The Cult of Pedagogy Podcast, Episode 12
Jennifer Gonzalez, host
Jennifer Gonzalez: This is Jennifer Gonzalez welcoming you to episode twelve of the Cult of Pedagogy Podcast. In this episode, we’re going to be talking about how your non-verbals impact your effectiveness as a teacher.
Gonzalez: Hey, thanks for joining me today. Before we get into the episode, I want to take a minute to ask you to do a couple of things. If you’ve been listening to the podcast and you’re enjoying it, I would love it if you would go over to iTunes and give the podcast a rating, and if you have a little more time, a quick review. The more positive reviews and ratings a podcast has, the more visible it is in iTunes. So by leaving a rating, you’re helping me reach more people.
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Okay, in this episode I’m talking with a guy named Jack Shrawder who runs an organization called Teaching for Success. We are going to talk about the specific non-verbal behaviors that make teachers less effective and how you can adjust your voice, posture and other non-verbals to give yourself more presence and confidence in the classroom. I definitely picked up a few tips from Jack and I know you will too.
One more thing: although this episode will help all teachers, if you are a college-level teacher, especially an adjunct, you’re going to have an added benefit from this one.
Let me tell you a little bit about my guest, Jack Shrawder. He began his career as an airline mechanic and was hired by a local college to teach aviation technology. He had no teaching experience or training. He basically had to learn how to teach on the job. His experience is definitely not unique. Universities have a pretty consistent track record of hiring instructors just for their subject area expertise and not their teaching experience. So he taught for fourteen years. Over that time he also got graduate training in education and he learned more formally how to become a teacher. But this experience really made him want to help other teachers. So he started his organization, Teaching for Success, and their mission is to help adjunct instructors develop the skills they need to succeed in teaching. They do this through an e-mentor program. Universities subscribe to this to give their adjunct instructors access to all of the materials. They have a really big library of tools and they also have an online community of other instructors and other people that serve as mentors. There are over 12,000 members in this community. So it’s a great resource if you’re an adjunct instructor. So check that out. They are at teachingforsuccess.com. (link no longer working)
So for all of us, let’s start improving our non-verbals. Here’s my interview with Jack Shrawder.
Gonzalez: So one of the things we talked about on the LinkedIn discussion that I wanted to focus on with you today was on teacher non-verbals. And on some of the things that teachers are — I mean, first off I want to know: Do you think non-verbals are an important factor in how well teachers can establish and maintain a classroom environment?
Jack Shrawder: Yes I do, absolutely. They key concept was congruity. A congruence of the message that the speaker was saying verbally or written — Let’s say verbally — face to face. The non-verbal cues that the listener or the viewer was picking up. If those were not congruent, what that means generally to the student is that there’s a distrust is. So to be seen as a person with integrity, of value, someone that you want to listen to, right away, it’s very important that those two things match. In other words, if I say I am interested in hearing what you are have to say, and yet I pull my cell phone out and check my e-mail, you know right away that you’re second place. So that’s a very common thing today. The message that we’re sending by our digital devices to people we interact with is like, “Well hold on, I’ve got a call. You’re not as important.”
So that’s just a very brief non-verbal, but — I don’t know if you’ve ever watched Cesar Millan, who is a dog trainer. But he had a show about ten years ago. He would always say, “If you’re going to walk your dog,” — he said, “All right, shoulders back. Stand up tall. Your dog is going to notice that you are serious about walking and the behavior that you expect. Your dog is going to notice that you’re in charge.” You know that even was part of — You mentioned military, yeah I was in the air force — which was not the strictest of branches. You know, it’s still the same thing. If you want people to respect an authority, it’s not a title so much or rank. But it’s — They used to call it military bearing, which just meant you had confidence when you walked in and people were going to take what you said seriously. They were going to do it. You believed that. That self belief — that self image in all kinds of subtle ways is transmitted to the listener. They adjust their behavior according to the belief.
