The recent Ebola crisis in Africa has brought home to me how, as humans, we rely upon communication in all of its forms: we communicate verbally, non verbally via facial expression and body language and through physical contact. When one of these forms of contact is taken away, as in the case in West Africa, the impact can be devastating.
As part of one of the news items covering the crisis in Sierra Leone the reporter was interviewing some of the volunteers who were physically and emotionally exhausted . During the interview one of the volunteers was describing the thing that he found most difficult to cope with, the ban upon all physical contact.
Physical contact is a basic human instinct that is part of our everyday lives, from holding hands and cuddles and kisses with those close to us to shaking hands with new acquaintances. Imagine then witnessing parents unable to hold their dying children or children unable to comfort a parent? It seems totally inhumane but is done with the intention of stopping the spread of this dreadful disease.
However even in these dreadful circumstances the human ability to communicate in a variety of forms still managed to find a way. The volunteer went on to explain how shaking hands had been replaced by the left hand placed upon the heart, a very powerful gesture. This led me to think about the power of non verbal communication and how it crosses many barriers from language barriers to the barriers of a range of disabilities.
As teachers we rely upon non verbal communication from the minute we greet our pupils in the morning to the minute they go home. Each of these non verbal communications can be both positive and negative and each has a wide range of meanings.
Facial expression - A smile to offer reassurance, to say hello, to say well done, to show humour frowns to show I don't understand, no thank you, stop doing that ....... Let's not forget the famous teacher stare .......
Body language including thumbs up - Well done, good job, keep trying, that's right.
Thumbs down - that's incorrect, please stop that ...... Arms folded - I'm waiting, are you ready? you are taking toO long, get tidied up now please ....
Voice - It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. When we speak, other people “read” our voices in addition to listening to our words. Things they pay attention to include your timing and pace, how loud you speak, your tone and inflection, and sounds that convey understanding, such as “ahh” and “uh-huh.” Tone of voice, can indicate pleasure, happiness, sarcasm, anger, affection, or confidence.
Non verbal communication is used daily in schools all around the world but what we shouldn't forget is that not all of our pupils can 'read' those non verbal cues including those with ASD. The National Autistic Society is one of the many places to look for tips on ensuring effective communication with all of the pupils in our care teaching-young-children-with-autism
Some other websites with practical tips for teaching pupils with non verbal communication difficulties include The Friendship Circle, facial-expressions-for-kids