While there are countless ways we can nurture relationships and better engage our students, we’d like to talk about a specific student engagement strategy called the Walk and Talk.
In his essay, “The Power of the Walk-and-Talk Technique,” Jim Peterson asks us to consider some of the “scenes of aggression” we’ve witnessed in the animal programs we see on the Animal Planet and National Geographic channels. Other than hunting scenes, most acts of aggression begin with animals facing one another. It’s not very likely that the violence would be preceded by two animals traveling side by side.
Peterson suggests that when “higher-level organisms travel together, and in the same direction, rapport seems to build and there appears to be a progression towards harmony.”
Walking and talking helps sync our body language
In addition to walking side by side, another technique for building rapport between individuals is what Peterson calls “body mirroring.”
In body mirroring, the ideas is to have your posture subtly reflect that of the person with whom you’re communicating. Mirroring the body language of a student while sitting across from him or her can feel awkward, contrived and even insulting. That’s why Peterson suggests walking and talking. When teachers walk next to their students, they both adopt similar postures without any conscious effort.
Walking and talking takes eye contact out of the equation
Some students do not feel comfortable making eye contact. It is also worth noting that in some cultures it is a sign of disrespect for the student to look you, the teacher, in the eye.
Walking with a student takes the question of whether or not to make eye contact out of the equation. It feels perfectly natural to have a conversation with someone and not make eye contact if you are walking alongside each other.
We let off steam when we walk
Sometime, when you’re feeling irritated or angry, try walking 100 yards. At the end of that distance, note how you feel compared to when you began the walk. Chances are that you’re not going to feel gregarious, but you will have progressed from feeling bad towards feeling better.
When you walk with a student who is frustrated or upset, the student experiences a progression towards a better-feeling state. Peterson suggests that on a subconscious level, the student associates this positive feeling with your presence and contribution to it, the same way the person you delivered the bad news to made an association between you and the bad news. In the case of the walk-and-talk, however, this positive association is yet another element in the process that builds a positive relationship.
Peterson outlines an eleven-step process for conducting a successful walk and talk. Instead of reproducing all three pages of the procedure here, you can read it by clicking here.