Candid Camera

Yesterday one of my students' moms began photographing the lesson about halfway through.  This is not entirely unusual, and actually I was just glad she was using her phone to document the lesson instead of texting or talking on it.

I noticed something, though.  I was sitting up straighter, lest she should catch me from a bad angle.  I was smiling almost continuously in an effort to ensure a positive expression in the photos.  And somehow, those two things helped improve my attitude; I was patient and engaged instead of clipped and distant.  I was doing it for the wrong reasons, but getting the right results.

Similarly, the first time I recorded myself in the classroom and watched it back, I was appalled by how brusque and clipped my speech sounded, and how businesslike and strict I was with the students.  I haven't had the courage to repeat the exercise, though I have tried to incorporate those thoughts into my teaching (and to speak in a lighter, higher tone, which is better for my singing voice anyhow.)

In Blink (a wonderful summer book, if you're looking for one) Malcolm Gladwell interviews a team of psychologists that mapped out all of the different possible expressions on a human face.  There are hundreds, and as they struggled to separate contempt from bitterness and frustration from hurt, they found that the very act of forming the expression caused them to experience the emotion.  After a morning of making negative expressions, they felt angry, sad and discouraged.

So, why not the other way around?  It makes sense.  Forcing a smile might be a good thing.