Non-verbal communication – The silent power!
“Constantly talking isn’t necessarily communicating.”
There are many forms of communication and they all have merit. Some forms of communication are more effective depending on the circumstance. The most effective type depends on the relationship between the two parties, what is going on at that point, how receptive they are to certain modes of communication, the purpose of the communication and their current emotional state. For example, being spoken to in a diplomatic manner by a bank manager when opening an account is perfectly acceptable and delivers their message effectively but the same cannot be said to a police officer chasing a criminal on foot. As they are puffing and wheezing, they might scream stop. Their message is short and their voice level is on the opposite end of the spectrum to the bank manager… it wouldn’t quite work if officer asked the criminal in a quiet and patient voice.
This is similar in mainstreams with children. As adults spend more time in a school, they tend to become slightly less malleable and do things their own way more because they have experience and tried and tested techniques. This is good for the teachers who are excellent at their jobs. They do enough to tow the line with the schools vision but adapt policies rather than following them like gospel and run their own variations. On the flip side, there are staff who are not as high-performing and they become complacent. They develop their own ineffective techniques and habits and unfortunately, the children in their care have to fall in line with this.
There are also newer staff. Again, there are some that fall into highly effective and ones that don’t…yet. The upside for the latter is that they have time on their side and as already mentioned, their practice is malleable.
With this in mind, I would like to take a look at communication. Communication is important and in a classroom, it is essential. I don’t know the number of communications that I make per day, but the number is surely in the thousands. Thinking about my own practice, I ask questions, answer questions, nod, wink, put my thumbs up, say single word prompts, speak at length, read, write, point, gesture… the list is endless.
Linking communication to behaviour specifically, it is easy to see a whole range of communications. Adults are exceptional at telling children when they have done something wrong. That does not mean that they are always exceptional at delivering the message effectively, it just means that they are very good at telling children when they have done wrong. When staff only use their voice to challenge poor behaviour, it soon becomes apparent that they spend the majority of their time on telling children off. Shouting, speaking, pulling aside and telling… it’s all the same. It is all verbal.
There are times when verbal communication, when managing behaviour, is the most appropriate form of communicating but it is not feasible to always have a conversation and also, it may not be effective for the child. A child who is driven by the desire to garner attention at all costs would be rather impressed with being shouted at in the class or a teacher stopping the lesson to reprimand them, it would feed their desire. Also, during a 10 minute input, if the teacher has to communicate to children on 4 separate occasions, how could they possibly do this with a 15 second conversation each time? What about the ones who always do the right thing? Why should their learning be interrupted?
Non-verbal communication has many advantages. Although it doesn’t have a long term impact on modifying behaviour, it is that short term modification that you immediately want. A nod of the head, a look with the eyes, a gesture with the hands, traffic light cards, modelling correct behaviour. All of these things mean that you can continue to do what you are doing and modify the behaviour at the same time. It has a high impact on the child who is not behaving appropriately and a low impact on the other children in the class. This is essential because it means that you do not have to disrupt the learning of others. If a child continually talks on the carpet, why should the others be interrupted? Also, if you are nagging at the children, you will probably become increasingly frustrated. If you respond in a planned way, non-verbally, you will be more aware of your emotions and not respond in an emotionally driven way as discussed in my post Conflict Spiral: Letting children know we can listen.
Children respond to consistency. If non-verbal techniques are employed consistently, insistently and persistently over time, they will need to be used less because they will be accustomed to the fact that every single time they present the same behaviour, they will ellicit the same response from you time and time again. This can then obviously be linked to behind the scene consequences etc but as a mode for communicating the message you would like, at time, there is nothing more effective.