TALK LESS. TEACH MORE!
NONVERBAL CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT

Pearl Nitsche

The nonverbal classroom management techniques that I will introduce to you in this series of articles are solutions that I have either used successfully while teaching 10- to 14- year-olds as well as 14- to 19-year-olds at two different inner city schools in Vienna, Austria or they are techniques introduced to me by teachers of all school levels and for all subjects – from kindergarten teachers to university lecturers and adult education trainers – who have attended my teacher training seminars throughout the world.

I have held these seminars in 22 different countries on 4 continents and I am asked the same questions in Vienna as in Buenos Aires, in Moscow, in New York and also during the past months where I have been assisting teachers here in Thailand in a local high school. The challenges we are facing are universal and nonverbal classroom management offers us solutions.

THE GOAL: Talk less. Teach more!

We talk and talk and talk in the classroom … and very often we are exhausted by the end of the day and frustrated by the feeling that our students aren’t listening or aren’t taking our verbal instructions seriously. It has been proven that over 82% of a teacher’s communication with her students is NONVERBAL. So why should we waste our breath on getting kids to do what they’re supposed to do? Let’s save our voices for content and use nonverbals to effectively manage the classroom.

Once you start using these techniques you will discover that it is not necessary to raise your voice in the classroom. I know it sounds incredible – but it’s true.

A very good friend of mine, Renée, is an inspiring teacher. She successfully and joyfully taught elementary school for 16 years. Then she got a new first-grade class, which she would be teaching –as it is usual in Austria – for the next 4 years. Within a few weeks she realized that she could not get this class under control. She had tried all the techniques that had worked in the past – with no success. She had a talk with the director of her school and told her that she was considering giving up the teaching profession. The children were quite intelligent, but their behavior was wild, loud and they appeared to be “untameable”. And then she came to the seminar “Nonverbal Classroom Management.” Suddenly she saw a light at the end of the tunnel!

Renée returned to school with her head full of plans, nonverbal techniques, and anchors, which we will talk about in more detail in Part 3 of our series. She used these techniques –systematically- and within a short period of time she had “tamed her little lions.” Renée’s techniques became automatic for her, and the children also responded automatically. By the end of 4th grade, when they moved on to a new school, they were the living example of the “perfect class”. The children had learned a lot. School was a pleasant experience for them. And Renée was a happy teacher!

In the meantime Renée has finished the four year cycle with that class and with the next one too. Last year, at the end of school picnic, one of the mothers came up to Renée and said, “I need to ask you something. My son told me that in the four years that he was in your class, you never raised your voice a single time? How do you do it?”

So Renée told her some of her nonverbal “secrets”. And the mother was truly impressed.

Yes, it’s possible. And the best part is: It’s easy!

Basically what I am telling you is simply common sense. We all know these things. Many of the techniques I will mention here, you are already doing. Others you will have observed in your colleagues or you might have seen them used by your teachers while you were a student yourself at school.

We know it, but it is on an unconscious level. We simply need to become aware of the resources, the tips, tools and the techniques we already know, have used or  which we have experienced. And then we need to be brave enough to stop talking and try DOING something different!

Several years ago I visited my brother and his family in America at Christmas time. One evening my brother said, “Guess who I ran into on the street yesterday? You’re old math teacher!” I was quite surprised at this and my brother continued, “He asked how you were doing in Austria and then he asked me if you had already learned in which direction one should face when sitting on a chair?”

I had to laugh out loud! When I was in school I was always chatting with someone during the lesson – either behind me, or to my right, to my left – or occasionally on the other side of the room. The one direction I wasn’t looking in was straight ahead at the teacher.

My brother went on, “He said that every time he says the words ‘Turn around’, he thinks of you!”

We laughed a lot about this. And then at the end of the Christmas holidays I returned to Vienna. On the first day of school, I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard myself saying to a student, “Dreh’ dich um!” (which means “Turn around” in German). I thought to myself, “How many hundreds of years have teachers in America and other English speaking countries been saying, “Turn around!”, teachers in Austria and Germany say “Dreh’ dich um!”, and from my travels I know that teachers in Buenos Aires say the same thing in Spanish, teachers in Finland say it in Finnish and teachers in Siberia say the same thing in Russian! And I am certain that Thai teachers say it in Thai.

And what good has it done us?

None whatsoever – otherwise we wouldn’t still be saying it!

If I want something to change, then I have to do something differently than the way I have always done it.

It’s the same as if I wake up in the morning and think, “I would love to have scrambled eggs for breakfast!” I go to the kitchen, take two eggs out of the refrigerator and break them into a frying pan. I fry them and then I suddenly realize that I have fried eggs instead of scrambled eggs!

I think to myself, “What? Fried eggs?!? That’s not what I wanted. I wanted scrambled eggs. Oh, well. Fried eggs are also good so I’ll eat them – and MAYBE … if I’m lucky … tomorrow it will be better.”

And the next day I do the same thing all over again and once again I’m disappointed because I have fried eggs instead of scrambled eggs.

And it will ALWAYS be this way. Until I do something differently.

With the eggs, it’s stirring them with a fork.

And in the classroom I need to find nonverbal solutions – because actions really do speak louder than words!

In this series I will include a lot of tips, techniques and tools for you to choose from Yes, contrary to what many of us learned during our studies, there ARE tried and true recipes for managing a classroom. We do not need to rediscover the wheel each and every time a discipline or classroom problem comes up. We can use what others who have gone before us have learned. We need to be realistic though. There is no one single cure-all, no magic bullet that can be used in each and every case. Different situations, different classes and different age groups require a variety of techniques as well as the flexibility to adapt these tools to your classroom needs. We need to remain flexible. To pick and choose.

Therefore I would like to invite you to a nonverbal management techniques “buffet”. Help yourself! Fill up your plate generously with all of the delicacies on the buffet. Take the one you need and fancy at the moment. Enjoy them and use them to improve the atmosphere in your classroom.

But –please! – let’s keep the leftovers! Don’t throw away what you don’t need today. Feel free to pack it up and put it in the freezer for another day, another class and another challenge!

Bon Appetit, my teacher friends! Enjoy your meal!

In the meantime, take a look at this film clip in You Tube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1oEsa2UR3cM  (you can also find it be typing in “Pearl Nitsche” as your search criterion). My son, Derrick, who is also a teacher trainer, and I made this video as an introduction to nonverbal classroom management. It sums up what we have been looking at here and it is also an excellent introduction for your colleagues to the topic of Nonverbal Classroom Management. Enjoy!

The next installment in this series is all about the credible and the inviting voice and posture. Talk to you soon!

Talk Less, Teach More! Part 2