September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

The Power of Non-Verbal Communication

Posted: Friday, July 1st, 2011

by Lisa Hegdahl

When I first began teaching, I struggled with classroom management.  When my principal called me into her office that first October and told me that I had written more detentions than any other teacher, she proceeded to send me to a 3-day classroom management seminar.  Over the next few years, I studied many management techniques, and the behavior of my students improved.  I came to realize that good classroom management comes primarily from well-designed lessons, not any one particular “bag of tricks.”

During one of my first years as a BTSA Support Provider, I attended a workshop on non-verbal communication which shared the strategies from a book titled ENVoY: Your Personal Guide to Classroom Management, by Michael Grinder & Associates.  Grinder’s message – to decrease verbal management tendencies and increase attentiveness to our non-verbal messages – has had the biggest impact on the behavior of my students than any other single strategy I have used.  Grinder quotes NEA published research that says 82% of all teacher communications are non-verbal messages.  It would follow that we would want to be sure those messages are clear, consistent, and elicit the desired behaviors.

I use several of Michael Grinder’s methods on a regular basis.  One is called “Freeze Body”.  It is used to get a class’s attention.  In order for the non-verbal cue to match the auditory cue that is being used to get a class quiet and focused on the teacher, the teacher stands still in the front of the classroom, points toes forwards, and puts weight on both feet.  If a teacher moves around during this critical time of trying to focus students, students observe a discrepancy between what they are being asked to do and what the teacher is doing.  I have experimented with this technique by using my verbal cues with and without “Freeze Body”.  Students focus significantly better when I use all the techniques in “Freeze Body”.

“Freeze Body” can be used along with “ABOVE (Pause) Whisper.”  To get the attention of the students, the teacher speaks “ABOVE” the volume of the class.  Once the teacher has their attention, the teacher pauses.  The next spoken words by the teacher are spoken in a whisper.

For three years, I worked for a company that provided school assemblies.  My boss was a master of raising his hand while saying, “Raise your hand if…”  I brought this non-verbal cue into my teaching early on.  Michael Grinder takes it farther.  If you want students to “Speak Out” with no hand raising when having a class discussion, ask the discussion question while holding both your hands out in front with palms raised upwards.  If you want to speak to the class with no one raising their hand, or speaking out, point to yourself with one hand, and with the other, hold out your palm to the students like a traffic cop would do.  Some classes will need to be taught the pairing of the hand signals with the non-verbal cues, but I find that most students understand the cues with little explanation.

The presenter at my BTSA seminar discussed the “Tom Brokaw” voice.  He pointed out that newscasters giving important information speak sentences with the pitch of their voices gradually going down.  Many of us tend to do the opposite.  When I remember to use my “Tom Brokaw” voice, there is a noticeable change in the attentive body language and behavior of my students.  I don’t have to say, “This is important, be attentive.”  They can hear it in the pitch of my voice.

Michael Grinder’s book goes into great detail about how and when to implement his non-verbal cue techniques. There are also other publications and resources that provide in depth non-verbal strategies.  By giving you a few examples here, I hope to inspire you to pursue your understanding of the non-verbal messages you send your students everyday.

Lisa Hegdahl is an 8th grade science teacher at McCaffrey Middle School in Galt, CA and CSTA’s middle school director.

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Written by Lisa Hegdahl

Lisa Hegdahl

Lisa Hegdahl is an 8th-grade science teacher at McCaffrey Middle School in Galt, CA and is Past-President of CSTA.

2 Responses

  1. For grades 3 – 6, at least, setting clear schedule and behavioral expectations at appropriate times does wonders. And you absolutely must master The Look.

    On the playground, it does wonders to calmly take away mis-used balls for the rest of the day or have a mis-behaving kid walk around with you holding your hand.

    Never yell. Teachers have too much trouble with laryngitis. Once you get their respect, just The Look will be enough.

  2. All I can say is, “Wow!!”

    Thank you so much for the classroom management ideas. Something I learned was in order to get shy students to raise their hands, hold both arms out wide, palms facing the students, in a cross formation. What this does is it gets the students thinking, “Gosh! The teacher’s going to get tired with his arms out like that. I better say something so that he can put his arms down.”

    It works. 🙂

    Ezra Barany
    Author of The Torah Codes
    http://www.facebook.com/TheTorahCodes

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