Executive Perspective

Managing Class Conduct Nonverbally
By Daniel A. Domenech/School Administrator, April 2018

CLASSROOM CIVILITY can depend greatly on classroom management. Those of us who have spent time in the classroom fully recognize that little learning will take place in an out-of-control classroom.

In “The Key to Classroom Management” article in Educational Leadership (September 2003), Robert Marzano says research has shown us that “teachers’ actions in their classrooms have twice the impact on student achievement as do school policies regarding curriculum, assessment, staff collegiality and community involvement.”

Many strategies are available to teachers. I recently came upon a program that Pillager Elementary School in central Minnesota is implementing in their classrooms with impressive results. It is a classroom management model that combines nonverbal communication for both teaching and managing. The Pillager School District is within the region serviced by the National Joint Powers Alliance, a service agency with cooperative purchasing nationwide and one of AASA’s premier partners. NJPA is funding the training of Pillager staff in the use of the ENVoY nonverbal classroom management system.

My Class Visits
Most of the programs I am familiar with train the teacher to use specific techniques with individual children, typically those who act out in the classroom. The ENVoY system uses nonverbal cues that involve all children in the class as well as all adults.

During a recent trip to NJPA headquarters, I was invited to visit Mike Parrish’s 5th-grade class in Pillager and saw him standing in the front of the room, perfectly still with his left hand raised. He did not look at me nor did he acknowledge my presence. The students sat at their desks, also still and quiet.

Eventually, in a soft, low voice, Parrish began his lesson. He would point to children when he wanted to elicit a response from them and he would acknowledge students who raised a hand with a question. The lesson proceeded in an orderly manner in an almost soothing environment.

We also stopped into Kori Anderson’s 3rd-grade class, where we watched identical behavior by the teacher and her students. Anderson’s class included an aide who behaved in the same manner.

As we walked through the hallways of Pillager Elementary, we witnessed student behavior that was civil and orderly, without the sense that the students were being forced or overpowered into submission. Indeed, two of the goals of the ENVoY program are to influence rather than overpower and to use visual rather than verbal cues.

Josh Smith, Pillager’s principal and an ENVoY trainer, subsequently explained what we observed. When we walked into the classroom and the teacher did not acknowledge our presence by looking at us, Smith said, it prevented everyone in the classroom from being momentarily distracted from the task at hand. In classrooms with multiple teachers and aides working together, they are all trained in manifesting the same behaviors that focus on getting and maintaining student attention and reducing time spent on discipline.

Adult Behavior
My takeaway was that this is a program where the real focus is on modifying teacher behavior. When I asked the teachers, they agreed, regaling me with stories of the impact the program has had on their personal lives and their interaction with their own children at home. They explained this is not a process where you are trained and it’s over. Rather, it is an ongoing development and support scenario, which is necessary to sustain the culture of civility and calmness. Pillager is a model ENVoY school, and most staff members have been trained in the process.

ENVoY is not the only program supported by NJPA funding. I also participated in a class where the students “deconstructed” me to find out why I chose to become an educator. The experience will help students to better identify whether the profession they are considering best fits their traits and personality. NJPA also provides leadership development to administrators regionally and nationally in partnership with AASA through the GiANT Leadership Academy, and the agency also has funded training of aspiring superintendents in Minnesota.

NJPA’s largess extends to awarding mini-grants to schools in need. This year, NJPA allotted all mini-grant dollars to help school districts in Florida, Texas, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico that were affected by the hurricanes. We are grateful for the agency’s support and congratulate them for all they do to address the needs of children and educators throughout America.

is AASA executive director. Twitter: @AASADan