Why My Body Language is Taller than My Height – Nonverbal Cues

I didn’t know I was short until I began teaching middle school. Being  five feet and a half inches tall and 120 pounds, I became the target of jokes and disbelief. “Oh, I thought you were one of the students!” was and still is a hauntingly familiar dig in my direction.

Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words do hurt. However, they do have the power to uplift you and make change so I soon learned to exit my feelings quickly  in order to be taken seriously by redirecting the conversation, and proceeding in a professional manner.

Without the gift of intimidating stature, I learned to rely heavily on nonverbal cues in my classroom management. Nonverbal cues can be defined as silent signals and/or gestures which communicate commands or instructions to a specific party or audience. Nonverbal cues enable you to model positive expectations for your students or discourage inappropriate behaviors without saying a word.

SMH – this acronym appears heavily in text talk and in comment sections of social media. Shaking my head has stopped six foot high school students in their tracks, prompted boys and girls to ask for the present page number of the text, and lowering of a head who finally realized he or she was not on task – a hint of shame.

If a student is not seated properly, I simply point my index finger up and down and the action is corrected. When a student is speaking too loudly, I turn my hand as if I were lowering a radio dial. Snapchat wheel turning red on a mobile device? I squint my big eyes and tap on the pocket of my pants warning the offender that fancy phone will be mine if they don’t stop playing with me.

These are only a few but effective nonverbal cues which has allowed me to execute class with little detraction from the lesson at hand. The lesson becomes so dear to me that not even I can stand to interrupt it if it is unnecessary.

Follow Jalissa Bates on Twitter @BurninNLootin.

Experiences in Chile 

What is education like outside of the United States? This was my primary query when embarking on this international excursion.  I wanted to gain insight on educational best practices outside of the states. In the three weeks I was housed at this particular school, I had the opportunity to take on different roles: I was in positions wherein I observed, co-taught, and participated in lessons. I participated as an administrator, teacher, and student. I had discussions with teachers of the school, visiting teachers like me, students, and administrators.

Creating cultures of trust among students and teachers along with teachers and administrators is an overarching theme that I encountered.  This particular school is private and serves grades Pre-K to 12 with a population of about 600 students. Interestingly, students remain with their peer group throughout their time at the school, from Pre-K to 12. One can imagine the community this creates.

Of all my experiences, I especially want to discuss two.  The first is my observations of elementary teachers and their classrooms. The elementary administrator and I observed a fourth grade classroom. She and I had a pre-conference before conducting the observation. The discussion included the school’s ideology, methodology, and particularly what to look for during the observation. At this present moment the school is transitioning and has a focus on teambuilding, classbuilding, collaborative and cooperative learning. Before we went into the classroom the administrator pointed out specific elements to look for during instruction in regards to cooperative learning. These elements had four main parts according to a Kagan structure: positive interdependence, individual accountability, student interaction, and equal participation.

The teacher of this fourth grade class had all of the students seated in groups of mostly four, an environment conducive for learning . Each group had their own identity as evidenced by their hanging banners and intermittent cheers. The banners and cheers created by students of each group were part of collaborative and team building exercises (this was a sight to see). For the lesson students were working on multiplication. Students were required to work a problem individually on whiteboards and then discuss how they worked the problem with either their nose or shoulder partner. In an instance in which a student got a wrong answer, another member of the group “taught” their peer how to get the correct answer. Students were doing the gamut of intellectual work, and the teacher was their to guide and a facilitate. As I conducted this observation, it was clear that this teacher had established clear expectations and procedures and a positive and trusting space.

The second experience has much to do with the realization of the valuable relationships fostered with members of my cohort. The conversations and experiences we shared in those three weeks were exceptional. We discussed educational theory, charter schools, alternative teacher certification, along with national and local educational policy. What is education going to look like in the near and far future? Or further, what is the world going to look like because of education? What is the function or purpose of education? Are schools’ curricular materials aligned to the purpose(s)? These are some of the questions that guided our discourses. To grapple with these complex topics, in the end, was quite rewarding.

Lastly and importantly, it is erroneous to make hastened evaluations regarding education in Chile as juxtaposed to education in the United States. While it is tempting to say in the US we do this but in Chile they do this, it is irresponsible to not consider contexts be it socioeconomic, political, or what have you. Though generalizations can be made, making wholesale evaluations would hardly be of benefit. Nevertheless, experiencing schooling in another country and culture allows for the broadening of perspectives and allows for more cultural tolerance and understanding. I wholeheartedly recommend such a program to educators, student-teachers, and administrators as it provides an opportunity to observe best practices through an international lens.

Paths to Justice – Celebrating TRIO Services

The advent of summer always brings a particular joy to me being born at the end of May. It is the time of no school no rules and acting a fool. Summers have now been spent teaching growing and grooming first-generation college students for success. For the third summer in a row, I have been employed by Upward Bound in Baton Rouge, Louisiana by the respective universities, Louisiana State University and Baton Rouge Community College.

As an English instructor, I focus on the information of the Civil Rights era to guide my curricula. This course explores March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell and the Civil Rights Movements of both the U.S. South during the Jim Crow era and the nonviolent tactics employed by Martin Luther King, Jr. and his followers beginning in the mid-1950s. The course focuses on critical thinking and reading, the teaching of tolerance through March One, a graphic novel, and DVD kits from the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance program. The course creates dialogue and discussion while using the Socratic Seminar method.

The summer has come to mean a period of creative expression through culturally relevant material for myself and my students. My high school kids are quite surprised when I ask them if they use colors to self-assess their writing or compose a strong class model in real time. As we share our experiences through the texts and films, the practice of reading and writing strategies are exchanged. Our rich history is addressed at every moment and the students self-question aloud in order to process and understand their own images.


Follow Jalissa Bates on Twitter @BurninNLootin