Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Excellent discipline and body language go together

We’ve all met such teachers. They’re able to “tame” the wildest classes. The learners might have been badly behaved in another class but when they arrive outside those teachers’ classroom doors, their behaviour somersaults from shocking to splendid. 

What do they do differently? What are their secrets?

Such teachers use body language brilliantly. Their discipline is achieved without having to continually shout words such as, “Be quiet!’ or threaten the learners with detentions and the like. Children enjoy being in their classes and most of them work well.

Body language has been defined as “communicating without speech”. Too often we fall into the mistaken belief that communication is only verbal. Professor Albert Mehrabian of the University of California believes that only 7% of our communication is verbal; the other 93% is non-verbal. 

A huge 55% of communication impact is visual; a person’s body language — such as eye contact and facial expression — can often be a far more powerful communicator than their actual words. 

Use these seven body language techniques to get excellent classroom discipline:

• Walk the walk: The classroom is the teacher’s domain. You, the teacher, are in charge. Walk confidently into your classroom with your chin up and posture straight. Your learners will soon be aware of your physical presence. 

• Move around the room: Some teachers hide behind their desks; they see it as a “shield” between themselves and their learners. An atmosphere of “us” versus “them” is created. Remember, the classroom belongs to you. Walk around the room. Teach from the front, back and sides. Sit on the desks; walk down the aisles. Robin Williams, in the film, Dead Poets Society, famously stood on the teacher’s table while giving an English lesson.  

• Correct misbehaviour wordlessly: As you walk around your classroom, you will see little acts of misbehaviour. Two girls are whispering to each other. Stand next to their desk and without you having to say a word, the chitter-chatter will stop. A boy is irritatingly tapping a pen on his desk. Don’t stop your lesson to reprimand him. Simply walk past his desk, take the pen out of his hand and put it on the desk. 

• Avoid defensive body language: Your learners are always watching you. They’ll notice negative body language such as clenched hands, frowning or crossed arms and legs. If they sense negativity, they’ll respond similarly. Try to have an open, relaxed and confident manner, even if you’re not actually feeling that way at the time. As the saying goes: Fake it till you make it!

• Use body and facial expressions:  The classroom is the teacher’s stage, and you’re the actor! Use facial expressions to reflect your emotions. Let them see your admiration, bemusement, confidence, delight and enthusiasm in what they do and say. When they step over the boundaries of acceptable behaviour, your face can wordlessly speak anger, annoyance and antipathy. Use your whole body to get the message across. The grade one teacher can get her noisy children to be quiet by simply putting a finger to her lips. The youngster who has “forgotten” his homework at home knows exactly what you think by seeing you glaring at him with hands on hips.  

• Smile: Teaching is tough. It’s hard to always stay positive in your interactions with others.  Strive to keep smiling in spite of the stress. By so doing, you actually decrease your stress levels. Have a friendly smile as the children enter your class; it helps set the tone for the whole lesson. Often the children will be better behaved, the quality of work will go up and you’ll enjoy your teaching.

• Dress professionally: If a teacher dresses sloppily and looks unkempt, they shouldn’t be surprised if the learners mirror that in their own behaviour and work. The clothes one wears is a powerful statement of who you are. If a teacher is neat and looks professional, such a physical appearance gives guidelines to the learners; the teacher has a sense of self-respect and self-worth. Similar expectations of the standard of behaviour and work will be made of the learners. 

Look the part if you want the learners to play their part.

Excellent classroom discipline doesn’t just happen. One has to work at it. Use these body language techniques and you’ll quickly get to a level of quality classroom management. They’re easy to apply and they really work. 

Richard Hayward does school leadership and management programmes. Ten of them have been endorsed by SACE for CPTD points. For more details, please contact him on [email protected] or 011 888 3262. Poor schools are sponsored.

Subscribe to the M&G

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them.

Richard Hayward
Richard Hayward Properties. Richard Hayward is a property developer and landlord based in South Wales. The business has various ventures underway! Richard Hayward has over 93 followers on Twitter.

Related stories


If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Subscribers only

Mbeki tells ANC that land without compensation goes against the...

‘This would be a very serious disincentive to investment,’ says Thabo Mbeki in a document arguing that the ANC should not proceed with the Constitutional amendment of section 25

Micro-hydropower lights up an Eastern Cape village

There is hidden potential for small hydropower plants in South Africa

More top stories

Oxygen supplies in Gauteng remain stable amid third wave

More than 1 500 patients in Gauteng are currently on oxygen assistance

‘Corrupt’ SAA sale to be challenged in court

UDM leader Bantu Holomisa says the organisation is seeking an urgent application to set aside the sale of SAA to Takatso

Mbeki tells ANC that land without compensation goes against the...

‘This would be a very serious disincentive to investment,’ says Thabo Mbeki in a document arguing that the ANC should not proceed with the Constitutional amendment of section 25

Gigaba denies he allowed Gupta allies to strong-arm SAA into...

The former minister was confronted with testimony that the airline was bullied, including by his special adviser, on his watch

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…