and, somewhat surprisingly, hungry for new life lessons. Each “Hi!” and “Morning!” and “What are we doing today?” brings adolescent zeal that is sometimes exhausting, but I take this energy, this nervous and sometimes boisterous energy that spills in the door each period, to be a reflection of a genuine interest in learning.

Sure, much of middle school involves a social component as well as the mental balance of stress and self-esteem— but that’s why I teach Health. These are the very life lessons that pique my interest and it’s what I take pride in teaching. In reality, at this point I really don’t see myself taking a liking to any other subject area. Health allows me to use anything and everything that is pertinent throughout history and current events and weave it into the ever-evolving curriculum of life. You can’t put a limit on topics that carry potential impact, and that’s one of the best parts of teaching Health class. There is no one way to teach the topics of physical, mental, and social well-being, just like there is no one way to live life.

• • •

About a year ago I made a conscience effort to smile more.

I’m not talking about a creepy “Why is this guy smiling so much?” type of smile, but a genuine expression to show friendliness in conversation. Something simple, really, and it came about as I was reflecting on professional goals and personal life. I felt like a part of myself had gone missing. See, if I look back on the last decade, I’ve gone through a couple of tough times of stress and negativity. I realized that, particularly in recent teaching, I wasn’t smiling as much as I once had. I wanted that to change. I wanted to create and portray a better, more positive aura surrounding myself.

“Back to the drawing board,” I thought. “Time to whip up some smiles.”

Even if I didn’t feel especially upbeat at certain times throughout the week or throughout the day, I thought if I could still project happiness then I might be able to make someone else comfortable. I might be able to help a student feel encouragement through an otherwise dreadful day. Because, like my own life, ups and downs are inevitable. Adolescence certainly brings laughter, but it can also be a time of stress and struggle and even inexplicable withdrawal.

Now, it’s not like I’ve taken research data on the topic of smiling or the outcome of the last year. But I have to say, I think it’s made me feel better. I think it has honestly made a difference in my style of addressing a classroom of students, in speaking to a crowd of parents during curriculum night, or in presenting to a room full of fellow professionals. If I ever felt nervous or unsure of myself in the past, I would often rush to finish; I would speed up in order to “just get through it.”  Lately, I try to pause, take a breath, and give a smile before carrying on. Cliché? Yes, perhaps. But true.

In a world of haste and uncertainty, I have found that I can make a positive impact… starting with myself.

In the meantime, something happened that I didn’t necessarily foresee. Something that wasn’t on the radar until I looked back to reflect. There was a cause and effect that occurred: eventually, I didn’t need to force a smile. In fact, the smiles were occurring quite naturally in every day interactions. If I felt humor in what I was talking about, if I felt a connection occurring, if I felt happy or impressed in any way, I let myself express it.

In other words, I was just being human.

And I’ve noticed something else. I’ve noticed that, as a result, I’m receiving more smiles in return. More people immediately follow my expression with a smile of their own. I then experience more comfort, more human connection within myself.

Funny what a simple, conscious effort to project happiness can do.

Now, all of this might seem super cheesy, but I don’t care. What I am experiencing is positivity, so I don’t have time for anyone who might think that’s stupid or corny.

We create our own reality, and I want mine to be full of positive people.

I think I can do better, though. I think I can continue. And I challenge you all to do the same. Hit a rut? Back to the drawing board: add some smiles and see what results come around.

Let’s put out an expression that reflects the image we want to see in the world.

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