The importance of a teacher’s body language cannot be stressed deeply enough. In today’s classroom where school may be the safest place for some students who come from a troubled home, while other students come to school and attempt to bully not only students but also teachers and where school has become a place where some students and teachers have engaged in inappropriate relationships, a teacher’s body language is of utmost importance. It should convey not only power and authority, but trust. Body language can give a teacher leverage in the classroom or may send signals that the teacher is weak and has no control.
Body language should be used to a teacher’s advantage
In “Body Language and Classroom Management,” Michael Linsin says that only 7% of the speaking that a teacher does in the classroom has an impact on students. The other 93% is conveyed through non-verbal communication. When a teacher learns how to utilize body language in the classroom, the teacher is more likely to be the one in control and keep students attentive to the learning experience. Body language which gives the teacher leverage, such as knowing how to use eye contact and facial expressions are universal to all students, no matter their culture, language difficulties, intelligence or functioning level.
A simple smile given to a student can let that student feel wanted and appreciated in the classroom. For the student coming from a home with parenting, financial troubles or other issues, a smile from a teacher may be the brightest moment of the day. That smile may be all that is needed for the student to actively participate in the classroom, and to come to class prepared.
Teachers must know how body language conveys negative messages
When a teacher consistently stares at one student or repeatedly stands close to one student, it can very easily lead to feelings of personal space being invaded and can make a shy student feel intimidated or threatened. A teacher must respect a students’ personal space through the use of body language to maintain leverage without coming across as antagonistic.
Maintaining good posture may not seem like it determines how much control or leverage a teacher has, but the body language conveyed with posture speaks volumes. When a teacher stands tall and walks with confidence, it conveys the message that the teacher is confident in the classroom and in charge. Poor posture conveys weakness, which may be taken advantage of by some students. The students who like to disrupt the class or intimidate the teacher can spot a weak teacher because poor posture displays a lack of confidence.
Teachers have been taught to avoid “closed” body signals such as folded arms or sitting behind the desk which conveys that the teacher is being defensive.
While Linsin suggests that a simple touch on the shoulder or arm of a student can make a teacher seem more persuasive and build rapport, in most school districts teachers are not permitted to touch students. For some students it may be intimidating, while others, especially high school students. may take the touch to mean something that it does not. It is imperative that the teacher remain above reproach at all times. That way there can be no doubt as to what actually happened and what body language has been used in the classroom.
Teachers would do well to know the effect of their body language on students of other cultures in their classroom. While using the index finger to non-verbally direct a student to come to you, in some cultures, using the index finger in such a manner would be considered insulting or obscene! Judie Haynes also explains in “Use Caution with Gestures in Class” that motioning the OK sign to a student when the teacher forms a circle with his or her fingers may not get the response the teacher is expecting. Making that gesture to a student from Germany or Brazil may lead to trouble since it is an obscene gesture in those countries.
Not only can touching a student lead to miscommunication to the student of what the teacher is trying to convey, but it can be very uncomfortable for a student from cultures where there is Buddhism influence.
Teachers must realize the importance of utilizing appropriate body language in the classroom. When using body language that commands respect, the teacher is most likely to gain respect of his or her students. But teachers must also be careful not to cross lines in respect to body language. Teachers must demonstrate respect to students by not crossing lines of personal space and must not demonstrate intimidation towards students through the use of body language.
In a classroom with students of other cultures, teachers must be careful to not use body language or gestures that may be considered rude, insulting or even obscene. When a teacher displays body language that conveys confidence and trust, students will be more apt to settle down into a learning environment where the mutual teacher-student relationship is recognized and respected.