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09.26.19Strong Voice, Register Shifts and Warm/Strict: Ms. Cenac Greets Her Students

“It’s going to be great!”

Strong Voice is a critical tool for teachers. They need to manage a room, ensure directions are followed, make sure students listen–those things come with the territory. If you can’t do them, you can’t do your job.

That doesn’t mean Strong Voice can’t also be warm and caring even while it helps us set expectations. In fact, moments when we set expectations and limits are ideal for a touch of warmth as this video of Trona Cenac-Joseph at Troy Prep HS helps show.

This video is shot on the first day of school. Trona is meeting her students in the hallway before a class–‘a float block’ where they get extra time for math in smaller groups.

She’s got work to do here–get the kids into class in an orderly way that sets expectations for the year and makes best-use of their time–but she also wants to show that she cares about her students, seeks to know them, wants them to succeed.

Her ‘register shifts’ help her do that. She’s listening to students chatter about math, smiling, relaxed and reassuring. Then it’s time for class. Quickly, her casual and relaxed body posture goes more upright, formal, symmetrical and she says, “Algebra Two all eyes tracking me in 3…2…” She’s signalling with her voice and body language that it’s time to get to work and she’s so good at showing that with a hint of formality that she doesn’t have to shout or nag. The shift is clear and quick. Students notice.

In the middle of calling students to attention she reminds one student to put her hand down. As you can see, she briefly shifts to a more casual register–a loose wrist as she waves the students hand down, a whisper–to show that she’s assuming the best. It’s the first day; it just a reminder. One reason she can keep it light is because her directions are clear and her attentive and formal body language reinforces them. You can see her subtly use Be Seen Looking to show students that she’s carefully looking to see if they follow-through. When they know it matters to her they are more likely to do as she expects.

You can see that again as she moves to the doorway to give directions. A student is laughing and Trona goes casual just for a moment to smile at her and then shifts back into a more formal mode—keeping the connection but signaling that we’re moving on now to something important. There’s even a bit more formality as she says, “Say good morning at the door:” Notice how her body language is formal and signals how important the moment is as she gives directions. She’s standing up straight, making simple crisp behaviors with limited movement, hands clasped in front of her. She’s careful to be precise and economical with her words and not over-talk.

There’s a tiny reminder for Madison but it’s so crisp and short that the mojo doesn’t break. And then as she greets students at the door you can hear the warmth and caring and clarity and expectations all at once–warm strict as we call it.

It’s a beautiful example of how Strong Voice, and in particular shifting quickly between casual and formal registers in terms of voice and body language, can help you ensure clear and productive learning spaces while retaining warmth and connections.

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