Body Language For Teachers

Whether you’re teaching second grade students, a graduating high school class or a roomful of engineering majors in college, body language can play a large part in how successful your classrooms become. Inside a classroom, your body language will often dictate your presence and your students will respond accordingly.

The more in control you are of a classroom, the better the learning experience often becomes. Partly, this happens because students create and partake in less distracting activities when this is the case. Mostly, though, I’ve always believed that good teachers are ultimately the ones that are able to command the attention of their students. When they respect your authority, they listen and pay attention. Instead of attending to other things, they actually focus on your lessons and do the work required.

Why pay attention to your body language? Because it’s what your students will ultimately respond to. Words can be made up, so it’s not unusual to be skeptical about what’s being said. Body language, on the other hand, will almost always be taken at face value.

  1. Stand Near The Door When Classes Start. When you stand by the door while students walk in, they almost always do so more calmly. Students racing to enter the room usually isn’t a good thing since they start the class pumping adrenaline, causing them to be more disruptive for everyone else. The calmer you can get your students before a class starts, the more productive the next hour or so is going to be.
  2. Project Your Voice. You can’t talk sheepishly in a classroom. That’s the easiest way to make students put their attention elsewhere. Address your class with a loud, clear and upbeat voice — that’s how you command your students’ undivided attention.
  3. Avoid Standing Behind The Table Too Long. When you stand behind the table, you establish a physical barrier between yourself and the students. While having that divide can be helpful in some instances (especially when you’re chastising specific individuals in class), physical barriers can create gaps in communication in the classroom, too. You’re always better off bridging any gap with your students, instead of encouraging it.
  4. Use The Whole Classroom. Walking around the classroom establishes your ownership of the space, establishing your authority inside it. Stride confidently from end to end, take laps around the entire space and so on. Doing this puts students on their toes — something you’d probably want if you value their full and undivided attention during lectures.
  5. Stand Next To Misbehaving Students. When a student is being disruptive, you can verbally call them out. If you want to be more subtle, just stand next to their seat — that communicates the exact same thing and they’ll usually stop whatever they’re doing. Why scream when you can just walk over and get the same results, right?
  6. Use Your Face. Be expressive with your face. Facial expressions can be very helpful for communication. Since you’re in charge of the room, your facial expressions can dictate how students will feel about what’s being discussed in class. Wear an open, excited look and they’ll take your cue. Smile and they instinctively know that a lighthearted discussion is afoot. Oh, and you can always shoot a darting glance at any misbehaving miscreants. The more expressive your face is, the more students will pay attention to cues provided by your facial expressions.
  7. Stoop To Their Level. In this case, we mean literally, not figuratively. When you want to address specific students one by one, it helps to physically get down on their level, rather than merely stand in front. This holds true whether you’re chastising a student for misbehavior or helping them out with a lesson. Physically adjusting to meet them at eye level makes the interaction feel more genuine and level-headed. Alternately, you can have them stand up to meet you at eye level.
  8. Stand Tall. Maintain an erect posture when you’re speaking in front. A sagging posture communicates a lack of confidence, making your students doubt your credibility in more ways than one. It also encourages troublemakers to start disruptions in the classroom, since they feel your authority is open to be challenged.
  9. Move Slower. Don’t rush through your motions. Instead, make your movements deliberate, whether you’re walking across the room, writing on the whiteboard or demonstrating a pose. Be particularly conscious of slowing down your hand movements. Fast movements, especially ones that appear nervously rapid, are unsettling for students. Remember, they look towards you for how they will feel — if you act like you’re nervous, the more likely they are to respond in a similar manner.
  10. Talk Slower. Similar to the above, slowing down your speech demonstrates confidence and helps calm down your students. Speaking rapidly makes it appear you’re rushing through what you’re saying because you’re unsure of what you’re talking about.
  11. Keep Your Hands In Plain View. Putting your hands in your pockets signal that you’re either nervous or hiding something. While there’s nothing wrong with a little case of nerves, it doesn’t inspire confidence in your students, painting you as closed off and defensive. If you don’t like using your hands when speaking in public, either keep them to the side or cup them along the line of your stomach — both are perfectly acceptable postures when addressing a group.
  12. Don’t Be Afraid Of Silence. Silent moments happen — don’t be afraid of it. Some teachers will fill in gaps of silence by continuously talking even when further talk is no longer necessary. Pauses slow down the pace of the lessons, giving students room to absorb previously-discussed ideas.

If you plan to adopt these body language principles, only do so one at a time. Trying to implement everything in one fell swoop will likely just confuse you. Integrating them one by one into how you conduct yourself in the classroom will help you be more successful in implementing them. As you master each one over time, your body language will improve and you can see it in the interactions you end up facilitating with your students.