So for teaching it’s the same thing. If you believe that you are walking into a bunch of students that are unruly and not worth it and just aren’t going to listen, that’s exactly what you’re going to get. You get what you believe. That’s why I like to go back to the psychology angle. The mindset is that belief of the self image, which israrely talked about in formal teacher training, at least at the college level. We never talked about that at all. You were just supposed to somehow know that, I guess. But it took me years really of trial and error and pieces of information throughout seminars and all kinds of places to kind of get a better picture of what’s an optimal mindset to have to go into a classroom with to get the response back that you want to get and not what you don’t want.
Gonzalez: Right. Suppose a teacher really does not feel that confidence yet and they sort of have to fake it for awhile. Are there any things that a person can do physically? I’ve heard people say that just standing up straighter makes you actually have a little more confidence even when you’re not feeling it.
Shrawder: It does. Absolutely. You know I think the number one place to start is breathing. I learned this experientially, personally was that once you allow yourself to slow down, deep breathe, and not — you will slow down. You will get a deeper voice. You will — your message will really come across as more important and you will relax. And you will be able to listen and view…If you actually look at a student when you are communicating — while it sounds strange, what I found was that at first, in the early years, I would see a group of students if I was, say, giving a presentation. Or in those days we liked to lecture a lot more but — you know, it would be a kind of a theater experience, just like you would see an audience. But later on when I started to really slow down and have more presence, have more feeling that I was there in the classroom and what was happening was okay, the audience broke up into individual students who were telling me things non-verbally about “I don’t get it.” or “This is exciting.” or “Tell me more about this.” or “This is a good thing.” or “This class sucks.” You know, you could see it.
Now for the — physically for the instructor — learning tai chi, yoga, those kinds of things is an excellent way to learn breathing control and the power that that will give you. Number two, studies have shown that expansive postures, open postures, hands wide apart and stances leaning backwards or tall. All of those give yourself power and project power. Project confidence. Those you can see through video-taping…well, “taping.” Video went out. Video clips. Or people who know you can give you feedback like that if you ask. We rarely do. From spouses and siblings and our kids. They know. They will tell us pretty honestly if we ask them and if our egos don’t get in the way and we can hear it. Anyway, the sources of feedback are there if we want to use them.
Gonzalez: So two things that I heard in terms of like a take-away would be pne, sort of try to take up more space with your body as opposed to sort of shrinking, shrinking down. And you also mentioned deeper voice. Is there something to that too?
Shrawder: I believe so, yes. The faster and higher we go in our voices, it’s interpreted as nervousness and you’re hiding something. Or you’re not sure of really what you’re saying. That’s part of the relaxed — you know, if you’re not relaxed, being a student or being part of an audience, I’m sure you pick that up too. You go, there’s something — this is not pleasant. You’re nervous for the person speaking because they’re nervous.
Yes, the voice will drop. The amount of inflections, the up and down of your voice, the richness of your personality will start to come through if you can relax. And like I said, really speak — We used to call it in the present moment. I don’t know if that’s still a common term, but you know balancing that works.
Gonzalez: Would the speed of your speech also play into that?
Shrawder: Yes, absolutely. Most of the time new faculty, new presenters, new teachers will go much too fast for too long. You know, look at YouTube clips of top presenters. Notice their cadence. They’re not afraid to stop. Silence is an excellent tool when you’re doing a presentation, going through a few points. Stopping for a few moments. 5 – 10 seconds seems like forever. But stopping and saying — And then maybe a cue as “Does that make sense?” or “Is anyone — Does anyone have a question at this point?” because students don’t really like to interrupt me. They do more today than they used to, but still it’s a little hard to. For the quieter student who, that has a real question or is not getting it to be able to communicate that takes a break. If you’re just running through like a freight train, they’ll never respond and you lose them.
