Good Body Language Improves Classroom Management
Successful Teachers Blend both Verbal and Nonverbal Communication
Effective teachers use body language to communicate with students, build rapport with them, and make them feel safe and supported.
“Face the student with arms uncrossed and relaxed,” says Mindy B. (on NEA Today Facebook) “and usually always smiling! Give them eye-to-eye contact, and pay attention to them! By doing this, I’m conveying the message that ‘I care!’”
“The ability of a teacher to establish positive rapport with students is a critical aspect of the teacher-learner relationship,” explains Ron Benner, a school psychologist in Bridgeport, Connecticut. “The successful teacher blends both verbal and nonverbal communication skills in establishing good rapport with students and this has a direct correlation to student achievement."
Test your understanding of your students and how your body language affects them by standing in the doorway of the room as your students shuffle in. This close contact sets up a naturally occurring single file line that calms them before they enter the classroom and enables a positive learning environment before they even sit down, according to body language expert Chris Caswell.
From the start, command the classroom. Greet the class with a loud, clear, upbeat voice. If you look frazzled, you seem vulnerable. Lack of confidence is a red flag to students.
Body Language Dos and Don’ts
Where and how you stand in the classroom speaks volumes, too.
- Stand up straight. Poor posture—slumped shoulders, stomach sticking out—is not only physically unhealthy, but it can convey a whole range of attitudes and degrees of interest and respect.
- Avoid folding your arms, standing behind a desk, and using barriers. These behaviors “simply sends the signal that you don’t want to make contact,” says Caswell. It blocks you off and makes you appear unapproachable. Don’t cross your arms or shuffle papers that aren’t related to the lesson, and refrain from looking at your watch when a child is speaking.
- Use the whole classroom. Walk around the students’ desks to show interest, and indicate approval with a head nod. Caswell suggests leaning slightly forward and moving momentarily into their territory in a nonthreatening way.
- Be aware of your facial expressions (or lack thereof!). They can easily convey any number of moods and attitudes, as well as understanding or confusion.
- Smile. It conveys happiness and encouragement. Frowns show sadness or anger. Big, open eyes suggest fear. An animated face draws the listener in.
- Make eye contact. It helps establish rapport and trust, and it shows that you’re engaged and listening to the students.
- Adopt different poses when you want your students to respond in a particular way.
- Your hand on your chin encourages students to think about the answer and shows you’re waiting for their answer.
- Hands out and palms up shows that you’re open to questions and answering in a nonthreatening way.
- Observe wait time—don’t stare and rush them. Appear relaxed and ready to listen.
Body language helps you get your message across. Let students know that you want to create a supportive, productive learning environment.
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“I recommend greeting students at the classroom door, because it establishes you as a person in charge, models the respectful kind of interaction...”