Let’s talk about subtle skills. These are skills that students need to succeed but that no one talks about or teaches. Subtle skillsets are a big component of our unique Executive Function (EF) curriculum. We know that succeeding as a student is about much more than raw intelligence. Habits and routines play a big role. See our cornucopia of blogs on organization, time management, and study habits. But there are other, more clandestine components of student success that continue to fly under the radar. These skills fall into what we call impression management.
Impression management is the fourth pillar of our EF curriculum. Put simply, it’s the ability to manage the impressions we leave on those around us. For students, this means the impressions on teachers, parents, and peers. Impression management is often misconstrued as mere image construction or inauthentic role-playing. In truth, it’s the nuanced ability to understand and control how others perceive us. This skill is crucial to working in groups, not just in the classroom.
Embracing impression management also lays the groundwork for productive student-teacher interactions. In this post, we’re talking about a microcosm of this larger idea of impression management: becoming a model student in the classroom.
Who Is the Model Student?
One of the first things we talk about with students is how they appear in class. A student might be diligent in taking notes or thinking through the problem on the board, but if it does not appear that way to the teacher, we’re in trouble. In short, we want students to think about what they would want to see if they were the teacher. The golden rule is a consistent theme in impression management. Treat others as you would like to be treated.
So, what does the teacher think model classroom behavior looks like?
Encourage your child to make a list. Be detailed. Where is this model student sitting? What is on this student’s desk? Think about posture, body language, eye contact, and anything else that matters.
The goal is not to fool the teacher. It’s to make sure the student gets credit for all the hard work that he or she is already doing. When students present themselves as focused, engaged, and genuinely interested in their education, teachers are more likely to respond positively. This can mean a little extra support, patience, or even opportunities not extended to others. In a space where evaluations are made every second, managing impressions is a subtle but crucial skill. Those participation grades aren’t fictional.
Here are three principles from our EF-driven curriculum to help your child become a model student in class:
The Ideal Spot to Sit
Where one sits can often dictate the course of one’s academic journey. That’s because the classroom isn’t just physical space but also psychological space. Sitting in the front or middle rows isn’t merely a logistical choice; it’s a declaration of intent.
First, opting for a front-row seat minimizes distractions, not just from classmates but also from the digital pull of smartphones and laptops. It also improves learning because it invites a more dynamic relationship with the teacher. This spot also places the student in the direct line of the teacher’s vision, making interactions more personal. Such a position conveys eagerness, commitment, and respect for the subject. It whispers silently of a student’s intent to be involved and attentive.
Second, when students choose this spot, they broadcast a message to the teacher and to themselves: “I am here to learn; I am here to engage.” The proximity allows for easier dialogue, quick clarification of doubts, and subtle non-verbal communication that can enhance the learning experience. Students should view this choice not just as a seating arrangement but as an integral part of their impression management toolkit.
Desk Dynamics: Less is More
While a cluttered desk could be seen as the hallmark of a busy student, it more often sends the signal of a disorganized one. A cluttered desk means a cluttered mind, as we have said in numerous blogs and newsletters on organization. But a clear desk is also an impression management tool.
Students should opt for essential materials only. Every item must scream purpose: textbooks, notebooks, writing tools, and perhaps a modest water bottle. A clean, well-organized workspace sends a message of preparedness and focus to the teacher. Students should approach the tidying of their desks as a pre-class ritual.
Actions speak louder than words, particularly in a classroom setting. Take eye contact, for instance. It’s a direct link to the teacher’s perception of a student’s involvement in the class. When done right, eye contact can send signals of respect, interest, and openness. But there’s a delicate balance to be struck. A steady gaze can turn into an unintended stare, which might be interpreted as confrontational or overly intense. Posture, too, isn’t just about physical health; it’s an impression management tool in its own right. A straight back isn’t merely good for the spine; it broadcasts a level of seriousness and attentiveness.
The power of other nonverbal cues in the realm of impression management is immense. Small gestures, such as a thoughtful nod or a timely smile, can serve as affirmations of understanding or agreement. These nonverbal cues are more than mere subtleties; they’re critical components of effective impression management. Hence, mastering this silent language is as crucial as any spoken dialogue in the classroom setting. We spend so much time teaching students how to improve written communication, but we ignore the unwritten and unspoken language of impression management. Let’s change that.
We’re Here to Help
Becoming a model student doesn’t require radical changes. Often, it’s the subtle shifts in behavior, the conscious decisions about presentation, and the ability to understand and control one’s perception that make all the difference. It’s the subtle skills that often count the most.
At Staying Ahead of the Game, we understand that these skills transcend the boundaries of the classroom. They’re life skills, tools that our students can carry with them through every phase of their lives. In helping students navigate the intricate dynamics of classroom behavior, we’re setting them up for a lifetime of positive interactions and fruitful collaborations.