Gonzalez: Right. You know I saw a video once that was actually talking about the phrase “Does anyone have any questions?” and how a lot of times students won’t even respond to that because it’s almost too open-ended. I saw a guy once say how you need to ask a more specific question, like “What have I said in the last few minutes that’s confusing anybody?” “What do you need me to explain again?” or something along those lines to get them to be more brave I guess, or clear on what they’re confused about.
Shrawder: I agree with that totally. Those are excellent ways to ask that same thing but a little bit better. Then I learned from sales. When the student does give you a response. Let’s say you’ve thrown a question out on specific question and you get it answered. Usually what I — early on in my career I’d go “Great, let’s move on.” You know? Got an answer, perfect! But now, you know, there’s two things that sales people use. They say “Well tell me more.” or “Why do you say that?” Those are two kinds of salsey responses, but what it does is just open the door to okay, that’s an interesting thing. Or “Do others — do all of you agree with that statement?”
Gonzalez: That’s a good one, yeah.
Shrawder: So that again you’re not just looking for a one word answer. “Great, okay let’s move on.” When you could have an in-depth discussion simply by backing off and allowing deeper thought and asking for more input.
Gonzalez: Right, right. That’s great, I love the idea of those follow-up statements because I think a lot of us would like to have that real rich, dynamic discussion in our class but just don’t know how to get it. In my experience teaching college, a lot of students were very reserved. They were afraid to say anything at all. But I taught slightly more upperclass — I don’t mean upperclass economically, but they were further along in college so we didn’t have as many behavior issues as much as they just wanted to get in and out and get their stuff done.
Gonzalez: We’ve talked a little bit about non-verbals. Do you — Are you aware of certain phrases or verbal tics that teachers have that they should avoid using because they send the wrong message to students?
Shrawder: One of the most common is to add a little chuckle or humor frequently, more than is appropriate. Or that the kind of little bit of laugh is not funny or not tied in with any humor. It’s just kind of a nervous response and so you know somebody might say “Okay class, let’s get started for the day hahaha.” You know that little is so — It eventually irritates people.
Gonzalez: Right, right.
Shrawder: But it weakens the message so much that now I’m confused. I don’t know whether you’re really — I don’t know is this serious or is this some sort of light-hearted — is the instructor going, you know, this isn’t really that important or just trying to get through the day? And so that’s one of them.
The other is a style of — I think it was sort of the California valley style or something, but it was always the end of the sentence would rise in pitch, which we interpret as a question. There’s no way to be — to affirm some statement or direction or something and then lift your voice as if it’s a question. The listener goes nuts, you know, I don’t know what this person is trying to do.
Then it’s, you know, eye contact is so old. The Greeks knew that was a good thing. But it’s very hard to do and I think still today it’s very — You need to check: Are you really calmly and nicely looking and communicating with the person like, “Wow, what you’re saying is important.” You ought to be thinking, “Wow, what you’re saying is important.” not “Okay that’s great, I’ve heard that a thousand times before. Let’s get on with it.” You know? Because we can read that in each other’s faces. It really is an important thing. I really recommend — I didn’t really see all this until I took a video workshop that we spent several actually, three or four days doing presentations, being videod and then being critiqued. It was a little tough on the ego.
Gonzalez: Yeah, I bet.
Shrawder: I learned things I would never have learned because there was a professional presenter or instructor who had done that for years and just learned so much. I can’t emphasize it enough. If people are doing in-class, in-front-of-student presentations and that’s part of the way they teach, they take videos of themselves and either self analyze or preferably sit down with someone who knows presentations and pick it apart a little bit. You get better fast.
Gonzalez: Right, right, great. One of the other things that we had talked about was student non-verbals. You had mentioned in a separate discussion that sometimes students send us messages through their non-verbals that if we could be more attuned to those we would understand kind of the underlying message and be able to respond more appropriately. So what are some of those?
