Hey! Teachers! Leave those kids alone!

:Use Gestures & Proximity:

Over the last half-century, primitive and "aggressive” forms of classroom management have become obsolete. Pink Floyd's protest song Another Brick In The Wall strongly condemned authoritarian styles of discipline and gave voice to a generation of students around the world who felt their voices were unwelcome and unheard. We have since been more creative by finding natural and meaningful ways of supporting students demonstrating behavioural difficulties, while the cane and ruler - and even the threat of using such awful methods - are in their rightful grave.

We previously explored using Modeling as a behaviour management tool to re-direct students in the classroom. This article will focus on using less intrusive prompts including gestures and proximity to accomplish the same result.


You might be wondering how gestures differ from modeling. The two prompts both involve using non-verbal actions to accomplish your goal, so in this way they are similar. Modeling requires the student to observe an action and then perform it exactly as it was demonstrated, whereas gestural prompts use less explicit visual demonstrations in place of words. You can do these from anywhere in the classroom as long as you have students’ attention, and you will likely be surprised to see that you are already using many of these gestures already!

Here are a few examples of various gestures – remember, no verbal language is necessary.

While these might seem basic at first, they are still considered to be effective and less intrusive than modeling because they are a direction or re-direction from an undesired behaviour (this is certainly true in my experience). There are hosts of other gestures we use in the classroom, so if you know and use others, let me know!


I once walked by a group of high school students who were chatting away in the schoolyard. As I walked past, their speech slowed, their volume quieted, and their demeanour changed. They looked at me out of the corner of their eyes until I was out of ear-shot, and they began chatting again. Admittedly, I did not know what they were talking about (nor did I care), but it demonstrated how proximity can alter behaviour.

Proximity means being close in location to someone or something. When addressing behaviour in school (or even at home and in the community), being in proximal location of others can have a desired effect.

Practical Proximity

To begin using proximity as a behaviour management tool, here are a few things to remember:

  1. Stay on your feet- Staying mobile allows you to engage with and re-direct any issues in the class. Proximity is a reminder of the expectations for your students and you must be on your feet to use it!

  2. Stay engaged- Develop your "withitness"; your general understanding what your students are doing in the classroom regardless of whether you are near. This can be equivocated to having eyes in the back of your head. To read more, see "Withitness": The Secret to Being Brilliant.

  3. Stay close but don’t hover- Don’t be that person. Stand close enough for student to notice your presence, but not so close that you invade their personal space. Remember, this is not about being confrontational but about being respectful and maintaining the dignity of the student.

  4. Avoid using words- Words are a quick way of addressing behaviour, but they may have little lasting effect and your language and tone can become exhausting to students.

  5. Don’t forget to focus on the positives- Use proximity to reinforce the good things your students do. Use gestures and other non-verbal cues to let kids know they’re doing well.

More benefits of Proximity

Hopefully by now the benefits of using proximity are obvious and you already use it, to some extent, in your own practice... but just in case this is a hard sell, here are a few more advantages:

  • It maintains the flow of classroom learning/instruction because you do not stop teaching

  • You might catch students having insightful conversations about their learning

  • It maintains the dignity of the student- they are not called out for misbehaviour

  • You re-direct behaviour in an calm, quiet, and effective way

  • You remain engaged in the classroom environment

  • It reinforces the standards and expectations of your classroom.

Gestures and proximity are essential tools in a teacher’s toolkit, and a highly effective teacher will use these on a daily basis. Let me know what you think on Twitter. Follow me here!