4 Proven Management Strategies to Dominate Your Classroom

Control of your classroom is a priority.  However, it is easier said than done.  The following article will outline how to get, and keep control of your classroom using body language alone.

Your body language is the foundation of your instruction: confidence, authority, comfort, and compassion are all communicated from your actions.  Here is how you walk the walk by investigating first impressions, body language to control your behavior, mirror neurons, and The Halo Effect.

First Impressions

First impressions are more important than we'd like to think...and first impressions occur daily in your classroom.

"But I meet my class for the first time on the first day of school!"

Right... and wrong.  You create a year long lasting impression in September, but you have to renew it everyday.  You daily set the tone for your environment.

You want your confident self to shine through.  To learn how to LOOK confident, lets examine what people do when feeling weak, vulnerable, and uncertain.  The following information comes from Joe Navarro, a former FBI counterintelligence agent and author.  His book, What Every Body is Saying, will change the way you view your social atmosphere.  Read his stuff from Psychology Today here.

People who are nervous try to make themselves feel better through physical contact and stimulation.  It is called self pacifying.

What do you do to a child that is crying?  You cradle their neck and rub their back.

People do that same thing in an attempt to make themselves feel better.

Self pacifying behavior attempts to stimulate nerves through physical contact. Stimulated nerves send signals to the brain and "cheer it up".  People often touch their neck, face, and head.  They also rub parts of their body continuously-the tops of their thighs are common if the person is sitting.
To act confident, limit the amount of unnecessary movement.  Refrain from touching or rubbing.

Picture your puppy as you come home from school.  It greets you at the door and after a quick pat on the head it flops on it's back and exposes its underside to you- it wants you to rub its tummy.  The underside of the puppy is called the ventral side.  Your ventral side is your front, or the side of your body with your navel.
You are anatomically vulnerable on your ventral side; the visceral organs are collected here.  Your dog shows trust when it exposes its vulnerable ventral side to you.

When feeling weak, vulnerable, or uncertain, people work to protect, or BLOCK their ventral side.  They may fix a tie, rearrange their necklace, or simply cross their arms as if they were hugging themselves.  They put something between themselves and the threat.

This is an evolutionary response to a trouble: block your ventral side from the potential harm and keep your organs safe.

To act confident, limit the amount of time you place your arms in front of your body.  Have a bold chest.  If comfortable, stand with your hands behind your back.  This is a dominant position and states that you are confident, healthy, and in charge.

Back to your puppy.  After you rub its belly and set your bags aside, your nose catches a familiar and immediately recognizable scent: puppy mess.  After a quick glance, you realize the puppy used your new Persian rug to absorb its business.  It realizes trouble is on the horizon.  What does it do?

Your puppy shrinks.  It cowers and attempts to make itself as small as possible.  It forfeits as much of its territory to you as it can as a way to signal inferiority.

People are no different.  When vulnerable, weak, or "in trouble," people shrink in size and try to occupy the smallest amount of space possible.  Being small is a way of saying "don't pay attention to me."

Do the opposite.

Stand with legs comfortably splayed with your head up and shoulders back.  This communicates that this is your classroom (territory) and you are in charge.

As evidence, think about the proximity management technique.  You stand near a student who is talking or disrupting.  By standing near them, in proximity to their sphere of influence, you are saying "you're talking, and this is your territory, however, I'm in charge and occupying your space...."  You take up space in their space.

Lastly, smile.  Taking up space and standing like a presidential secret service officer does not need to be interpreted as intimidation.  You don't want to scare you students.

Smiling and the emotion of being happy is contagious.  Dr David Hamilton has a good write up here on emotional contagions.  (his blog is here-worth your time!)

If it contagious, it can be passed to other people.  At least fake being happy :)

The Pragmatic TV visited emotional contagions here.

Body Language to control YOUR behavior

It makes sense that your mind controls the way you behave.  You're confident, in control, and powerful, and therefore more likely to adopt body language that represents that.

Amy Cuddy asked the opposite question.  For those of us that aren't naturally powerful, can we behave as if we are and eventually change our mindset?

