First things first:
ANY kind of teacher can implement these tools at ANY point during the year with ANY student population. These are skills you want on-hand.
There is an overwhelming amount of research out there, as well as plenty of misconceptions, about nonverbal communication. Some studies have found that 70% of our communication is nonverbal, others find more like 90%. Either way, one thing is conclusive, MOST of our communication is nonverbal. Let’s break down what some of our nonverbal communication consists of, before delving into how this matters in the classroom:
Eye Contact (or lack thereof)
Vocal Variety (how you said something vs. what you said)
Think about this. The majority of what you’re doing silently, is affecting your classroom and the behaviors within it. You can read a book about classroom community any day of the week and never learn what I’m going to teach you here. I don’t care what your community looks like, there are actually specific things you can do TOMORROW that will change the behaviors, anxiety, volume, and general feeling of your classroom.
Repeat after me:
I CONTROL THE VOLUME OF MY STUDENTS.
I CONTROL THE VOLUME OF MY CLASSROOM.
I CONTROL THE VOLUME OF MY LINE IN THE HALLWAY.
I HAVE TOTAL CONTROL AND POWER OVER THE ENERGY IN MY CLASSROOM.
WHY DOES THIS MATTER?
- Save that voice! You need it for actual teaching, so don’t waste it on getting the kids ready to learn.
- Save your sanity! I hate repeating myself. Now you don’t have to.
- Get lasting results vs. a quick fix.
- Use your influence and relationships to get what you want from your kiddos vs. power.
- Keep your classroom feeling calm.
- You will see how quickly things can change, even if you slip up and return to using these tools consistently.
- Impress your admin and parents by looking like “The Classroom Whisperer.”
- This works with any age group and even with adults!
- These are habits you will begin to form at any point in your career and will be useful year after year.
- These skills totally apply to your children and significant other, as well. 🙂
*GRAB the Mermaid table contact paper HERE. (affiliate link)
Here’s what’s up- this is all about using your guidance and leadership to influence the children instead of using your power in the classroom. So often kids are not listening and following directions. You have two options when getting the desired behavior from your students, you can use power (which is sometimes needed but should be last resort) or your nonverbal guidance. We often use power because we don’t know what else to do, or we don’t see why not when the student should be on task. It took me a long time to get over myself on this one. Hear me out.
In my product, I describe how when a student is extra antsy or naughty, I give him or her a leadership role. I don’t intuitively want to do this. I intuitively want to tell him or her to “get it together.” But that doesn’t work long term and it certainly doesn’t give you real power, just authority. So, I get over myself and do what’s best for the whole class. Believe me, I have had at least one child with outrageous behaviors every single year- running out of the building, throwing chairs, throwing scissors, punching not only kids, but myself and other staff, etc. The way I approach these students now vs. eight years ago is not comparable. Using nonverbal guidance can appear like you are enabling or letting the child “get away with” a behavior, when on the contrary, you are keeping that child so far away from escalation that he or she will rarely reach it due to something you are doing.
It can be so simple.
For example, when I’m in small groups I use a whisper voice and so do the kids. We rarely are loud enough for another group to hear. It’s calm and fun and everyone is engaged, but it just isn’t loud because I CONTROL THE VOLUME of the classroom. When students are off task during small groups, I slowly walk over and bend down to the side of that student. With my hand closest to that child, I hold my finger on his or her paper at the part where he or she should be writing/reading, until they get back on task. I also keep my eyes directly on the work and not at him or her (at least not that he or she can tell). If I give eye contact, that would be power vs. guidance. Sometimes I whisper in their ear and ask if they need help or remember what the task is. Once back on task, I slowly stand up to the side of them and wait until that student is breathing normally. Usually he or she is kind of holding his or her breath, waiting for me to leave, which means that student is not really on task. Then I slowly take a step back and make sure they’re still working. If not, I come back in and stand. If they are, I take another step back and slowly head back to my group. I go into great detail with this in my NONVERBALS in the CLASSROOM resource.
Now let’s look at that same scenario using power. *For the record, I demonstrate this for groups of teachers with my actual students all of the time.
