Behavior management program focused on non-verbal cues fosters calmer environment in Anoka-Hennepin schools

Jacki Brickman shows a video of students entering an elementary school ready for a new school day. While students entering school is nothing out of the ordinary it’s the students’ quiet, orderly behavior that seems out of the norm.

The video was taken at a school in the Minneapolis School District. The teachers are employing “Educational Non-Verbal Yardsticks,” (ENVoY) a program Brickman, an education consultant, works with.

“ENVoY employs a set of nonverbal communication skills that all educators can use to positively manage student behavior in a way that preserves relationships and maximizes productivity,” Brickman said.

In the case of the video from Minneapolis, on close inspection, one can see ENVoY in action. Instead of the teacher saying, “Pull your hood down, pull your hood down, pull your hood down,” as students walk into the school, she simply makes a hand motion that indicates a student should pull his or her hood down. The students comply helping to create a quiet entry as the students come into the school. It is an example of ENVoY’s approach of using influence rather than power for behavior.

A graduate of Anoka High School, a former teacher in the Minneapolis School District, and an Anoka-Hennepin parent, Brickman has worked with the district for about five years. Schools currently using ENVoY school wide are: University Avenue, Eisenhower, Mississippi, Rum River, Dayton, Hamilton, Morris Bye, and Champlin Brooklyn Park Academy. Two schools, Hoover and Johsnville, have held some training and Monroe, Oxbow Creek and Sand Creek held optional summer sessions.

ENVoY was developed by Michael Grinder, a teacher in Washington, who was interested in knowing what good teachers do. In observing thousands of classrooms he noticed that effective teachers used nonverbal skills. Grinder gave names to these skills and created ENVoY, which provides teachers with 31 specific skills to help with classroom management. Through training, teachers learn skills for getting students’ attention, teaching, transitions, and independent work.

Brickman said there are many benefits to ENVoY. Although ENVoY is fairly new, Brickman said research has shown that using the program’s seven gems of classroom management, teachers can gain an hour of curriculum time a week.

“ENVoY not only saves time and teachers’ energy, it preserves teacher and student relationships, which helps students to be more successful,” Brickman said.

Jackie Slocum, a first grade teacher at Eisenhower Elementary, has become a certified ENVoY practitioner. To earn this certification, instructors must demonstrate mastery in all of the key ENVoY skills in real time.

Slocum said she became excited about ENVoY the first time she heard Brickman speak. She said that Brickman has a way to motivate teachers and to help them see things differently. The biggest difference Slocum has noticed is calmness.

“My class feels calm and so do I,” Slocum said. “Through the use of visuals and non-verbal cues, I have taught my class what to do, how to do it, and when to do it.  I am no longer repeating myself over and over throughout the day.

“This has given me back some valuable teaching time, as less time is spent on transitioning between activities.  I also feel that my class has taken ownership of their learning. They look to each other for help, and allow me to be the guide.  There is a real sense of community in the classroom.”

Slocum has also noticed that students are on task and more prepared to learn.

“ENVoY has taught me how to take some of the surprises out of teaching and has given me strategies to apply ‘in case’ a, b, or c happens,” she said. “My students know what they can expect to see from me, and they can focus their energy on learning.”

Mississippi Elementary Principal Mark Hansen has also appreciated how ENVoY has offered strategies to improve the climate of the school and classrooms.

“’The Most Important 20 Seconds’ is one example,” Hansen said. “The teacher gives a direction to students and sends them off to work. For the first 20 seconds the teacher stands in the spot they gave the direction from and waits for 20 seconds as students get to work. You would absolutely be amazed at how effective this is at getting all students to go straight to their task.”

Through ENVoY, Hansen said Mississippi staff has been trained about the importance of visuals. Overall Mississippi employees are more calm and the student climate is more positive.

In addition, ENVoY has also reduced discipline concerns. “Staff avoid getting into negative verbal interactions and use non-verbals to redirect students. Along with the training we have implemented a revised discipline plan for the entire school. We created the revised plan working with Jacki Brickman to create a plan that fits perfectly with the ENVoY training,” he said.

“We are on a journey learning more as we go. So far this training has had a very positive effect on our learning climate.”