Body language essentials for teachers

Amy Cuddy teaches at the Harvard Business School and studies, among other things, the effect of body language – not just on others, but on ourselves. In this TED video, she demonstrates the effect of consciously using body language to change your own mindset:

I occasionally teach teachers how to teach, especially case teaching or discussion-based teaching. A recurring problem for many teachers – particularly the younger ones, when they start out – is a feeling of nervousness, sometimes quite severe. This nervousness makes them want to take control in the classroom, to script their presentations, to make sure that they have every angle covered – precisely the behavior that is most detrimental to running a good discussion-based class, where the teacher trusts the class and relies on the students to provide drive and perspective, facilitating rather than driving the discussion.

Overcoming nervousness is not easy, but I have found that the techniques mentioned by Cuddy work. For instance, I tell teachers to check out the classroom, lecture hall, meeting room, whatever, ahead of time – and make a change to something. When I am giving a speech or teaching a class, I will almost always change something in the room when I come it: I’ll set the boards just so, adjust the lighting, get rid of the “protection table” that so many teachers put between themselves and the students, grab a stack of books or a soda crate to build a stand for my laptop. These changes I do because I want them, but also because they are my way of asserting power in the room – telling myself that I own this room for the duration.

The two-minute power stances advocated by Cuddy work well and should be used by any teacher – go to the bathroom before class, lock the door and stand tall by yourself for a little. The difference can be quite dramatic – and the students will notice it. This is especially important if it is the first time they see you – research has found that the first 30 seconds students see a teacher are extremely important for their opinion about him or her.

Stand tall, that you may teach well. Just a little will go a long way.

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