Teachers: Fix Your RBF

And other non-verbal tips

Despite the best planning, organization, and behaviour management, we can still find ourselves on the back foot wondering “How did I ever get here?! What's wrong with these kids?!"


We cannot control others, but we can control how we respond to challenging behaviour and classroom disruptions. Here are a few quick tips for planning our response to these issues when they arise.


Beware of non-verbals

One of my colleagues recently told me I looked upset. I was not, so I immediately changed my RBF into a slight smile that I worked hard to maintain throughout the rest of the meeting. Yes, RBF may be more than just a cultural zeitgeist; it is a real thing and there is some research on the matter.


Sometimes our general facial expression can communicate displeasure, so it is important to be aware that our non-verbals - however unintentional - can communicate irritation, frustration, or even appear emotionless (a.k.a. RBF). Even when I am feeling contemplative or content, my “go-to” facial expression may look this way, and this could not be further from the truth. I have had students call me out on this chronic challenge!

According to the website Teaching in the Tongas, here are the 8 Signs You're A Teacher With RBF:

1.) Your coworkers ask if you’re mad at them…and you aren’t.

2.) Kids turn the other direction when they see you.

3.) Your spouse asks if you’ve had a bad day when you are just grading papers.

4.) A parent volunteer thinks they’ve put that bulletin board together wrong, just because you looked at it.

5.) You are repeatedly told to smile on school picture day.

6.) You find yourself trying to act extra perky when you want parents to like you.

7.) Your principal always makes eye contact with you at staff meetings like they’re checking to make sure you’re not mad about the news they’re delivering.

8.) People don’t get your jokes or sarcasm because your tone is all wrong (you need more cowbell).


There are fewer things more inviting than a friendly face, so let's show it to our students (and colleagues)!


Speak “unemotionally” when confronting behaviour

When we address behavioural issues that are directed toward us or others, one of the biggest challenges can be staying in control of our emotions. Because of this, it is important to plan how we will respond, however shocked or upset we might be. We engage students by addressing problems head on, explaining what our classroom expectations are, and that they are still responsible for maintaining these expectations.


This can be done in a matter-of-fact way. Here are a few examples:

  • James, I can see that you are struggling to get started with your writing. It’s time to find your seat, grab a pencil and begin writing. If you are having a difficult time getting started, please let me know and I will be there in a minute to help you.

  • Allison, you are talking right now and our classroom expectation is that you work quietly in your seat. Please show me that you know how to do this.

  • CJ, it looks like you are having a difficult time and are making a silly choice. It is time to follow the instructions. If you need help, please let me know. If you need to take a break, please let me know. If you know what to do, show me what that looks like.

  • Nicole, show me what reading looks like.

A common thread in some of these responses is that we are not showing that we are upset with the student. We typically (1) address the behaviour, (2) positively state what the expectation is, and then (3) offer to support if needed.


Have grace for yourself

I don’t know about you, but I find it easy to have grace and make allowances for other people but find it difficult to have grace for myself. If I don’t respond in a way that helps a student or staff member, I often mull it over and apologize if necessary. It’s not always easy to practice, but I find it makes me a better teacher and person.


We all make mistakes and can fail to live up to our ideals when handling behaviour, delivering lessons, or working with others. Whenever this happens make sure you take time to forgive yourself, then change, if needed!