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.

School and the Community 

Little Rock Nine Monument, Little Rock, AR

A few weeks ago I traveled to Little Rock, Arkansas with leaders of Louisiana Association of Educators. While there we were taken on a tour of the city by community activists, and we visited the historic Central High School. I vividly remember in the 11th grade reading about Central High and the integration story of the Little Rock Nine, and I remember having this overwhelming feeling of being empowered. That these students had to endure such a life and had the wherewithal to force transformation in our schooling system was and still is incredible to me.

After listening to stories about the current struggles and triumphs of Little Rock and dialoguing with representatives from various activist groups whose primary objective is to “reclaim our schools,” I began to reflect on the relationship between the school and the community. For this group, reclaiming our schools meant taking back our schools from those institutions that have interest other than the education and betterment of our students. Who are we exactly in this movement to reclaim our schools and what gives us authority? The “we” signifies our community.

Many times, parental involvement occurs when there is a perceived behavioral problem with students. Reactive involvement. We need to take a cue from those parents who are proactively engaged in the school community, those parents who come out for poetry night, the parent support network, and PTOs. What we find, however, is that in some schools Parent-Teacher Organizations are non-existent. Where, then, do teachers and parents communicate? When do they have the opportunity to formally collaborate and dialogue? Schools must actively solicit and welcome parental involvement. There should be no school where parents feel unwelcome.

We now know what happens when we are not actively and proactively involved in our children’s schools: the schools are taken over, they’re closed down, or they begin to fail. They become dropout factories and part of the egregious school to prison pipeline, and that’s certainly not what we want. It is the community that should hold schools accountable, and that accountability begins with involvement. Schools have the potential to do so much for our communities; it is schools that can empower and transform communities.   

Follow LeMar Clifford on Instagram and Twitter @lcliff06