Shrawder: Well it’s my philosophy that students’ behavior is telling me how valuable the class or the activities or that particular moment or section of time is to them. Because I know that’s what I do. If something is not valuable, you know a conversation, a class, a workshop — How many classes did you take, hundreds and hundreds of hours. We end up going well, I think I’ll look at my book. You know this was before cell phones, so — You’d take out a piece of paper and start scribbling. Just anything, looking out the window, it’s like “Oh, I gotta get through this.”
The first thing, to me is, I’m getting messages about how valuable this activity and my teaching style and the whole class setup is to the students. If they’re disengaging, I’m taking that as my fault. I believe they wouldn’t be there — Just about all of them — If they come, they’re expecting some value. I need to find out what is value to the students and to see whether through the different teaching modalities there are — There’s so many of them today. How can what I’m doing match up to what they’re feeling is valuable? Because I don’t want to waste their time. I hate people who waste my time. I don’t want to do that to other people in what I try to do. So that’s the first thing is to listen to that. Listen more.
That’s a general kind of response, but also to ask students through one minute management questions that they could reply maybe anonymously to through an index card or a little half sheet of paper just tear it off and give it to me on the way out. Just ask them, “What was the most –” “What was the least interesting?” “What was the most interesting or most helpful experience today? Try to get some feedback so that you can kind of clue in on what was most helpful, what wasn’t, as honestly from students as you can.
Now as far as setting it up to get the most engagement as possible, I really do believe that one is there has to be discussion of behaviors and rules. You know, we’re here as a group so how do we function as group? To me it’s teamwork, which stems from my philosophy that it’s the instructor and the student together as a team are teaming up against the subject matter’s complexities and ambiguities and mysteries and mistakes. All of these things. We’re trying to master a set of outcomes, learning outcomes that this course is all about. So what I recommend to teachers is — They often walk in and see It’s me against the students. It’s me and the content and we’re having to force this on the students because aren’t going to pay attention and I have to make sure they get it. I think that could be a mindset that leads to a lot of disengagement. You know I prefer seeing an image when going into a group is They’re with me, especially the first day. They haven’t decided this is a waste yet. So here’s my opportunity. Gotta start off with value.
One of the values of any community is how do we get along together. We’re diverse. Some of us are cranky, some of us are not, introverted, extroverted. Okay, so let’s set up some rules. Now here’s the way I normally — And I just set up in the syllabus a normal set of behaviors which I feel are very important. With some experience, you’re an experienced person hopefully and you say “To get this….Over the past few years I noticed that these rules are really important to get progress, again for us to move on and get progress against the content. Here’s what we have to do.” And then you get buy-in. Because if you don’t get buy-in and just say “Here are the rules. Take it or leave it,” you’ve missed an opportunity. Take some time to get their consent. If you do this publicly in class the first time, your first meeting, say, “Okay, here they are. Now, here is the time to object or modify. How are we doing? Anybody have any heartburn on any of these? Can you live with these? What do you think? Okay, let’s all sign it. I want you to sign off on your syllabus that these rules are good and you’re going to — you support them.” Whatever technique gets buy-in. I think that helps so much in avoiding behavior and disruptive problems.
Gonzalez: I really love that idea of presenting your relationship with students as a team, facing the content together. That, to me — I’ve never heard that before and I think it would put students, especially at the college level, at a really different kind of mindset. And I think it could be used at the middle and high school level too, really because they’re becoming adults at that point and that’s the relationship that they should eventually want to have with anyone who is a teacher or a mentor or anything along those lines.
Gonzalez: Thank you so much, Jack, for giving us this time.
Shrawder: Sure, no problem, that’s fine. I enjoyed it Jennifer. It was nice indeed meeting with you and I enjoyed the conversation very much.
Gonzalez: Again, to learn more about improving your work as an adjunct instructor, visit teachingforsuccess.com (link no longer working) and as always, come visit cultofpedagogy.com for tons of resources to help you kick mountains of butt in your teaching.