Communication requires a message, a sender, and a receiver.
Often, we communicate more through body movement, through facial expression, and/or through tone of voice than through our actual words. These communication tools can be voluntary, involuntary, positive, negative; most often we send and interpret such signals or “scents” subconsciously.
Such signals can be practiced and learned as witnessed in the 2012 Presidential Debates. Both candidates practiced and masterfully displayed communication beyond the content of their ideas and words.
Both candidates through body language, tone of voice and facial expression displayed condescension, disbelief, nervousness, tension, or frustration. “I am the President!” vs. I am Presidential.” “Sit at my elbow and listen.” “No, you don’t know what you are doing.”
An energetic, intelligent, young math teacher stands outside of his classroom door each period of the day greeting students as they enter the room. His bulletin boards, impeccable; the walls, covered with learning charts and a variety student work that entice the eye and the learning process. The desks are arranged in small groups to promote the communication, collaboration, cooperation students need to participate in the competitive and innovation-based global economy. He spends hours each week planning creative lessons to align the connection between the real world of math and the Common Core Curriculum.
However, he is unaware that his body language signals the state of mind: “I am here to help you if only you would permit me. Pleeease allow me to teach you.” The frantic cadence of his voice reinforces his nonverbal message. A small band of students pick up on his scent, that he is unsure of himself, and they decide on which days the class will cooperate. A daily power struggle ensues.
Frustrated by his lack of control and his principal’s warnings about his classroom management, the young educator changes his approach from a problem-solving/critical thinking curriculum to vocabulary puzzles, basic math reinforcement assignments, and software activities that can be assessed by a computer. These busy seatwork activities must be completed during one instructional period or face the consequences of a poor grade. These types of assignments are holdovers from the industrial economy school house that promoted obedience, silence, conformity, reward, and punishment. (
Hamstrung by the constant classroom turmoil and a peace at any price curriculum, he contemplates leaving the teaching field.
After an observation session, I honed in immediately on the situation. Unfortunately, it is a scene played out far too often in too many classrooms and schools across America and indeed the globe. Would be effective teachers sabotage themselves with poor body language and a weaker teaching voice; students smell the fear and uncertainty. The nonverbal message is a scent, an energy force that communicates to students that teachers believe in them or are afraid of them. An effective teacher’s energy radiates, “I own my inner assets; I’ve got this. Whatever you throw at me, I can handle.”
Thus, it is critical that the “scent” of a teacher demonstrates a positive, confident bearing rather than one that is unsure or easily intimidated. And their facial expression is capable of signaling approval or disapproval. Eye contact that says that I am in control –“Don’t trespass because I am wiser, braver, and stronger. “
Like a musical instrument capable of spanning a wide range of moods and emotions, theteaching voice can convey happiness, frustration, trust, belief, doubt, faith, fear, anger, or sadness. When we were children and our parents called us, we could tell by their tone how fast we should respond. We can teach students to respond to us in the same manner. Used effectively, the voice demonstrates our confidence that students’ success in possible and probable.
If you are a teacher, how has your “scent” impacted your teaching? How do you know? Have you ever stared a student down? How did it feel? Have you ever audio-taped a lesson to study your vocal quality? Have you used video equipment to study your body language?
If you are a professional who works with teachers, have you ever coached a teacher to improve his/her “scent”?
As a coach, have you examined your scent?