(function(w,d,s,l,i){w[l]=w[l]||[];w[l].push({'gtm.start': new Date().getTime(),event:'gtm.js'});var f=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0], j=d.createElement(s),dl=l!='dataLayer'?'&l='+l:'';j.async=true;j.data-privacy-src= 'https://www.googletagmanager.com/gtm.js?id='+i+dl;f.parentNode.insertBefore(j,f); })(window,document,'script','dataLayer','GTM-PDJPJSW');

Effective Communication: The Eyes Have It!

Sue Cowley explores how you can enhance your classroom communication skills and improve learner behaviour simply by utilising your eyes.

One of the most important ways in which you can communicate with your classes is through using your eyes. Your eyes enable you to form that moment of connection with an individual learner when they are answering a question, or to do that quick check on the class to ensure that everyone is settled to work. A useful way to think about using your eyes for communication is to see yourself as being like a camera, moving from mode to mode.


Use ‘CCTV mode’ when you want to scan the room to check for ‘danger’. A couple of quick sweeps of the room gives you the chance to check that everyone is behaving as they should. Your learners will also notice that you are keeping a close eye on them. You don’t need to make eye contact with individuals when you scan the room – simply get a ‘feel’ for whether everyone is on task or paying attention.

Zoom Lens

When a learner volunteers an answer, hold eye contact with them and move slightly towards them as they reply. This indicates that you are interested and that you are focusing in on what they are saying. It can feel intense when someone who is making eye contact moves towards you, so be gentle with how you use this approach. Just a subtle move towards the person is plenty to signal your attention.

Consistency, Sue Cowley, Primary School

Eyes To the Skies!

Something interesting to try, especially when you are waiting for the class to give you their attention, is to remove your eye contact from the room and look up at the ceiling. This signals ‘I’m waiting’ without you having to say a word, especially if you normally make lots of eye contact with your class.

Spotlight the Positive

When one of your learners is addressing the whole class, if someone starts to talk over them, don’t turn to look to see where the noise is coming from. Instead, ask the learner to pause and wait, and only to speak again ‘when you are sure there is complete silence’. By showing that your eyes and your energy stay on the person doing the right thing, you reinforce the message that your energy goes to those who behave well. Never put the spotlight on behaviours you want to discourage.

The Deadly Stare

When someone in the class is not behaving as you wish, try using your teacher stare. It only needs to be a quick glance, but the look in your eyes should say ‘stop that right now’ or ‘I’m disappointed to see you doing that’ or ‘don’t even think about it’. And all that without saying a word!

Eyes Away!

And finally, remember that there will be situations where making direct eye contact, or insisting on it, is the wrong thing to do. Learners who are autistic may struggle to listen if you ask them to look you directly in the eyes, because their focus is likely to be on looking at what your eyes are like rather than listening to what you are saying. Learners from some cultural backgrounds might struggle with the feeling that direct eye contact can be disrespectful. Know when not to make eye contact, as well as when it’s the right thing to do.

Find Out More

Sue Cowley has created two brand new modules, ‘What do Learners Need? Communication to Support Understanding in the Secondary Classroom’ and ‘The Confident Teacher: Building Effective Communication Skills in the Secondary Classroom’ which explore further key strategies and techniques to enable teachers to communicate effectively with their learners and manage their behaviour in a secondary classroom setting. To find out more, view the tasters and click through to view the full module descriptions below.

For privacy reasons YouTube needs your permission to be loaded.
I Accept
For privacy reasons YouTube needs your permission to be loaded.
I Accept
Tamsin Denley

Author: Sue Cowley

Sue Cowley is an experienced teacher, trainer, presenter, and author of over 30 books on education and parenting. She has worked in early years settings, primary and secondary schools in the UK and overseas, and provides training and consultation services to teachers and organizations worldwide.

Share this article

Discover more BlueSky Learning behaviour-focused modules here

Register for our newsletter to receive the latest BlueSky updates

Go to Top