TALK LESS. TEACH MORE!
NONVERBAL CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT

Pearl Nitsche

 
You are ALWAYS communicating!

Let’s take a look at what nonverbal communication actually is.

Professor Albert Mehrabian, a pioneer since the 60s in communication research, determined during a communications project for the University of California that there are 3 factors that influence the effect a conversation has. These are:

  • 7% verbal        =      the words which are spoken
  • 38% vocal        =      how these words sound and
  • 55% visual       =      how you look when you say them.

That comes to 7% verbal and 93% nonverbal! Other more conservative studies estimate that the nonverbal part of communication comes to about 82%.

An impressive percentage! In other words, what you say is important but HOW you say it is even more so! And this percentage also makes us aware that we are ALWAYS communicating – whether we are speaking or not!

Very often though we are not aware of the nonverbal signals we are sending.  Sometimes the nonverbal message and the verbal one don’t match up. Then we are surprised, disappointed or angry when our students do not follow our directions or react as we expect them to.
Yes. Actions DO speak louder than words. And you can be very sure that if a verbal and a nonverbal message are in conflict, the student will ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS  react to the nonverbal message. This is called being INCONGRUENT.

For example, take a look at this picture:

 
Our goal should be exactly the opposite – we want to be congruent
Just imagine that I am standing before you.

My posture is tense.

My arms are crossed in front of my chest.

I have a grim frown upon my face.

My voice is dripping with sarcasm as I say the following words:

 

“I’m really glad that you are taking part in this webinar!”

 

Do you believe my words?

 

Probably not.

Now let’s take a look at an example where the teacher is congruent:

 
And now imagine that I am standing in front of you

and my posture is relaxed and open.

My hands are stretched out in front of me.

The palms are facing upward.

I am smiling at you and

I say in a warm and friendly voice,

“I’m glad that you are taking part today.”

 

That was better, wasn’t it?
The first time I was incongruent.

My nonverbal message contradicted my verbal one.

The result: I expressed the exact opposite of what I actually wanted to get across.

The second time I was congruent.

My verbal and my nonverbal messages were in sync with one another.

Therefore I got my point across and you believed my words.

Let’s look at another example:
Imagine that I want my students to write an essay.

We have discussed all the details and I have listed them on the board.

All of the important questions have been answered and I would like them to start writing.

My verbal message:

“Now we will begin. No more questions, please.”

 

Quite clear, isn’t it? Or perhaps it isn’t.

The words are clear.

But whether the pupils follow my instructions is dependent upon whether my words and my nonverbal message correspond. It is, once again, a question of congruency.

How is my posture?

My facial expression?

What does my voice sound like?

Those are decisive factors that will determine whether my directions will be followed or not and how others will react or interpret my intentions.

In these examples there are two kinds of voices that I can choose between:

  • the CREDIBLE VOICE and
  • the INVITING VOICE

Both voices are very useful. What is important is choosing the right voice for the right situation!

The CREDIBLE VOICE is the one I use, for example,

  • when I discipline,
  • when I give instructions
  • when I have a serious conversation with my students where I do not expect them to talk back or
  • when I want to get their attention.

This voice carries the message, “Do what I say. And no contradictions!”

Here’s a picture of the credible voice. (I would like to add that although it can look like this, I usually do this voice with the arms close to the torso and the elbows bent.)

 
My posture and my body movement (or my lack of movement, in this case) determine which voice I produce.

When I speak with a CREDIBLE VOICE, I hold my body straight and still. My feet are parallel to one another with the toes pointing forward. My chin is tilted down slightly. Because my body is still, my head is also still.

The way I hold my head has direct influence on my voice. When my head is still, my voice is monotone and it often goes down at the end of a sentence or statement.

Those who naturally have a credible voice tend to be assertive and get their own way. When they talk, others listen. And then go into action. The disadvantage of this voice lies in the quality as well as the quantity of communication. Although these people often want to communicate, they very often have problems starting and conducting productive conversations.
The second voice is known as the INVITING VOICE.
 
This is the voice I use when I want to converse with my students, when a discussion, suggestions and ideas are welcome. This voice encourages conversation and an exchange of ideas.

Those with an INVITING VOICE tend to move their bodies while speaking. The movement is rhythmical and symmetrical. Their arms are held close to the body and move slightly in the same rhythm. These speakers occasionally show the palms of their hands while speaking. The head and therefore the voice move up and down in rhythm with the body movement. And the voice tends to go up at the end of a statement – as it does at the end of a question. And your pupils will tend to answer – whether you asked a question or not!

People who have an inviting voice are sociable masters of communication. They can talk on almost any topic and bring out the best in those to whom they are speaking. The disadvantage of using this voice is that it is difficult to be assertive. Statements made with an inviting voice are regularly challenged and discussed. The discussions can be lengthy – and in the end nothing actually happens!
You will prefer one voice or the other. This is the voice that will feel natural to you. And – as a teacher – it is very likely that the voice you prefer is the auditive one. It is good when you recognize your own preference. And at the same time, it is ESSENTIAL that you choose the right voice for the right situation!
Upon hearing this, some teachers respond with,

“But then I won’t be authentic. I won’t be myself!”

Possibly that is true.

But as a teacher you cannot always allow yourself to be totally authentic. We have a job to do. This job is to lead a class. And if for a moment you take a step back to better observe yourself and your class’ behavior, you will notice that the class is a mirror in which you can observe yourself.

 
That means that when you are lively, your class will be lively.

When you are calm, they are calm too.

If you like to talk, you will have a talkative group.

If you notice that a class behaves differently when you are teaching it than when your colleagues are, you need to ask yourself the question, “Is the class mirroring me?”

As long as the class’s behavior is congruent with your goals in the classroom, this is fine. But, if this is not the case, you need to change your own behavior to match the results you want to achieve. YOU set the tone. The class mirrors you. The first step is creating an environment in the classroom where you can achieve your goals. Once you have created this environment and the class is on task, you can then afford to be yourself.

Let me give you a few examples:
I personally have a quite lively personality and this is often reflected in my teaching. Under normal circumstances, this could be called my “authentic behavior”. Most of the time I can be myself. But there are certain situations where being myself is not beneficial.

For example, the most boring times of the school year for me are the days on which the students have a test. They are all sitting there, as they should be, working diligently and silently on their tests. And I am bored. There is no action! No interaction! But of course I do not allow myself to act “authentically” in this situation because the result of my behavior would be bad grades for the students.

Or I assign an essay that the students should write during the lesson. They are all quiet and busy writing. And suddenly I think of something that I absolutely need to tell the class IMMEDIATELY. Or I begin to converse quietly with one pupil. And what happens? Within second the entire class is talking with me or with each other. And then I have to quiet them down again so that they can complete their work.

And whose fault was it that the class wasn’t quiet? It is not the pupils’ fault but mine! Because I did not act the way I wanted my pupils to act – and they mirrored my behavior.

We need to be aware of our posture and the voice it produces in order to better understand the reactions our own behavior is calling forth in our students. To help you in this task, my son, who is also a teacher trainer, and I made this quite humorous film clip which you can find on You Tube with the search criterion “Pearl Nitsche” or simply by clicking this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_VbNOhd3xhE Watch it, show it to your colleagues and practice together – until we meet the next time when we’ll be talking about the use of anchors in the classroom.