Teacher Proximity and Mobility

Team of elementary age children drawing

Think about the last time you were driving along on the freeway and suddenly looked into the rear view mirror to find a police car behind you. Perhaps his mere presence (depending on how fast you were going) evoked a response in you, shooting some adrenaline through your veins, even if only for a second. You quickly remind yourself to slow down, check your seatbelt, and give your undivided attention to all the rules of the road.

Today’s PCM, Teacher Proximity and Mobility, also known as, “teach like the floor’s on fire”, can have the same effect on the students in your classroom!

Walk into any well-managed classroom and you’ll see a teacher who knows the art of balancing rigorous, firm expectations with forming a relationship-centered environment where kids are eager to learn. There are many tools at our disposal to help maintain that balance. Physical proximity and mobility is one tool that can be a game-changer.

A teacher can use his/her presence (proximity) to convey care and support, give a subtle reminder for redirection, or even offer praise to a well-deserving student. Moving intentionally throughout the room (mobility) not only increases on-task behavior, but it allows the teacher to get a pulse on students’ understanding of the lesson, as well.

Put another way, teachers who don’t use mobility and proximity very well run the risk of being unaware of misbehavior, wasting valuable class time correcting and redirecting, while possibly even encouraging students to be off-task.

Proximity to students is an effective and simple corrective procedure that is free, easy, and takes no prep! All you do is get out from behind your teacher desk and walk the room!

OK, it’s a little more strategic than that (keep reading for some tips)…

Management Tips for Proximity and Mobility:

Consider furniture placement

Is it easy for you to walk a pathway between the student desks? Is it set up so that you are able to stop and help a student or a group, while not turning your back on the others? Do your best with what you have, but if you can, change what you can, to encourage a better flow and facilitate movement.

Reflect on your own tendencies 

Do you tend to stay up at the board/near your desk during much of the period? Is there a way you can shorten the length of time where you are at a standstill? Do you tend to gravitate to the same students? Ask a teammate if they could come watch you one day and sketch your pattern, or videotape yourself and watch it!

Set expectations early 

Your physical presence is a reminder to students of what has already been established. Students who have been taught clear expectations already know what to do, and chances are high that just seeing you walk toward them is enough to nudge them back on-task without you ever saying a word.

Get close, but don’t hover 

Stand close enough that students know your presence, but without remaining near a student for too long and making it awkward. Although one or two students may be your “targets”, make sure to circulate to many other students, as well. It’s not always about “catching them being bad”. It’s also about being there in case anyone needs your help.

Use words sparingly 

Let your movement toward their area do the talking, at least initially. Then if they don’t “catch the hint”, bend down to eye level and speak to them respectfully and with empathy, but firmly restate the expected behavior (and consequence, should they choose to ignore it).


More than Redirection: 

Proximity and Mobility as a strategy isn’t only for redirecting behavior. Here are some other benefits:

  • It’s an opportunity to praise students who are exhibiting good behavior and/or showing excellent focus on a task.
  • It helps you connect with the “shy” students who don’t normally ask questions.
  • It helps you know what’s going on, giving you formative data about the level of your students’ comprehension of the lesson.
  • It maintains the flow of instruction because you don’t have to stop to disrupt the entire class to change the behaviors of a few.
  • It’s an effective support for ANY student – from your on-grade-level students, to those with lower academic skills, your English language learners, students with disabilities, just plain daydreamers, and everyone in between.
  • It keeps engagement high as you circulate around the room intermittently.
  • If redirection must be done, it preserves students’ dignity.

Hopefully, you can find many opportunities in your classroom to get on your feet and connect with your students more this week!

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