“I just don’t have it. I have had the opportunity to watch all of the teachers, and I don’t have the posture, or the teaching tone and voice.”
During covid we had a new learning assistant join our school. She loved to work with kiddos, but all of her experience was one-to-one.
What she had dialed into was my teaching tone and voice, posture, and presence.
Why is teaching tone and voice important?
In today’s classroom it is essential that we adopt a positive and supportive environment, both for the students and the teachers. These things are essential to effective classroom management.
Teaching tone and voice is key in promoting both positive behaviour support in education and in shaping an classroom environment that nurtures learning and growth.
Diverse backgrounds and learning styles required effective classroom management strategies for successful teaching. Honing your teaching tone and voice is an essential tool for communicating who you are, and nurturing a sense of community and engagement.
Through the teacher tone of voice in the classroom compassion, empathy, humour, and respect are communicated.
But if that is true, then it is also true that the teacher’s tone you can also communicate frustration, anger, dislike, irritation and disinterest.
Teaching tone and voice is so much more than just how we modulate our tone. It is how we move, what we speak to, the words we speak with, and when we speak them.
As students experience who you are, how you will respond, the level of integrity between your classroom expectations and rules and classroom management style, they will have confidence in how to respond.
The impact of teaching tone and voice on shaping the classroom atmosphere
If a teacher was a conductor the tone of voice would be the classroom management equivalent of a conductor’s wand shaping the mood and atmosphere in the classroom.
Part of knowing how to implement positive behavior support in the classroom aligns with how we speak to the students. Our tone enables students to feel good, be motivated and eager to participate in their learning.
Teaching primary during covid meant wearing a mask. I believe that masks made communication difficult for everyone.
Grade 1 and grade 2 students are working so hard at learning body language, phonetics, and social emotional learning that the masks created challenges.
I remember one day telling the students that I understood it was difficult for them because I knew they couldn’t see my smile when I spoke to them.
One little darling who was very mature in many ways put up her hand. “It’s okay. We get it. You are very good at smiling with your eyes.”
Let’s look at different teaching tone and voice.
Fill your greeting in the morning with happiness to see the students. Just “Good morning” with a smile and positive teaching tone and voice is great.
Or add a personal observation. My students loved it when I noticed a haircut.
This is a great way to invite students into the classroom. You will have set the tone for the whole day.
We all know that in most homes there are days that start off on a frustrated or angry note. Greeting your students with a happy tone can help them to reboot their tone for the day.
By offering students words of encouragement like praise for a good effort, an acknowledgement of progress or celebrating an achievement we are changing the atmosphere in the classroom. Affirmations teach students what you expect of them and let them know they got it right.
We all like to know we got it right. 🥰 By doing this with our teaching tone and voice we are building their confidence and their belief in their own capabilities.
An understanding tone speaks volumes
Some lessons can be challenging and difficult for students. Using and understanding teaching tone and voice can provide a sense of the empathy that students will need. An understanding tone can help them to understand that they don’t have to “get it” right away.
Everyone gets a humorous teaching tone and voice
So, I have a dry sense of humour, and when I was offered the opportunity to teach in a grade 1 and 2 class I was worried they would not understand it.
Boy was I wrong. It was so much fun to see how they met me there. Not once did I, personally, receive disrespectful humour.
Knowing that they could exchange appropriate zingers with me built my student’s confidence in our relationship. The blessing of this is that when they wanted to challenge me on a serious issue they felt safe to do so.
I was so proud of them.
Humour comes in all shapes and sizes, just be careful that the humour is not at the expense of a student’s sense of self-worth or dignity.
Activities to practice tone of voice
When my class is somewhat dysregulated I will use my calmest, lowest teaching tone and voice. By doing this I am modeling my expectations and the classroom norm for that moment.
However, when we are covering something challenging or verging on dull, I become quite goofy to maintain the engagement.
1) Greet with and enthusiastic tone of voice
As mentioned before, start the day by letting the students know you have a welcoming mindset, and that you want them to join you there.
2) Using volume with your tone of voice
Obviously, shouting in class is not okay. I mean, there are exceptions if it is an emergency like a fire, but typically it is not okay.
But there are other times we raise our voice too, even when it is not done in anger.
Unfortunately for many teachers, myself included, the go to choice of classroom management techniques when the class gets noisy is to be even louder still.
I grew up in a large family, and this was a strategy consistently and effectively used at the dinner table. We weren’t aggressive, just loud.
And it is a hard habit to break.
Not always, but often enough, I would slip into old easy habits and speak over the students. If they were packing up as instructed, and I realized that I had forgotten to say something I would attempt to speak over the din.
This is not a good idea. 🥴
I would then, typically, collect myself, and raise my hand. Standing there in silence until the first student stopped and raised their hand as well. Then I would thank that student by name. Soon all the students would be standing quietly, eyes focused on me.
Then they would hear me speak.
Unless there is a very good reason for using volume (and anger is not a good reason, just saying), a hushed voice or a silent hand often speaks volumes.
If they know you and the classroom routines and procedures , and they know that you carry through on classroom expectations and rules then you have authority. Once you have authority, and if you believe you have authority, standing with your arm raised confidently, patiently, and with a smile is enough.
I am very capable of projecting my voice, and the easiest thing in the world for me to do is project it.
sometimes it took but this was mostly kept for when I was inference impending excitement.
3) Speaking more slowly
While speed is not actually a tone of voice, it communicates a boondoggle of things.
Talking very quickly can communicate excitement, surprise, energy and urgency when we want the students to know good things are coming.
