Before reading this column, you might want to read or review Dr. Jones's previous columns Meaning Business, Part 1: Calm is Strength, Upset is Weakness and Meaning Business, Part 2: The Body Language of Commitment.
In the two previous segments on Meaning Business, we learned that:
Students read your body language to know what they can get away with in your classroom. With your body language you signal your priorities -- what is important or unimportant, and what you are committed or not committed to doing. By reading your body language, students can read your mind.
Above all, body language tells students what you are going to do next. In last month's segment, we examined in detail the body language of "the turn" -- the signals you give as you turn toward disruptive students that tell them whether or not they need to take you seriously. In this segment, on the assumption that you are dealing with some gamblers who feel like raising the bet, we will move beyond "the turn." As before, however, we will imagine, not high rollers, but typical students who are engaged in the most typical of disruptions -- talking to neighbors.
Let's assume that disruptive students see "the turn" and respond by giving you some "smiley face" before returning to work. At least, they appear to return to work -- but discipline management is an indoor sport. Basketball players know how to fake and poker players know how to bluff. Students know how to do both at the same time.
Maybe the students want you to think they are getting back to work when, in fact, they have every intention of continuing their conversation as soon as your back is turned. How can you tell what the students plan to do next?
You must be able to see into the future. Fortunately you can. Their body language reveals to you their commitments and intentions just as your body language speaks to them.
Body language is, after all, a conversation. In this segment, we will follow the conversation as a couple of disruptive students play with the teacher by upping the ante. We will bring the gamesmanship to a conscious level so you can be a knowing participant and stay a step ahead.
After your turn, the students have given you "smiley face" and returned to work. But will they keep working after your back is turned? How would you know?
Look at the two pictures below and see if you can predict.
It's not much of a mystery, is it? If students intend to continue talking, their body language usually gives it away. Look at the knees and feet. As in most sports, you fake with the upper body (shoulders, eyes, hands), but you commit with the lower body. The body language above the desktop is called "window dressing" - a pretty display that is intended to impress you. But, the students in the first picture are giving you the appearance of compliance while actually withholding it. This is called pseudo-compliance.
Pseudo-compliance is well known to any parent. You ask your daughter to clean her room, and she says, "Okay" while beginning to pick up some things as you walk away. When you come back, you see that nothing else was done after you left. Pseudo-compliance lulls you into a false sense of closure so you terminate supervision prematurely and abort the follow-through needed to get the job done right.
The ability to read pseudo-compliance versus compliance is crucial for any parent or teacher trying to get a child to do something. It lets you know whether you have accomplished your objective or whether the child is just giving "half-a-loaf" -- a gesture toward compliance with no real intention of doing as you asked. (Keep in mind, however, that the way students sit at their desks in class is unimportant as long as they are on task. The present discussion is only about reading pseudo-compliance vs. compliance.)
Pseudo-compliance is all about cutting deals. Children love to cut deals with adults. Pseudo-compliance asks the question, "Is this good enough?" The students asking that question and your answering it constitute the conversation in body language that establishes whether or not they really have to do what you want them to do.
Let's imagine that following "the turn," you see only window dressing as the students return to work. You conclude that you have accomplished nothing. What next?
It is time to deal with the situation at close range. You go over to the disruptive students. (That might be invisible as you "work the crowd," or quite blatant, depending on the situation.)
At this critical juncture, beware of "silly talk." Silly talk is our label for silly things teachers say to disruptive students in lieu of going to them. It is nagging rather than moving:
Talk is cheap. Moving the body signals real commitment. Move the body, not the mouth.
- "Billy, what are you supposed to be doing?"
- "Billy, this is the second time I've had to talk to you."
- "Billy, am I going to have to come over there?"
As you might imagine, you have completed with those students a little conversation in body language. Their body language asked, "Do we have to?" Your body language answered, "Yes." By turning around they said with their bodies, "That's enough. We just wanted to know if you were serious.
Poker is a simple game. You either bet or fold. In the body language poker game, teachers fold when they turn a way from the situation before the students have folded. The students fold when they abandon pseudo-compliance and actually get back to work. You have to stay in the game until the students fold.
A note to the uninitiated -- you cannot fool a child. Children can smell a bluff a mile away. Nagging rather than moving is a bluff. Bluffing gets no respect in this poker game.
Walk: Take a relaxing breath, omit silly talk, and walk to the edge of the desk of the student most likely to be the instigator (assuming typical kids rather than abused kids whose personal space is large and who become anxious when that personal space is invaded). Pseudo-compliance by the student will look like a partial turn toward his or her work rather than a full turn. You have just been raised.
Visual Prompt: Bend over slightly, put one palm flat on the table, and with the other motion for the student to bring his or her chair all of the way around. If you had a teacher who told you when you were a kid to "bring your chair all of the way around," that teacher knew a thing or two about pseudo-compliance. We start with a visual prompt, however, because it runs a lower risk of generating backtalk than would a verbal prompt. Pseudo-compliance by the student would be another partial turn, perhaps three-quarters of the way around. You have been raised again.
Verbal Prompt: With an accompanying hand gesture, ask the student to bring his or her chair all of the way around. The specificity of your prompt leaves very little room for the student to "play dumb." To stay in the game with one more raise, the student must engage in either blatant noncompliance or backtalk. In either case, poker goes from penny-ante to high stakes. For that reason, most students fold at this juncture.
Monitor with Praise: Stay down and watch the student work until you get a stable pattern of work. If the student looks up briefly, his or her body is saying, "Oh, are you still here?" Take another relaxing breath, and stay down a little longer. After observing the student working, thank them warmly and stay down. When you are confident that the student is truly on task, repeat the routine with the second student before standing slowly.
Follow Through: Observe the students as you take a relaxing breath. If one of them looks up, take a second relaxing breath before slowly moving away. Track the students carefully as you work the crowd.
In our analysis of the body language of meaning business, we have assumed typical kids who are "talking to neighbors." Although most such disruptions are prevented by "working the crowd" (See the first seven columns in this series for more about "working the crowd."), the few disruptions that require direct teacher intervention usually will be terminated at the level of penny-ante gambling.
In the next segment, however, we will take a look at high stakes poker. The topic will be backtalk. Most office referrals have backtalk as a primary reason for the student being sent out of the room. Backtalk is serious business -- a provocation that quickly can spin out of control. If you know how to deal with it, however, you can save yourself a lot of grief.