Martin Luther King Jr knew about using body language to dominate a crowd

The students I teach do not want to be my friend, they want someone who will keep the noisy kids in order and will tell them what they need to know to pass assessments.


Everywhere I read all the advice I see is about treating children with respect, about being a ‘nice’ teacher. Respect yes. Nice - Forget it.

What you need is a set of classroom discipline strategies to help you survive. You can get the other stuff elsewhere. Classroom discipline is something I learned by teaching, in the classroom, six classes every day, not from courses and definitely not from college.

I sat down one weekend and brain stormed on why I was a better teacher than I was when I started out. I worked out why some teachers are better than others - It all comes down to their use of body language. I had never seen or heard of anyone before ever verbalizing how they deliberately used body language to dominate a classroom.

It seemed a waste that everything I had learned the hard way had to be learnt by every young teacher by unpleasant experience, so I wrote down my conclusions on the only classroom discipline techniques that work.

The body language strategies below WORK and you will not find them anywhere else. Be cautious about discussing them with others. Experienced teachers do not like to give away ‘trade secrets’. They may use these same classroom discipline techniques without ever thinking about them.

When you are young and new to teaching you will be of a similar age to your students’ older siblings. You need to stand apart from them, to show you are different.

Here is the set of classroom discipline strategies that I used for 27 years in a 1700 student 11-18 school in St Helens, England

Strategy 1 – Believe in Yourself

If you do not believe in yourself nobody else is ever going to. Your self-belief comes across in your sub-conscious body language. Every student understands non verbal body language communication. The exact signals will vary from one culture to another, but all individuals from the same cultural background instinctively understand all of that culture’s non-verbal body language

Strategy 2 – Expect Good Classroom Discipline

Believe that your strategies are going to work. That belief will show in your facial expression, and the rest of your non-verbal signals you sub-consciously give out. If you do not expect good discipline you will not get it. The students sub-consciously read your confidence in your classroom discipline strategies as well founded, whether it is or not.

Strategy 3 – Smile

Smiling is a very simple classroom discipline strategy. It demonstrates your confidence. Students also instinctively smile back. It is very difficult for anyone to smile and to dislike you at the same time. Classroom discipline is much easier if most of the students do like you.

Strategy 4 – Dress Smartly

Dressing smartly helps to set you apart and gives you a breathing space to earn the respect that your suit automatically gives you for a short time.

Strategy 5 – Stand Up

Never talk to a group of students while you are sitting down. If you stand while they sit you are above them, you dominate the group and the room. You can also see much better what the students at the back are doing. A very simple strategy that older teachers can get away with ignoring, but while you are inexperienced Do It

Strategy 6 – Learn Your Students’ Names

If you know their names they cannot make you look stupid by giving you a false name if they are in trouble

Strategy 7 – Always Stand in the Open

Avoid the possible perception that you are hiding behind the teacher’s desk. Stand away from it or preferably in front of it. You demonstrate self-confidence by ‘exposing yourself’ like this. Some older teachers may mock you if you tell them about this technique, but that is because they do not use it, perhaps because they have already established a rapport with a class over several years.

Strategy 8 – Talk Slowly

Talking slightly slowler than usual shows that you are confident in what you are saying, that you do not need to rush through it. It also helps overcome any poor acoustics in the room. Classrooms are larger than the rooms in a house and generally have appalling acoustics and echoes from all those hard surfaces.

Strategy 9 – Keep Your Hands Visible

Watch politicians on television. They always have their hands visible and held away from their bodies. This makes you appear larger and more dominant in the sub-conscious body language signals that everybody understands and, more importantly take notice of. They have to dominate their audience. You have to be dominant in your classroom.


Strategy 10 – Keep Your Thumbs Up

This one sounds really stupid, but, again, look closely at those politicians’ hands. The thumb up hand gesture is a very primitive and extremely powerful dominance gesture. Only powerful people use it, therefore, subconsciously, anyone using this gesture is perceived as very powerful. Tell nobody about this gesture, or you will be the laughing stock of the school staff room. Just use it once or twice when you feel the situation beginning to slip out of control. You will be astounded at the effect it has on a group of tall 16 year old, testosterone charged male students.

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Do You Need to Be Dominant?

You may not want to dominate your classroom. Think again - you do, because if you don’t dominate it one or more of your students will, and they will make your life a misery. So put aside all the ‘be nice to the children’ stuff you have been taught. You do not have to be nasty anyway, that is not what classroom discipline strategy is about.

If you are the dominant person in your classroom you can then be as nice as you want to be, but AFTER you have established your dominance.