As teachers, although it may be counter-intuitive, we have to be positively aware that when every time we change position – standing, sitting, leaning, crouching, facing, beside or behind a student – we send out complex messages and influence the way our students behave.
Our choice of position will depend on a number of factors:
- the activity which is in progress
- where we want the focus of the student to be
- how the groupings in the room are working
- the ‘feel’ of the lesson
- the age of the learners
- the usual behaviour of the learners
Let’s look at some positions in detail:
Standing indicates control.
When a teacher stands, the students can all see him or her. So whenever a teacher wishes to have the attention of the whole class it is sensible to stand. Standing completely still can have a powerful effect in quietening a group, once patterns have been established. Even better if you can make yourself bigger – by raising arms, or putting hands on hips, for example – to attract attention (who says we can’t learn from those spitting cats with their fur on end…?)
Teaching from a standing position shows that you are positive and in control. It also shows you are interested. Being seated, especially at a computer, may look as if you’ve lost interest in the class and can have a negative effect on behaviour.
If you approach a student and retain a standing position but look over the work, you are saying to that student that you are overseeing them. This can be a fairly neutral position, but the student will usually derive the correct message. If they are working hard, they will wait for praise or comment, whereas if they are not working as they should be your presence will probably have a positive effect on both them and their neighbours.
Changing from a seated position to standing one increases the perception of control in the teacher. By changing position you can change the atmosphere in the class.
Leaning and crouching:
when you lean on a table and look at students work, you show focus on a particular group or individual but at some distance. You are literally looking over their work. If you lean with two hands on the table, this can be quite intimidating. You may wish to be intimidating, of course, but if you don’t, be aware of this.
When you shift from a leaning position to crouching down beside them, you are saying “okay, let me help you with this,” as you are coming down to their level and making the connection an individual one. This is a great tool for working with students, especially those who are struggling in some way, but beware of remaining in this bubble too long, as you are invisible to the class as a whole, who may take advantage.
Sitting can either positively indicate a relaxed attitude or cooperative working, or negatively a lack of interest.
When a teacher sits behind his or her desk, the students cannot see clearly what they are doing. If the teacher then sets an exercise and looks at the computer, the students will rightly come to the conclusion that the teacher is engaged in another activity, one which excludes them, and they may feel neglected or freed from normal teacher restraints. We’ve probably all heard those student complaints about the colleague who puts a task on the board and then “just answers her emails”.
It is difficult to convey a sense of energy when seated. This can sometimes be of benefit. When a parent reads a bedtime story to a child, they don’t do it wandering upright around the room declaiming, because they want to soothe and create a cosy feeling. In the same way in certain situations it can be effective to pull a chair to the front of the class and read or explain something, or tell a story. You are inviting students to concentrate on the words, rather than on your movement.
Additionally if you are asking a student to be the focus of the class, whether leading a starter activity perhaps, or presenting a research project, it can be useful to remove yourself from the centre of attention, and withdraw to a sitting position behind a desk.
A seated position conveys a relaxed sense, which can indicate trust. With smaller groups, if the teacher sits down at a group of tables with them, the students can feel that this is a more mature environment. They are trusted with a slightly more collegiate way of working. They may well respond well to this, but if they do not prove worthy of your trust, moving the chair away and taking control by standing for the rest of the lesson will correct any impression that you are a soft touch.
Walking around the room and looking at work, if you are able to pull up a chair and sit with a student, you are conveying a sense that you will work WITH the student to solve their problems. It says that you re giving them time.
As with so much of what the teacher does in the classroom, your position helps you to manage behaviour, convey messages and support students. Varying your position can be an easy way to help you remain Strictly Positive in the classroom.