Discipline management is an indoor sport. Basketball players know how to fake, and poker players know how to bluff. Students know how to do both at the same time.
Maybe the students want you to think they are getting back to work when, in fact, they have every intention of continuing their conversation as soon as your back is turned. How can you tell what the students plan to do next?
You must be able to see into the future. Fortunately you can. Their body language will reveal to you their commitments and intentions just as your body language speaks to them.
After your turn and attempt to “look students back to work,” the students give you “smiley face” and returned to work. But, will they keep working after your back is turned? How would you know?
Look at the two pictures below and see if you can predict.
It is not much of a mystery, is it? If students intend to continue talking, their body language will usually give it away. Look at the knees and feet. As in most sports, you fake with the upper body (shoulders, eyes, hands), but you commit with the lower body.
The body language above the desktop is called “window dressing” – a pretty display that is intended to impress you. But, the students in the first picture are giving you the appearance of compliance while actually withholding it. This is called pseudo-compliance.
Pseudo-compliance is well known to any parent. You ask your daughter to clean her room, and she says, “Okay” while beginning to pick up some things as you walk away. When you come back, you see that nothing else was done after you left. Pseudo-compliance lulls you into a false sense of closure so that you terminate supervision prematurely and abort the follow-through needed to get the job done right.
Reading pseudo-compliance versus compliance is crucial for any parent or teacher who is trying to get a child to do something. It lets you know whether you have accomplished your objective or whether the child is just giving “half-a-loaf” – a gesture toward compliance with no real intention of doing as you asked.
Keep in mind, however, that how students sit at their desks in class is unimportant as long as they are on task. The present discussion is only about reading pseudo-compliance vs. compliance.
Move the Body, Not the Mouth
Pseudo-compliance is all about cutting deals. Children love to cut deals with adults. Pseudo-compliance asks the question, “Is this good enough?” Their asking this question and your answering it constitute the conversation in body language which establishes for the child whether or not they really have to do what you want them to do.
Let’s imagine that, following “the turn,” you see only window dressing as the students return to work. You conclude that you have accomplished nothing. What next?
It is time to deal with the situation at close range. You go over to the disruptive students. It may be quite invisible as you “work the crowd,” or it may be quite blatant depending on the situation.
At this critical juncture beware of “silly talk.” Silly talk is our label for silly things that teachers say to disruptive students in lieu of going over there. It is nagging rather than moving.
“Billy, what are you supposed to be doing?”
“Billy, this is the second time I’ve had to talk to you.”
“Billy, am I going to have to come over there?”
Move the body, not the mouth. Talk is cheap. Moving the body signals real commitment.
Have you ever started to walk toward a couple of disruptive students only to have them turn around and “shape up” before you had taken three steps? What just happened?
As you might imagine, you have just completed a little conversation in body language with the students. Their body language asked, “Do we have to?” Your body language answered, “Yes.” By turning around they said with their bodies, “That’s enough. We just wanted to know if you were serious.
The Body Language Poker Game
Poker is a simple game. You either bet or fold. In the body language poker game, teachers fold when they turn a way from the situation before the students have folded. The students fold when they abandon pseudo-compliance and actually get back to work.
You will have to stay in the game until the students fold. A note to the uninitiated – you cannot fool a child. Children can smell a bluff a mile away. Nagging rather than moving is a bluff. Bluffing gets no respect in this poker game.
Take a relaxing breath, omit silly talk and walk to the edge of the desk of the student most likely to be the instigator. (Assuming typical kids rather than abused kids whose personal space is large and who become anxious when that personal space is invaded).
Pseudo-compliance by the student will look like a partial turn toward his or her work rather than a full turn. You have just been raised.
Bend over slightly, put one palm flat on the table, and with the other motion for the student to bring his or her chair all of the way around. If you had a teacher who told you when you were a kid to “bring your chair all of the way around,” it is because that teacher knew a thing or two about pseudo-compliance. We will start with a visual prompt, however, because it runs a lower risk of generating backtalk than would a verbal prompt.
Pseudo-compliance by the student would be another partial turn, perhaps three-quarters of the way around. You have been raised again.
With a hand gesture, the student to bring his or her chair . The specificity of your prompt leaves very little room for the student to “play dumb.”
To stay in the game with one more raise, the student must engage in either blatant noncompliance or backtalk. In either case, poker goes from penny-ante to high stakes. For this reason, most students fold at this juncture.
Stay down and watch the student work until you get a stable pattern of work. If they look up briefly, their body is saying, “Oh, are you still here?” Take another relaxing breath, and stay down a little longer. After observing the student working, thank them warmly and . When you are confident that the student is truly on task, repeat this routine with the second student before standing slowly.
Observe the students as you take a relaxing breath. If one of them looks up, take a second relaxing breath before slowly moving away. Track the students carefully as you work the crowd.
In our analysis of the body language of meaning business, we have assumed typical kids who are “talking to neighbors.” While most such disruptions are prevented by “working the crowd,” the few that require direct teacher intervention will usually be terminated at the level of penny-ante gambling. But, if you know how to deal with it, you can save yourself a lot of grief.