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07.14.16How Jamila Davis uses nonverbals during teaching, transitions, and discussion (Video)

2013-TROY-1915During our team’s most recent weekly video meeting, we watched an outstanding clip of Jamila Davis from Troy Prep Elementary School executing nonverbal interventions with warmth, positivity, and finesse. We were so excited about the clip that we instantly added it to our video lineup for our August workshops. Watching it even made Doug do a little happy dance in his seat.

Although you’re probably in the midst of enjoying your well-deserved summer break, we hope you find the clip useful once you’re back in school mode and planning for how you’ll reinforce expectations on day one to build the classroom culture you want.

We were most struck by how effectively Jamila adapts her repertoire of nonverbals for different moments throughout her lesson. Jamila doesn’t just use nonverbals to reinforce expectations while she teaches. She also uses them to manage classroom transitions and to keep class discussions productive.

Here are a few of our observations (please share yours in the comment section!):

During Teaching: In the first two cuts, Jamila uses nonverbal interventions to keep behavior productive without interrupting her teaching.

  • In cut 1, Jamila is faced with a dilemma: two of her students repeatedly raise their hands to participate, but she needs to address a critical misconception that just surfaced before she can call on them. She also knows that stopping the lesson to verbally correct could disrupt students’ focus when she needs it most. She resolves this with two nonverbal interventions that gently remind students to keep their hands down. The smile she gives while correcting shows students that she assumes the best about their intentions and reassures them that they’ll get their turn soon. The end result: she quickly and positively manages participation without interrupting her re-teaching of critical content. Not a second of instructional time is lost.
  • In cut 2, Jamila uses a nonverbal correction for a slightly different purpose: to preserve momentum. Jamila opens her lesson with energy and enthusiasm, but she quickly notices one scholar who isn’t in learner’s position (which is the expectation). Jamila models what she wants by folding her hands out front. And she has been so consistent about reinforcing this expectation that the student immediately knows what to do. He eagerly hops back into position and continues following the lesson. With a simple gesture, Jamila manages behavior without undercutting the momentum she’s been building from the start.


During Transitions: At this point in the year (late November), Jamila’s goal is for students to assume as much ownership for routine transitions as possible. And as we see in cut 3, students are well on their way to meeting this goal. Jamila merely has to say “stand,” and students know to stand behind their chairs with their folders in hand. When a student forgets to leave her pencil on the table, Jamila points down and the student instantly remembers where to put it. In this moment, a more novice teacher might step in to verbally direct the rest of the transition, but Jamila doesn’t say a word.

Ultimately, her use of nonverbals enables students to maintain as much ownership of the transition as possible. Students can still take pride in knowing they executed this routine almost entirely on their own.


During Discussion: As cuts 4 and 5 illustrate, nonverbals can be useful during discussions, too. Jamila uses them primarily to instill productive habits without cutting off the discussions themselves. For instance, in her classroom, students are expected to track the speaker to show they’re respectfully listening to what’s being said. In both cuts, a student’s attention drifts as a classmate struggles to work through an answer. But because Jamila is so diligent about scanning for behavior, she catches it early. She then discreetly redirects the student’s attention by pointing to the speaker, and the student fixes it. Her genuine smile adds a dollop of warmth that motivates students to follow through right away. By correcting quickly and invisibly, Jamila effectively manages behavior without breaking the thread of the discussion.

Jamila also teaches students to use nonverbals during discussion: thumbs up/down to express agreement and disagreement with a classmate’s comment, fists on top of each other to show they want to build on a peer’s comment, and a thumb to the side to show they partially agree with a comment. These nonverbals help engage all scholars during discussions and inform who Jamila calls on and when.


Additionally, we thought these qualities made Jamila’s nonverbals effective across the board:

  • Delivered with a smile: It seems mundane, but Jamila’s smile conveys so much. It tells students that Jamila assumes the best of their intentions and wants them to succeed; it underscores how confident she is that students will do as she asked; and it reassures students that their relationship with her is still intact. Jamila’s smile makes these corrections less invasive because it reduces the odds that they’ll spark resentment and escalate unproductive behavior.
  • Catches It Early: Jamila can gently correct students with nonverbals because she catches unproductive behavior while it’s small and easy to fix. She can do this in part because she’s so diligent about monitoring student behavior throughout her lesson, whether she’s teaching, transitioning scholars, or managing discussion.
  • Keeps Them Simple: Jamila only uses three nonverbal gestures (waving down, pointing down, and pointing to speaker) to reinforce four expectations (hands down, learner’s position, pencil down, and eyes on speaker). These gestures are effective because they’re simple, easily understood by students, and versatile. She doesn’t have to invent them on-the-fly and can use them again and again.


Side note: For teachers and leaders who want to see what training on nonverbals looked like at the school Jamila works at, check out this video of teachers practicing for day one!

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One Response to “How Jamila Davis uses nonverbals during teaching, transitions, and discussion (Video)”

  1. Leah
    November 10, 2017 at 8:15 pm

    What organized groups! You’re really able to maximize student performance using the non verbals / signals! Cool. 🙂

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