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Setting out your gestures of intent

Welcome to a special edition on body language and how you can use it to make a better impression on your class.

[Perches casually on end of desk, making eye contact.]

Earlier this year we reported on the importance of credibility. The University of Melbourne's Professor John Hattie had updated his global analysis of classroom interventions and added "teacher credibility" as one of the top four factors that made the greatest impact.

[Clenches fist for emphasis.]

Some teachers seem naturally to exude a sense of authority and dynamism. But are these teachers born that way, or can anyone learn it?

[Shrugs shoulders, palms raised.]

Dr William Haskins of McKendree University in Illinois is among those who believe you can. In his work on how teachers can improve their credibility, he stresses the importance of body language. He suggests adopting a relaxed posture, making plentiful eye contact and smiling a lot to have a disarming effect on your audience.


He also stresses the importance of body language in creating a sense of dynamism, by varying your physical movements to ensure that your communication style does not become monotonous.

[Hops off desk suddenly.]

In theory this all sounds terrific, but for some teachers it may just be another thing on the ever-growing list of things they have to remember when facing a new class. Plus, the more some people think about their body language, the more self-conscious they can become.

[Puts hand on hip - then fears that looks odd, so puts arm straight.]

It can be like when pet owners explain that their snarling dog will leave you in peace if you show it no fear, at which point you start worrying more than before about the non-verbal signals you are emitting.

[Backs away, almost tripping over.]

However, like any part of classroom practice it is a learnable skill, and the more teachers do it, the more comfortable they become.

[Gives awkward double thumbs up.]

Michael Shaw is editor of TESpro @mrmichaelshaw.

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