How I Build Community with ‘Smiles and Frowns’

by | 05.16.19

Monte Syrie is a teacher in Washington. Follow him on Twitter @MonteSyrie.

I wanted a daily way to check in with kids, so I started a practice called ‘smiles and frowns.’ I started off this year telling kids, ‘There’s nothing more important than the humans in the room, so we start with the humans in the room.’ Each day, I take attendance, and then every kid shares a ‘smile’ or a ‘frown.’ It could be something as simple as, ‘My smile is I did really well on my math test,’ or ‘My frown is I struck out in the baseball game last night’ – and, sometimes, they get a lot more personal.

Yes, it’s awkward at first. But just a few weeks into the year, you can feel their connection to each other deepening. I don’t think it’s something you should make kids do. I honor their right to pass. But just recently, I asked my kids, ‘How would you feel if “smiles and frowns” went away?’ Even my perpetual passers said, ‘Oh no, no, no. This is such an important part of my day and our community.’ All the kids seem to find value in connecting – even if they’re only connecting by listening.

The consistency is what makes it successful. Commitment is key. It takes five to seven minutes, some days longer. I trust my instincts on that. If there’s something heavy that my kids want to talk about, we go with it. I spend about 1,000 minutes of contact time a year with my students, and I think this is the most important investment of time I’ve ever made in my 23 years of teaching. What I have discovered is that 142 kids walk into my classroom on any given day, and there are possibly 142 different needs. Without something like ‘smiles and frowns,’ I can’t begin to know what those needs are. ‘Smiles and frowns’ give me a chance to say every kid’s name, every single day – and to learn something about them.

If you would have told my kids at the beginning of the year, ‘You are going to be sad when you get broken up at the end of the school year,’ they would have looked around and said, ‘Well, I might miss my buddy who is sitting next to me, but I don’t even know the rest of these jokers.’ And now, as we wind down, there are tears, because this community is being broken up. I tell the kids that those tears are a sign that they’ve made something meaningful together – and they’ll always carry that with them.

More community favorites


A Classroom Where All Emotions Are Welcome

by Kristen Anderson

I start every school year knowing that as my young students grow, they’re going to experience not just the joy of discoveries and achievem...