Class support in FE: how can you use body language to manage behaviour?
We were all teenagers once. And many of us will remember going through that angsty stage where our parents were our enemies, nothing was fair and we were convinced the whole world was against us. That stage could have lasted just a few months, or – unlucky for some parents – a year or even longer.
Colleges and other further education institutions are full of teens going through momentous changes – physically, mentally and emotionally. They are dealing with personal changes and peer pressures at the same time as tougher work and more of it. Many will also be working on apprenticeships or work placements for the first time.
Emotions can run high in colleges and sometimes, this can lead to bad behaviour in the classroom – something not only teachers have to deal with, but support staff too.
In its Managing difficult behaviour in colleges report, Unison notes how ‘many students look like adults but still think like children in some ways.’ It goes on to suggest that we all need to be aware of the demands put on students, before exploring different ways staff can establish positive relationships with them.
The importance of body language
As the paper explains, body language and tone are just as important as what we say. A lot of what we communicate is conveyed through non-verbal cues, such as body language, volume, tone, etc. Just like verbal communication, none of these cues have a single meaning – a loud voice could indicate anger, pain, or could be used to cut through loud noise, for instance.
Body language can therefore play a key part in helping to manage behaviour in the classroom. For each situation, here’s what you need to consider:
1. Posture and stance
Facing someone and holding eye contact can be a powerful way to communicate focus. Likewise, looking away can show disregard for someone. In each situation, ask yourself, ‘what is my body actually saying to this person’?
Speaking really quickly to a student can sometimes convey uneasiness or suggest that you want to quickly finish the conversation. It can also cause confusion or misinterpreted meanings if the listener misses key points. Far better is to speak slowly and pause after important points to ensure that the student has taken them fully on board.
3. Instructions vs. questions
Don’t waste time engaging in conversations that draw students in, when in fact they need to be directed out. For instance, if a student is doing something they shouldn’t be doing, rather than ask ‘why are you doing that?’, say ‘I need you to stop doing that.’
Most dialogues should sit in the middle of aggressiveness (which communicates a disregard for other people) and dismissiveness (which communicates that your message is not important).
This midpoint is assertiveness; an assertive tone isn’t angry nor pleading – it’s clear and confident. As the report explains, it’s as if you were asking another person to pass the salt shaker, displaying no fear of rejection and with no need to over-dominate.
5. Repetition of requests
If a student doesn’t respond to a request, ask them again and make sure that they understand what you’re expecting of them. Don’t just drop the request if they don’t comply.
6. Follow up
If a student continues to ignore an instruction, and repeating that instruction several times doesn’t get you anywhere, it’s easy to feel disheartened. What’s important in this scenario is to follow up – whether that involves talking to your line manager, getting in touch with their parents or speaking to the student with a colleague present.
Following up is incredibly effective as it shows the student that you won’t be ignored, and that there are consequences if they ignore your requests.
It’s always important that something happens after a student misbehaves. As the report notes: ‘The institution should encourage whole-community social norms, and one way in which you can encourage and support this principle is by demanding that the institution follows up all misbehaviour with some kind of response.’
In your experience as a teaching assistant, have you learned any useful tricks for managing behaviour in the classroom and maintaining good relationships with students? We’d love to hear them – and in the meantime, if you’re looking to take your next step in your career, search fejobs.com now.