Speaking without opening your mouth

Outstanding teachers with superbly behaved learners don’t need to talk much. At times, they speak incredibly powerfully without saying a single word. How is that possible?

An amazing research statistic is that only 7% of effective communication is conducted through words. The other 93% is attributed to non-verbal communication. Here are eight ways of getting your message across about expected behaviour and school work without uttering a word:

Make eye contact
Our eyes speak to each other all the time. There’s the twinkle in the eye, the glance, the glare, the stare and many more ways of getting your message clearly understood. A noisy class soon settles down when the teacher looks at the loudest group with an unflinching stare.

A word of caution about eye contact: Western cultures view direct eye contact as a positive action. Avoiding eye contact is seen as deceitful or wanting to hide something. In contrast, many other cultures view direct eye contact as aggressive. 

Show your face
Facial expressions show feelings ranging from depression to elation. Head movement is also a way of speaking. Nodding the head up and down, for example, might be telling the learner: “I’m listening. Please carry on.” Shaking the head sideways could warn a learner to stop ­behaving in a certain way. 

Walk the part
Have you noticed on TV how United States President Barack Obama steps up to the podium before he begins speaking? He strides confidently, as befits a president who has authority and power.
In the classroom you are in charge. Walk like a leader. By walking tall you give yourself confidence.

Learners get a subtle message about how you expect them to behave. If a teacher flops down in the teacher’s chair, the teacher shouldn’t be surprised if everyone else slouches too. 

Go into trouble spots
Most classes have potential “trouble spots”. These might be where boys are engaged in horseplay or there is a group of giggling girls. There is no need to say a word. Simply stroll over and stand next to them. They will quieten down.

Even when the class is well behaved, walking around helps to keep everyone focused on their work.

Give a light touch
We all like a pat on the back. Give a star student a light pat on the back when you walk past the desk. Then there are those learners who aren’t shining so brightly. They could be inattentive or restless. As you walk past such a student, put your hand lightly on a shoulder. You don’t have to say a word, they know what has to be done.

Make the gestures
Have you ever seen foundation-phase teachers get hundreds of noisy children to be absolutely quiet within a few minutes? One teacher stands in front of the chaotic crowd. She puts her hands on her head. One child copies the teacher, then 10, then 50, then 100 and finally, everyone. Then the teacher puts her finger on her lips. They do too, and heavenly silence follows.

Obviously, grade 12s can’t be treated like Mpilo and Tracey in grade one. Yet every teacher needs a bit of acting skill. Block your ears with your hands to get the noise level down; hold your hands up in the air like a traffic officer if learners are surging along a corridor. Think of rush-hour car traffic and the single pointsman on duty. He simply gestures and thousands of motorists obey.   

Dress the part
If you wish your learners to look neat and smart, be a role model. Notice the dress code of the crew of a bus or plane. What would your reaction be as a passenger if the bus driver or Boeing captain strolled to his seat wearing a pair of holey jeans, creased shirt and unpolished shoes?

Appearances make an impact and influence the level of trust that we have in a person.

Dress the part before playing the part. Show that when it comes to teaching you are a professional and you will be treated that way. 

Create the WOW classroom
Without saying a single word, a teacher can make a huge statement about his or her approach to teaching. Is it a job to be done with mainly passive students in a dull-looking classroom, or an incredible voyage of discovery with enthusiastic youngsters in a WOW! classroom.

Let the classroom look like a place where excellent teaching and learning happens every day. Learners want to be in such classrooms and they behave in ways that show that they appreciate the privilege.

Give your precious teacher’s voice as many breaks from having to speak as possible. Develop these eight easy-to-apply skills of communicating superbly without having to open your mouth.

Richard Hayward does educational leadership and management training under the aegis of SAQI (the South African Quality Institute). Download the free SAQI Quality Education News on either www.myschool.co.za (go to services) or www.saqi.co.za (go to education). For workshop details, please contact either Vanessa (012-349-5006) or Richard (011-888-3262). Poor schools are sponsored.



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