I could do what’s easiest for me, speak across my table and over to theirs, “Guys, what are you supposed to be doing?” or “Tanya, back on task, please.” Yep, those are examples of power. And guess what else!? The whole class will begin to get louder and louder, because you did. I could also breathe a little heavier and faster and walk over to the table and say those things. Or even reach my hand that is farthest away from student and point to their work (arm over is a position of power vs. influence). I could give him or her eye contact instead of keeping my eye on their work and ask the aforementioned questions. I could do all of these “nicely” but it would still be using power vs. guidance to get the student back on task.
GETTING THE GROUP’S ATTENTION
I totally use, “Show Five.” But, boy do I ever set it up specifically and implement it consistently and rarely. <— those are key.
By the end of the first day of school, I can say, “Show Five,” and every single student has a hand in the air, a body still, and has his or her eyes on my eyes. On. Day. One. But like my Super Silent Line, I’d like you to get the pack, so you can implement this fully and make your life easier.
I use bells during small group work. If the bells sound too similar, add a paper clip or some other metal object to one of the clappers. That way, the two sounds are distinctly different. My silver bell is the clean up sound and my gold is the moving sound.
YOU. DO. NOT. MOVE.
YOU. DO. NOT. SPEAK.
If a student comes up to ask you something, just point to the place he or she is supposed to be and put your eyes there (not on that child). They will try this a few times and then give up forever if you are consistent. Trust me. After the first week or two, I never have kids come up to me during a transition. If they do, I’m consistent. No voice, pointing and looking and where he or she should be.
WHOLE GROUP / SMALL GROUP
In my Nonverbals in the Classroom resource, I describe these at great length. But here, in this post, just to get you going- know this. From day one, I’m like, “You may not come up to me when you’re at your seats or in groups. If you need me, you do this.” (I raise my hand.)
If (and they will) a student comes up to ask me a question during whole group or small groups time, I point to his or her seat and stare at it until he or she returns. Once they do and he or she puts a hand up (I might hold my hand up silently as a reminder), then I slowly go over, bend down to his or level and to the side and whisper, “How can I help you?”
Let me share some practices that I have done intuitively, learned the hard way, or actually attended professional development for. They have all absolutely changed my life and my practice. I am a happier teacher when highly implementing these non-verbal practices and my class is so much calmer.
Day one, I talk about what a “friendly reminder” looks like. I model and we all practice. *I just tap my mouth silently and look at the person who needs to be quiet. I say, “In our class, we never say, ‘ssshhhhhh.’ Does anyone know why?” I then listen to their incorrect responses. 🙂 I ask what they observe or notice between “Ssshhhh” and taping my mouth with one finger. One makes sound and one doesn’t. I explain that saying, “Sssshhhh” is often what we think we should do but it actually makes everything louder, so that’s why we use a friendly reminder vs. Sssshhhh.
So much of this is counter-intuitive, but it’s true. The quieter we are, the quieter they are. When we stand and point to what we want the kids to see/do, it is more effective than using our voice. It forces them to pay attention. I NEVER say, “If you can hear my voice clap once,” or any cues like that. I will however use, “Do this. Do this. Do that,” as my motions change (tapping shoulders, lap, head, etc.). It forces the kids to look at you and focus on what you’re doing.
Do you know that I have 100% silence in my line in the hallways on day 1? I’m not exaggerating. My principal and colleagues are always blown away, but I have figured it out! You need to set aside 45 minutes-one hour to get this down on the first day (or even mid-year), but I promise, the rest of your year is a breeze!
Below are items that I use in the classroom along with my nonverbals. Click any of the pictures to take you to the product. These are affiliate links.
I have distinct sounds and visuals for different signals in the classroom.
I love these magnets for hanging up my center rotations.
My kids are grouped by table color. I would die without boxes and fly swatters (see why in the product).
These velcro dots are great for moving around my literacy/math/clean up groups.
In small groups, we use these covers to save paper. The kids use black socks to erase the writing from the previous student. It’s part of how they set up for the next group.
A great way to display a welcome sign, learning targets, and more! Get creative!
Would you like to hear more about the way I manage unwanted behaviors in the classroom? Watch this video on Youtube.