The other day I noticed a girl, maybe 8 or 9, suddenly do a cartwheel as she was walking. What was she expressing? Excitement? Energy? Happiness?
How many adults would spontaneously cartwheel in public? A rare few, I would think. But the more I think about body language, the more cognizant I am of its impact on people.
Take driving, for instance. If I let someone in front of me, I appreciate a hand wave. If I don’t get one, I’m annoyed. If I do get one, my faith in humanity is restored. Okay, perhaps I’m putting too much into a wave of the hand … and yet, it’s such a simple gesture.
What about body language in the classroom setting? I look to the body language of my students to help me understand their feelings about school, my classroom, or even about themselves as learners. Think about this difference in response to a question: a reluctant shoulder shrug or a hand shot straight up in the air. And what about body language between students? Observant teachers pick up on many subtleties – and potential problems – all through a silent vocabulary.
As teachers, we also communicate how we feel about our students through how we stand, whether or not we get down to their level, or even if we make or avoid eye contact. What does our body language unconsciously communicate to our students? Is there a student that senses that we don’t like her? What might we be doing to communicate this? Does our body language change from student to student? Are we carrying the stress of home in our demeanour or do we appear relaxed and comfortable? Do we meet students at the door with a smile or a hug, or do we hide behind our desks when they enter our class?
There’s no need for cartwheels in the classroom, of course, but awareness of body language is certainly important when establishing a positive, productive environment.