However, speed can also communicate stress, frustration, anger,or impatience. When you recognize that you are dysregulated, take a moment to breathe and recalibrate. Otherwise your students will join you internally if not externally.
I am by nature a fast talker. My students knew that speed was my constant pace, and I was unable to change this.
However, when I did get stressed I worked at slowing the pace of my talking down because I knew that with a consistently face pace they would notice the slower pace. That would prevent them from escalating as well.
4) The playful teaching tone and voice
I remember one day I was teaching descriptive language, and I really wanted the students to be fully engaged. So I did a pantomime, and told them to keep track of all the things I did.
As I danced and pirouetted my way to the back of the class and out the door they stared wide-eyed. When I tapped on the closed door window from outside the room they giggled.
As I lay down on the couch for a nap they were standing and stretching their necks to see what I was doing, and when I finally got back to the board they were fully focused.
I wrote this sentence on the board, “I went out of the class and came back.”
When I asked if anyone thought my sentence described what they had seen, all the hands shot up to add details to my sentence.
I had not uttered a single word, but I had definitely modeled a playful teaching tone and voice.
5) Include positive language with your positive tone of voice
As adults we often fall into the trap of using negatives classroom management for teachers. “Don’t run.” “Don’t talk” “Don’t hit.”
However, research shows that when we are told not to do something that we focus on what we are not to do.
Instead of saying, “Stop hitting.” in frustration as a rebuke, try saying, “Hands to self” with a smile as a reminder.
6) Accompany a warm tone of voice with personalized comments
I love to call students out for what they get right. Absolutely love it. And it is so dang easy. 😍
Telling a student they have done something wrong on the other hand is very labour intensive:
- Going to them quietly.
- Getting down to eye level.
- Establishing their focus and attention on me.,
- Framing my language in such a way that the student actually wants to change their behaviour.
Blech, I am far too lazy for that. 😉
However, when I say, “Thank you for cleaning your desk, Julie”, they love to hear me give them a shout out. And it doesn’t hurt their feelings at all to know that their peers heard it too. 😃
Positive behaviour support in education. Easier, more effective, efficient, and more fun. Can’t beat that!
7) Tone of voice in acknowledgement of student achievements
I have quite literally had moments when students had not even started their work when I could genuinely acknowledge their good choices and accomplishments.
Even if it is just your chatty student choosing not to be a disruption when they are struggling to get started on their own work, that is an accomplishment.
Their relationship with you, your tone of voice, how you have enforced classroom expectations and rules. All of those things and more will let the student know that you see that this really was a lot of work for them.
Of course, there is still a follow up expectation and instruction for them for how to get started, and what will be the choice if they don’t.
But instead of feeling awful and like a failure, they feel seen, respected and loved which makes them emotionally more able to do the task in front of them.
Using tone of voice to build classroom community
Using a friendly, kind and gentle tone can build connections between you and the students. As important as activities to build classroom community, smiling and open body language communicates an approachable and inviting atmosphere.
However, still monitor the student’s reactions. One time I had a student who had left her shoes on the floor approach my desk. Her job was to acknowledge her responsibility and ask for them back.
This was a simple, “I forgot to put away my shoes. May I please have them back.”
However, this girl was a very clever, very pretty, very nice and popular girl who never, ever made mistakes.
She was struggling with her perfectionism, and so I was encouraging her with smiles. Her distress increased, but finally she got the sentence out and received her shoes in return.
I reflected on what had happened when I was at home that night, and the light bulb went on. I was smiling to show her that I was not upset, and that she was safe. But she did not see it that way.
The next day I called her to my desk and asked her about it, and she quickly dissolved in tears. She thought that I had been laughing at her. I quickly apologized and. And she understood.
In this situation, how important is a teacher’s tone of voice? If I had been stern for such a minor infraction she would have survived, but our relationship would have been damaged.
It is one thing to explain a smile. It is another thing to try to justify being stern for such a thing.
The short version; a student’s response will be as individual as the student’s experience. And in this case my
The truth about tone of voice
We, teachers, have all sat around and acknowledged a student’s attitude as demonstrated through a tone and body language that was incongruous with their words.
We even have labels: sarcasm, parody, disrespect, defiance.
If we can see that, do we truly believe that our students can’t? Our tone of voice, and the accompanying body language are clearly evident to our students.
Their ability to “read” us is in fact hardwired in, and it is necessary for their survival.
With that in mind, we, as teachers, need to understand that the edges to our voice directed with frustration to a student who is behind, or at a student who blurts out can become the elephant in the room to everyone else.
All of the kiddos “get it”. We knew a teacher that so disrespected a child that through the teacher’s actions every other student in the room knew that that child had no safe haven in that teacher if there was ever a problem.
The teacher was so flagrantly disrespectful and aggressive towards that student that other students were waking up with stomach aches in the middle of the night. They were afraid to go to school because they understood that what could be done to one student could be done to any or all of the students.
The really sad thing is that no one called the teacher on it, and when we learned of it we tried to act on it. However, the administration stood firmly behind the teacher, and other parents were afraid to step forward for fear of the repercussions for their own child.
Your teaching tone and voice is not a little thing
It is okay to be angry …. And then to model the need for a moment to manage your feelings.
Go ahead and carry through on classroom expectations and rules with a student … with love and grace not frustration.
Let a student know that you will be contacting their parents … while also communicating understanding and compassion.
Tell them that you sincerely still think they are wonderful . . . and that you love them enough to know that you need to work together with their parents to help the student get this right.
This is a teaching tone and voice that will successfully and appropriately manage poor choices from students, and also maintain a classroom community and environment that is respectful, compassionate and fun.
Share a way that you use your teacher tone and voice to manage your classroom in the comments below.
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