When my husband and I are at a party, there comes a point where he catches my eye and gives me a look. I know exactly what that means: he’s ready to head for home. No words are needed.
Stuff happens in my classroom every day. Students tap on their desks, talk when they’re not supposed to, blurt out answers, make jokes at wrong times. My first response is to give them a look. It sounds simple, but the behavior usually stops (sometimes with a guilty grin).
This wouldn’t be the result if I had an antagonistic relationship with my students. Instead of a positive response, I’d hear, “What? I wasn’t doing anything!” or “Why are you always looking at me?” Maintaining a good relationship with teens is the key to better behavior and less defensiveness. When teens feel loved (or even liked), they can put up with necessary admonishment. But when they feel that an adult is out to get them, their default response is hostility, either outright or in a more passive-aggressive form.
A look can communicate more than one message. From my husband it means “Let’s go.” To my students it can say, “Cut it out,” or “Seriously?” But it can also be a form of positive interaction: “You get it, don’t you?” “Are you okay with this?” or even “Thanks.”
Teens appreciate the nonverbal communication because it’s less embarrassing than calling them out in front of their peers. It’s also relationship-building; it’s how they communicate with one another during class!
If your look is misunderstood or taken the wrong way–“I thought you were mad at me!”–just laugh and explain. That experience in itself can be another relationship builder: “Remember that time you were trying to tell me something and I was scared that I was doing something wrong?”
In order for looks to be effective (and understood), there first has to be a good relationship. Do what you can to stay connected, and you’ll find you can use your eyes more than your voice!