I was observing a classroom a few years ago when I noticed the following scenario. A history teacher was lecturing from the front of the room when she noticed that a student was paying little attention to the lecture. Instead, the student appeared to be intently interested in a page in his history book. However, the teacher also noticed that there was something protruding from under the history book. Upon practicing proximity and moving closer to the student, the teacher observed a cell phone inserted in the history book from which the student was texting. Prior to this time, I was the only one who knew that this was going on, and I only knew because the student’s desk was directly in front of where I was seated in the rear of the room.
The angry teacher felt compelled to point out the disciplinary infraction to the entire class. She indicated to the class how disgusted she was with the student and requested sarcastically that he read his text message aloud to the entire class. The student responded with a smart-aleck remark. Soon both teacher and student were involved in a shouting match that ended when the teacher ordered the student out of her classroom.
The entire incident could have been avoided if the teacher had used a low-profile intervention. Low-profile interventions are techniques that proactive teachers use correct misbehavior without negatively impacting the teacher’s ability to deliver instruction. A low-profile intervention, in the above scenario, would have been to move closer to the student and tap the desk lightly, indicating to the student that the cell phone should be put away—all the while continuing to teach. In this way, the behavioral infraction may have been resolved without the entire class being aware of what was happening and having to endure the disruptive effect of a power struggle. Other low-profile interventions include the following: eye contact, signaling, pausing, ignoring, proximity, and touching.
What the Research Says
Teachers’ use of verbal and nonverbal behaviors predicts how credible students think those teachers are, how motivated students are, and how willing they are to comply with teachers’ requests (Burroughs, 2007).
Private signals and attempts to redirect the behavior of students are considered forms of gentle discipline (Reeve, 2006).
Proximity, or moving near students while teaching, helps to keep their attention focused (Smith, 2004).
Make It Happen
- When certain forms of misbehavior become apparent, move closer to the offending student in the hope that your proximity will eradicate the infraction. For example, if two students are talking at the back of the room while you are teaching at the front, practice proximity, and move closer to the students without making mention of their conversation. Keep teaching!
- Use I-messages when addressing misbehavior, such as “I was disappointed when you failed to show up on class on time” or “I can never allow students in this class to ridicule one another because we are a family and work together.” Putting the emphasis on you rather than the student de-escalates the situation.
For more examples of how to use low-profile interventions in the classroom, consult the 2nd edition of my best-selling book, Shouting Won’t Grow Dendrites.