Her answer is simple: YES

By the way Amy Cuddy is an absolute rock start; her TED talk is one of the most inspirational/useful/rationale/applicable TED talks available.  If you haven't seen it, leave this article now and go here.

She has simple advice:
"Fake it until you become it."
Without going to deep into her research, she found that adopting a power-pose (see picture) makes you more assertive and confident and less reactive to stress.  Further, the biological changes are also detectable for each behavior change; higher testosterone (assertive) and lower cortisol (stress reactive).

"It must have taken hours of concentrated attention to make your mind react to the way you're behaving!"

It only took two minutes.  Seriously- people adopted a power-pose for two minutes and felt the positive effects.

You have two minutes during your day don't you?

Become more assertive confident and start by standing in the power-pose.

Mirror Neurons
Every time I read about mirror neurons, I want to stand up and thrust my hands in the air like I just won an Olympic medal.

Discovered in 1996, but truly understood by 2004, mirror neurons begin to describe a significant factor in the learning process: emulation and imitation.

When you bounce a ball, neurons in your brain fire to control that action.  When you watch someone else bounce a ball, a subset of those same neurons fire.

Stated differently, when watching the behavior of someone else, the corresponding neurons IN YOUR BRAIN fire as if you were doing the same action.

If you are watching someone run, the neurons in your brain that fire when running begin to fire.  If are watching someone shout in anger, the neurons in your brain that fire when you shout begin to fire.

As you observe others, your brain experiences the same thing.

The implications of this are huge....huge.

Watching someone behaving sad, your sad neurons fire in your head and you feel sad.  Observing someone experience joy, the joy neurons fire in your head and and begin to feel happy.  This is the cognitive core of empathy.

The implications in education are mind boggling.  Do you want your students to be calm and confident?  ACT CALM AND CONFIDENT.  Do you act anxious and nervous?  If so, your students may be more anxious and nervous around you.

Why does this work?  Because when you act calm and confident, the neurons in your students' brain fire as if they were acting calm and confident.  They feel calm and confident.

Earlier we commented that smiling and the emotion of being happy is contagious.  Mirror neurons are the reason why.

Please watch this unreal TED talk about motor neurons or read about them here, here, or here.  You can also watch an awesome NOVA clip about them here.

The Halo Effect

If we put it all together, we get the Halo Effect.  Thinking Fast and Slow is a fantastic resource that describes how decisions are made; it describes the psychological impacts of the Halo Effect.  Influence, though a book on compliance techniques, is a powerful education resource and discusses the Halo Effect also.  As an educator, you can use the Halo Effect to your advantage.  What is it?

People form opinions based on first impressions VERY quickly.  This is why we stressed first impressions at the start of our discussion.

You will hang on to first impressions made about other people long after you meet them.  Your initial thoughts regarding a person stay with you as you continue to think about that person.  If you initially perceive them to be confident and assertive, you will continue to see them that way. This is the Halo Effect.  However, if you see them as weak and vulnerable, you will continue to see them in that light: this is the Horn Effect.

The concept is perfectly summarized by the subtitle in this Economist article:
"If we see a person first in a good light, it is difficult subsequently to darken that light"
Focusing on confident and powerful body language will give you the Halo Effect, by others you will be thought of as more successful long after you first meet them.

"Research has shown that we automatically assign to good-looking individuals such favorable traits as talent, kindness, honesty, and intelligence "
Its not a vain statement.  Taking time to care about your physical appearance means dressing respectfully and grooming appropriately.  Don't go to school in sweatpants if your looking to gain the respect of others.

As the saying goes: treat others as you would like to be treated.  However we extend it: act as you would like to be treated.

To summarize:
Learn to control unnecessary movement to appear strong and occupy space to convey confidence.  Remember that faking assertive behavior actually trains your brain to think that way.  Don't forget the idea from Amy Cuddy: fake it until you make it.  First impressions are more important then you think; they stay with you and are tough to shake.  Take advantage of positive first impressions and ride your Halo Effect.  Finally, remember that "monkey see, monkey do."  Mirror neurons are the key to shaping the behavior of others.  Act the way you want those to act around you.  Does altering your body language make you more successful?  Yes, just ask Rebekah Campbell from the New York Times.  (or read about it here :) )


Thanks for reading.

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