Your movement and posture can set the tone of your teaching without your changing anything else. If the post on body location and variation felt a tad intricate, I bet you’ll find this one simple, practical, and encouraging!
(This post is the fourth in a series on tricks and techniques that observers in my classes at this summer’s iFLT and Express Fluency conferences found especially memorable. The first post is here.)
By movement I mean how we get from location to location in the classroom. (How we move our bodies once we get there is lumped in with posture, below.) Just as variety in your voice and location can draw attention, the manner in which you move between locations can provide novelty and play a greater role than you might think in the overall mood and tone of the classroom.* Consider these variations:
FAST vs. SLOW – Moving quickly between locations can grab attention and keep the overall flow of the class lively. On the other hand, moving slowly and deliberately can reinforce calm and the sense that we are comfortable in the moment, in no rush to ‘cover’ content, unwilling to leave anyone behind.
CHOPPY vs. SMOOTH – A staccato gait, perhaps punctuated by crisp arm-swinging, can indicate deliberateness and purpose, emphasizing the importance of whatever will be done or shown upon arrival at a certain spot. On the other hand, smooth, sweeping steps can provide a sense of gravity and even grace, captivating the gaze and transferring it to the action or content of the next location.
SILENT vs. TALKING – Once you start paying attention to it, you will notice a fascinating, though hard to describe, difference in the effect of moving and talking at the same time vs. waiting to speak until arriving at a new classroom location. All I’ll suggest here is to experiment with both!
NEUTRAL vs. STYLIZED – Walking or rolling from spot to spot in no particular way can minimize distractions and keep attention focused on whatever is being said. On the other hand, moving in a way that grabs attention itself can shake students (or teacher!) out of monotony, foster a particular mood, and/or reallocate focus to a desired interaction or piece of content. Consider…
- taking really long or really short steps
- sidestepping so as to be facing the same direction (mostly likely toward students) during the entire move
Once you’re in a given location, you have lots of freedom in how to hold or move your body. Think of these variations:
RELAXED vs. RIGID – Turning your head, shifting your stance, gesturing, pointing, or writing in a relaxed manner can convey calm. On the other hand, sharp movements can underscore contrasts or the general significance of a point being conveyed. Freezing outright in mid-motion–in feigned shock, in anticipation, in profundity–can be similarly powerful.
Note: It may not go without saying that generally healthy postures are an important part of your comfort and longevity as a teacher, and a generally alert posture is part of cultivating a calm, attentive, controlled classroom.
BALANCED vs. OFF BALANCE – Physical imbalance isn’t sustainable, but I sometimes find myself, say, leaning in space just long enough to hear, announce, write, or act something before catching my balance, or standing on my tippy-toes with my whole body extended as tall as possible before settling back into a relaxed, balanced position. This can generate suspense or urgency or humor or whatever other effect might be worthwhile in the moment.
STANDING vs. SITTING vs. CROUCHING vs. LEANING vs. LYING DOWN – Experiment with what stances generate different kinds of comfort and other effects for you and the students!
Arts martial and theatrical
It is common for people who have watched me teach to ask where I attended acting school. Others inquire about my background in improv, theater, or even mime. Certainly my experience with some of these informs my teaching, but you don’t need formal training to play with and benefit from the distinctions described in this post, or the gestures and facial expressions described in the next. (The answer, by the way, is the Baron Brown Studio in Los Angeles.)
Stepping back farther, consider how your extra-curricular pursuits might enhance even minor elements of your teaching. I mention this here because I have been noticing more and more how body control stemming from my martial arts training affects how I stand, move, distribute my weight, and flow from one action to another in pretty much every area of life, including teaching. It has also taught me to relax my body and mind in ways I didn’t know possible before advanced training in martial arts. Perhaps your practice of yoga, dance, barre, sports, or meditation can similarly enhance your teaching in general and, in particular, your well-being as a teacher. Even if you can’t come up with such a connection, can you think of other pursuits you enjoy that you might be able to incorporate into your classroom habits or activities?
UP NEXT: Your Teaching Body, pt 3: Gestures & Facial Expressions
*Your degree of mobility may make some types of movements more useful to you than others. Just see what works for you! And know that a calm, solid presence is incredibly powerful, assuming that the teacher’s voice and humanity promote connection with students: I have been in spellbinding classes in which a respected teacher barely moved. Your body is a powerful instrument no matter where it is!
You can see some of the variations in movement and posture at work in this video from Express Fluency 2017. (For background and a thorough breakdown of techniques seen in the video, see the post Something from Nothing.)
Wait, you went to acting school when you lived in LA?! When did you have time for that?
This is great stuff, by the way. Thanks for all the thought-provoking ideas and pictures.
Yep, when I first moved to LA, before starting at Pacifica. Glad you found this post helpful!