Make Your Presence Felt

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John Dabell

I trained as a primary school teacher 25 years ago, starting my career in London and then I taught in a range of schools in the Midlands. In between teaching jobs, I worked as an Ofsted inspector (no hate mail please!), national in-service provider, project...
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Do you have classroom presence?

Every teacher would like to say yes to this question but not everyone does. Classroom presence is the most important aspect of classroom management and pupils value a teacher who has it over someone who doesn’t.

Teachers with presence stand out a mile. They command effortless respect, they have a certain vibe, a particular energy and that special je ne sais quoi. They carry themselves with understated authority and they ooze natural energy, humour and everyone knows they are the captain of the ship and they are in safe hands.

There is also something uniquely unspoken that exists between teachers with presence and pupils and something that people with charisma tend to produce. It’s a synthesis of respect, affinity, deference and admiration. There is a connection. Pupils will definitely behave differently towards teachers with presence compared to those who are merely present.

Presence Of Mind

Rob Salter knows a thing or two about presence. In his book Classroom Presence he says,

“Presence is the effect created by your teacher persona.”

Rob reminds us that the persona is the vehicle and presence is the effect. He continues,

“On walking into their classrooms, many successful teachers seem to put on an old, familiar coat – their teaching persona. The minute they enter the room their voice, tone, posture and attitude transform. “

If you are a high status teacher then you will have the class eating out of your hand. This doesn’t necessarily come with more air miles and loads of experience, it’s your persona that counts.  He draws the comparison between two teachers, Jean and Jane who just so happen to be chalk and cheese.

Meet Jean

Voice: high pitch

Breathing: shallow, throat

Movement: jerky, fidgeting

Emotions: angry, red face

Appearance: messy

Position: all over the room

Meet Jane

Voice: slow and low

Breathing: from stomach

Movement: still, centred

Emotions: calm in control

Appearance: smart

Position: front, centre

No Time Like The Present

Rob reassures the ‘Jeans’ of this world that it is possible to be more like  a ‘Jane’ and his book provides plenty of advice for conducting a self-audit, improving your self-awareness and stepping up your status to give you more of an edge and presence. These gems of wisdom cover a lot of ground and run through assertiveness, rapport, connections, voice, costume and control. He also refers to Patsy Rodenberg’s ‘three circles of energy’ from her book Presence. She says that “Great teachers teach in the second circle”, a place where there is a real connection between pupils. This energy of connecting is where a teacher will “connect with and is passionate about their material” and enables pupils to do the same.

What this book reminds me of though is the theory of marginal gains. It feels like it has come from the ministry of nudges and is asking us to look at ourselves forensically so we can develop a little here and a little there and improve our classroom performance. There is more than enough to go at in Rob Salter’s book and it would be crazy to try everything at once but focusing on ourselves with more intent bit by bit could add up to remarkable improvements and make a real difference.

The X-Factor

You’ve either got ‘it’ or you haven’t. That’s what some folks think and I think they’re right. Whilst it might be possible to add a few percent here and there I think you can only go so far. You could try and fake it until you make it but the x-factor is something you just naturally have.

If there is certainly one aspect of ourselves that we all need to focus on more and that is our non-verbal communication.

Take a look at what social psychologist Amy Cuddy has to say about ‘power posing’ and how standing in a posture of confidence (standing like a starfish), even when we don’t feel confident, can really make all the difference and give us Presence. It’s what you don’t say that really counts in setting the tone of a classroom.

Amy Cuddy says in her book that we need to nudge ourselves, moment by moment, by tweaking our body language, behaviour, and mind-set and presence will follow.

How do you know if you have achieved presence? Amy talks about a teacher who once told her,

“I was teaching and I realized that I was no longer thinking about what they were thinking of me. I was just thinking about what they were thinking.”



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