I was sick this past week--and I hate to admit that. I haven't been sick for so long that I cannot remember when the last time was. After all, I've been a mom and a teacher for a long time and that gives one an iron-clad immunity. But...I had no voice and no energy and felt generally miserable.
But I did go to work (I know, I know--should stay home and take care of myself, blah, blah. I've given that speech to others hundreds of times). The kids were stunned and a little worried. They provided me with constant updates on the status of my forced whispers and squeaks. "We can almost hear you now!" "Good thing that's a quiet book--your voice works on that one." "I feel bad for you--but mostly for your voice."
The interesting thing that I noticed was that we still functioned. And actually, we did pretty well despite the fact that I wasn't at my best. The kids watched my face a little more closely, and I realized that I already use so many non-verbal signals in my room that giving directions and getting the kids attention wasn't really a big deal. It made me realize that I do this every day in less than ideal circumstances.
Our cafeteria does not tend to be very quiet (hello? couple hundred kids all in one room?) and it's a pretty big space. When my colleagues and I go down to get the kids after lunch, they wait by their tables, sometimes in line, and sometimes still seated. For several weeks now, I don't even go all the way over to the tables where my kids eat. I walk a few feet into the cafeteria and look toward my kids. I almost always catch at least a couple by the eye immediately. Looking directly at them, I smile, nod and put a finger to my lips. They nod back and keep looking at me. I turn my eyes to the others, and it's almost like magic--one or two or several at at time turn, make eye contact and get quiet. As soon as I have almost all of them, I lift my hand, palm up. Any that are not already looking at me do so as the group stands and begins to form a line. The stand as I hold one finger up--our class signal for 1 straight line. Then I motion them to come with me and they do...in one line and maintaining eye contact. It's great and it's fast.
So how does it work? Well, early in the year I worked hard at making eye contact with the kids. Not staring contests (but I'm pretty good at those!) and not a threatening "look at me" kind of thing. Nope, just the kind of eye contact that says "I see you and I care about you and I respect you". My eyes can also ask questions like "do you really want to do that?". They acknowledge kids as they make good choices too, usually accompanied by a short nod. I held their eyes during lessons and when teaching and reteaching procedures and when they had done well and when they had done not so well. And I did it in the cafeteria every time I walked over to their tables to pick them up after lunch.
It's powerful. Although I knew that, seeing it in action is amazing. I can catch their eyes pretty quickly now--almost like they hear me looking at them. Now when I need a child's attention or the whole group's attention in the classroom or the cafeteria or anywhere, I have one more tool. And you don't need a voice for this one. We just see each other.