As usual, Peter DeWitt’s pieces on his blog Finding Common Ground always have a way of pushing my thinking. His piece last week, Body Language: What Are We Telling Our Students, really made me stop and reflect on the various was that we influence and connect with students. More specifically, it made me think about the ways in which we are able bring kids closer to us without even saying a word. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that there are ways that educators can connect with their students without saying a single word.
High-Fives, Handshakes & Fist-Bumps
There is a reason that athletes do this before, during and after sporting events. It psyches them up! They say, “I am excited and I want you excited too!” They’re quick, they’re fun and they take less than a second. So start tomorrow and watch the reaction you get. I’m betting the kid smiles and returns the enthusiasm. And really, isn’t that what we are looking for?
Oftentimes at school we need students to walk with us from one place to another. If this involves a large group of students, then a line makes sense. But, if this involves one or two students then I suggest asking the student(s) to walk right next to you. Having a student walk behind you just doesn’t feel right. It means that the student has to see your back. It also implies that the student is not worthy of you. Now I realize that there are times when students will refuse. However, most of the time, if you ask them nicely (I feel like Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men) the child will walk along side you. And that can make all the difference for the conversation that you are about to have with them.
Children know what we are thinking just by looking into our eyes. They have craved eye contact ever since they were infants and now they have become experts. The other day I was attempting to take a nap on the couch but my son was having none of it. What he said next was unintentionally brilliant (he is only 3). He said, “Open your eyes so I can see you.” He had it backwards, but there was a hidden meaning there. If we don’t have our eyes open, if we are not truly looking at our students, they know it. And they dismiss us right away. On the other hand, I believe it is important that when we do make eye contact, we do so with happiness in our eyes and a gentleness in our soul. Kids will know, and they will feel it.
There are varying theories about personal space and how close we should get to students. I am of the belief that students, children, want to be close but they don’t always know how and neither do we. It is important that we show them that we are comfortable in their presence so that they can begin to feel comfortable in ours’. If they see us start to lean in, then they will do the same, literally and figuratively. They will trust us more and they will start to feel like they can connect with us. And isn’t that what it is all about?
Just Being There
Finally, I believe that one of the most powerful ways we can connect with students is by giving them a time and a place to just be. No words necessary. No lectures or advice. Sometimes kids just need the security and comfort that our quiet presence can bring them. They often don’t have it at home. They almost never have it at school. And yet it is sometimes the one thing that can help get them where they need to be. Sometimes a quiet place, with someone who makes them feels safe is all they need. We can provide this.
Connecting with the children we teach everyday means everything. If we can’t connect we don’t connect. About 95% of our efforts to connect involve us talking and them listening. While our intentions our good, I think sometimes we talk too much. I think sometimes we need to try some of the strategies above that don’t require uttering a word. I think it’s at least worth a try.