Teacher body language? You remember that class from college right? The class about your posture, arm movements, eye contact, facial expressions and what they tell all mean. The one that told you how to read student body language. You know, when that professor showed you that only 7% of communication is verbal?
Ok, back to reality. 93% of the communication taking place in your class is nonverbal. And we were never taught how to understand it.
If you haven’t noticed our profession is often one of the last to “get on board” with current research about effective human interaction. One of this site’s goals is to bridge that gap and help you get ahead. We will “steal” what is working in other industries.
According to former FBI expert Joe Navarro body language is a science that can be learned. As teachers we can add this knowledge to our toolkit to make our lives easier and be more effective.
That is the main purpose of this site – to gain knowledge that will make our lives as teachers easier and more prosperous.
Ok, Mark, let’s just get to the meat and potatoes. What should we know?
A very primitive part of our brain process our initial reaction to most people, settings, and events.
This primitive part of our brain wants to keep us safe and avoid discomfort and pain. That discomfort or pain might just be a new lesson that is boring or unimportant. This is useful to know for your first day of school and when introducing a new lesson.
This idea about our primitive brain being our filter on the world I’ve now seen in a number of fantastic books, including Seth Godin’s books, including “Permission Marketing” and Orin Klaff’s book “Pitch Anything”.
Be aware of how people process new information (skeptically) and cater to it.
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Sending the Right Message and Being Able to Read Others
Below are some quick bullet points to take away from the book and apply to your own classroom (and life). I think that people (your students) who don’t know about this list get “hunches” or “feelings” using the information below. They are picking up on it but not sure why they know what they “know.”
I’d also use the information to help “read” your students and if needed your colleagues, parents, administrators, etc.
- The feet are the most “honest” body part. They are pointing towards where that person’s attention or desire is. Where are yours pointing? To the kids or somewhere else?
- Don’t cover your torso. It sends a message you are hiding something. Same for the students. It could be a distraction from your message.
- Are your arms crossed? If yes, you are sending a message that you are protecting or hiding something. You might be but that is going to distract from your presentation.
- Wide arms and a wide stance sends a message of power, dominance, self assurance. I’d be careful not to overuse this.
- Keep your hands visible. If your hands are behind an overhead cart or your desk there primitive brain is alerted something is wrong and maybe you shouldn’t be trusted.
- Pointing a finger triggers a very message in the brain. You’ve heard the expression about not pointing fingers for a reason.
- You have two smiles. A fake smile and a real smile. They use different muscles. In a real smile your eyes angle down and your mouth up. Fake? Your eyes don’t move much and your mouth moves towards your ears.
Don’t Let Message Conflict
Overall, Navarro still says if you are trying to use these tools to read someone it is only about a 50/50 guess if you are trying to tell if they are honest. The tools are more accurate for looking for signs of stress.
The biggest takeaway is to have a warm, positive non-verbal message that matches your verbal message.
If they conflict (negative thoughts vs. positive words) students will know at some level. They’ll stop paying attention and be more likely to start misbehaving.
This links back to having a purpose as a teacher and knowing it well. When you know you have your students best interest at heart it is going to show in your verbal and nonverbal language.
The 3rd Factor
You are also sending a message to yourself with your body language.
Hold on a minute Mark, are you going off the deep end on us? No.
These cost you nothing and are a way for you to “hack” your own mood and energy level.
Try For Yourself
Think about your own daily interaction with others a lot of this will make sense. Think about someone who made themselves smaller physically by curling up. Do you think they were comfortable? Confident? Probably not. The same goes for the ideas above with feet, torso, arms, etc.
You can even test some of these out and put your own body in these positions and see how you feel. Do you feel strong? Honest? Energetic? Or the opposite?
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Thank you for reading.