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During the 2019 PASA-PSBA School Leadership Conference, social psychologist, bestselling author, Harvard lecturer and TED talk presenter Dr. Amy Cuddy sat down with us to share her expertise on nonverbal communication and its influence in the school atmosphere. She discussed the impact of the body on the mind; how teachers, students and staff communicate; and elements to be mindful of when communicating in the education setting and beyond.

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Skip to: 00:55 In a school setting, school leaders, teachers and students are interacting — verbally and nonverbally — every day. How can nonverbal communication be used positively for these various participants in public education space?

Closed body language is not just linked to powerlessness; it’s also linked to shame. And I think that kids feel a lot of shame. Shame is one of the most self-destructive emotions.

We probably focus a lot on whether the kids are interested or not, and that matters; but I think what matters more is do they feel trusting and safe or not.

Skip to: 09:43 Going off of that, sometimes we are unaware of our nonverbal communication and unaware of what the nonverbal communication around us might mean. In a school setting, how can that unawareness be detrimental?

An interaction with a teacher for a student might feel like their biggest challenge. They’re really worried about how they’re being socially evaluated by the teacher. The stakes feel incredibly high to them.

Just remember that the person whose lower power in an interaction is the one who’s more attuned to the body language of the other because they’re looking for whatever information they can get to figure out where they stand in that person’s eyes.

If you’re not present with them nonverbally; if you’re not showing that you’re interested in them, they can’t be present with you.

Skip to: 13:53 If our nonverbals govern how we feel, is there a practice that could be incorporated into schools that would help students become engaged and prepared to learn?

When we feel psychologically powerful, it affects the way we think. We think more clearly. We feel more optimistic. We behave differently. We do better on tests. We perform better because we’re less anxious.

Skip to: 21:46 Social-emotional learning, or SEL, is a prevalent topic in education. Do you think being aware of nonverbal communication could aid in the SEL process and improve an individual’s self-awareness and self-control?
Skip to: 25:34 Your research has heavily focused on prejudice and stereotyping. How could social science be incorporated into creating more equitable public education?

Dr. Amy Cuddy

Social psychologist, award-winning Harvard lecturer and best-selling author, Dr. Amy Cuddy is an expert on the behavioral science of power, presence, purpose and prejudice. She is a member of the Harvard Business School Executive Education Faculty and the author of New York Times best seller, Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges. Her 2012 TED Talk, “Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are,” has been viewed more than 53 million times.