Teacher Classroom Language


In my experience, the vast majority of teachers want to be the very best they can be in their roles and to reach every student to the best of their ability. In my experience, as a result, teachers spend lots of time exploring their subject and ideas on the best teaching methodologies in relation to the content of that subject. They pay lots of attention to classroom management, maybe also to child psychology, how to motivate students, effects of discipline methods and pedagogy.

But, in my experience, not much time or attention goes in to aspects related to the teacher as a communicator. To my mind this is a major shortcoming when we consider that teaching is so dependent upon communication, consciously or unconsciously. Sometimes there is attention paid to the language of the subject, to aspects of correctness of use of the language that is the medium of instruction (e.g. English, especially when not the mother tongue of the teachers or students). However, not much professional development training goes in to aspects of body language, use of semiotics (use of signs and symbols), use of voice or how language is used.

In NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) there is a well known pre supposition that states – “You cannot not communicate.” In other words, we’re all communicating, all the time. Even not communicating communicates. We’ve all seen that a teacher can often get a much quicker response from an unruly, noisy or excitable class of pupils by standing silently with a particular facial expression than by shouting, remonstrating, cajoling or even threatening.

Teachers want to impact students when they communicate with them. I remember years ago (I think the first time was when undergoing sales training) learning that when we communicate our impact is made up of:

  • 55% what we do with our body, physically (including the face)
  • 38% what we do with our voice (tone, speed, volume, timbre etc)
  • 7% the words we use

Seeing these figures it would be easy to make the mistake of thinking that as a result words don’t really matter very much. They’re not very significant. However, I believe this is a very grave mistake, especially when we take in to account that whilst using the right words we also have the opportunity to use our voice in the most effective ways for a combined 45% of the total impact.

So, for many teachers there’s an area here where they can bring about significant and valuable improvements, if they pay attention. However, one of the biggest challenges with language and communication is that most of what we do and say is automatic and unconscious. In order to question and challenge our own communication we have to bring it in to conscious awareness. This isn’t always a comfortable process, but i believe the benefits make it worthwhile.

The ASCD (the biggest US organisation for teacher and educator professional development) holds periodic webinars. Some of these are exclusively for members. However, today I want to share information on an excellent webinar that is free for all to see – you don’t need to be a member to log in to watch the replay of this one.

Mike Anderson is a US elementary teacher who has published a few books. I read his earlier book, “Learning to Choose, Choosing to Learn” which was very good. This webinar was to introduce the core ideas behind his latest book, “What we say and how we say it matter: teacher talk that improves student learning and behavior.”

In the webinar he shares masses of really good material and I’m sure teachers will benefit from giving this a little time. To watch the replay of the webinar, click on the link below. When the page opens, click where it says “Watch now”.

ASCD – Professional Development – What We Say – Webinar

Enjoy, and please share your feedback and thoughts on the content here.


NLP in Education

NLP, or Neuro Linguistic Programming, is a suite of activities and skills which are about increasing acuity  – the ability to understand how one’s own mind is working and how the minds of others are working. Only by developing such fine-grained skills can one aspire to build higher levels of rapport with others.

I have to confess to being a passionate advocate of NLP, right since i got my first training in the skills around 17 years ago. At that time i was a banker. I saw positive benefits in my leadership skills, ability to motivate and lead employees, relationship skills with clients – leading to stronger client relations, more referrals, more cross-selling and higher customer satisfaction ratings.

I also credit NLP techniques learned with improvements that happened in my presentation and public speaking skills around that time.

I have long believed there was a strong place for NLP skills for teachers and in schools. However, as this article from the UK Telegraph newspaper clearly shows it is plagued by simplistic criticisms, some of which have their roots in deep-held society views about “how children should be” and what is meant to happen in a school classroom.

Telegraph Article

When will there be a full acknowledgement that in education we are here to teach children, not to teach “stuff”. I have shuddered at times when i have sat in a teacher’s classroom (TSRS excluded, of course!), watching them ‘teach’ almost as though the students in front of them are completely invisible.

Does it matter whether or not a student has understood what their teacher or classmate has said? Who should it matter to? If you ask students whether they understood, might there be reasons why they may choose not to admit they didn’t understand? If so, how else but through strong conscious or unconscious awareness of sometimes very small clues in body language is a teacher to know whether a student understood?

Ultimately, if teachers care most about learning and less about ‘teaching’, then surely they will see it as a vital lifelong quest to add whatever they can to the tools and skills at their disposal that enable them to build higher rapport with individuals, groups – to understand better the working of their own mind, those of their learners (and also their parents).

Teachers are in the ‘human potential’ business – those who are not very interested in human beings might need to rethink their career choices!

%d bloggers like this: