How to develop teacher presence and command attention in your class
Whatever your personality type, as a teachers you are a performer and the classroom is your stage. Success can depend on the kind of “show” you put on. Being in the spotlight does not come naturally to everyone. It can be frightening and your nerves can make you behave differently but anyone can learn the art of creating teacher presence.
“Presence” is a vague term, but learning how to use presence could create a more effective classroom and strengthen your relationship with your pupils.
Broadly speaking “presence” means being able to use your personality, voice and body to command attention. Teachers are not actors but as public speakers and communicators, you will be more successful if pupils find your lessons memorable and if you have good interpersonal skills. You can develop your interpersonal skills and learn how to create your own identity to help you connect with pupils.
Be well prepared for class
Being well prepared for your class will enable you to feel in control, which will enhance your teacher presence and facilitate rapport with students.
Establishing rapport with students will build a stronger teacher presence and create a productive learning environment.
Motivate students to learn
If students feel motivated to learn, they will engage more actively in class discussions and activities which will facilitate deep learning.
You as the storyteller
Think of yourself as a storyteller, conveying a secret through your teaching.
- Vary your language: use active verbs to create excitement and an emotional response.
- Create anticipation or intrigue with props or timing, letting each activity be revealed one at a time.
- Appear energetic and eager to talk about your subject. It might be the thousandth time you have taught a topic, but behave as if you are enjoying yourself. Enthusiasm is contagious.
- Adjust the tone and volume of your voice to convey emotion and alter the pace of the lesson.
Exercises you can practice at home
- Breathe in and hold for three seconds. As you breathe out, project your voice and say the days of the week; then try the months; then the alphabet. This helps you to speak from the chest, not from the back of the throat.
- To seem authoritative, practice your breathing to find your “home note” – your own distinctive voice – from your chest.
- Stand in a grounded way. To find your “centre”, stand with feet apart and bend your knees slightly.
- Lengthen your spine. Stand as if your head is being pulled up by a string. Hunching reduces your capacity to breathe properly.
- Release tension by swinging your arms from your shoulders. You can extend this to “shake out” your whole body.
- To calm breathing, raise your arms slowly as you breathe in, and bring them down again while exhaling and making a “ssshh” sound.
- To check you are breathing from your diaphragm, try stamping your foot while shouting “ha” as you breathe out.
- Imagine you are blowing up a balloon with a long, slow, outward breath through the mouth until there is no air left in your lungs. Then, on the in breath, through the nose, imagine you are smelling a bunch of flowers.
- Think about eye contact – aim to look open and receptive. Make eye contact with your pupils, even if you are shy.
- Scale your physical presence up or down.
- Use gestures to punctuate what you say and move around in the space if you want to create a bigger presence. This helps you to appear strong and confident.
- To create an aura around yourself, stay still and cast a net around the room with your eyes.
- To bring your energy into the room, stand with your feet planted and say “I am here”, taking one step with each word. Tread firmly on the floor and say the words out loud.
Varied use of space
- Teach from the back of the classroom.
- Kneel or crouch down between desks or at the front of the room.
- Sit at a desk, on the floor or on a chair or table.
- Try entering the pupils’ physical space; sit next to them, lean on their desks, walk slowly between desks.
Adopt a relaxed and positive facial expression
- Give yourself a facial massage, concentrating on your forehead, cheeks and jaw.
- Practise relaxing and using your facial muscles by widening eyes, puffing out cheeks, stretching your mouth into different shapes and flexing your chin. Now scrunch up your face as tightly as possible.
- Move your eyebrows up and down. Try to move one at a time.
- Break into a big grin with wide eyes.
Finally, to appear confident in your body language and 'own the space', make sure that you remind yourself that you have the right to be where you are! You have no need to apologise to anyone. To convey confidence, be sure to:
- Square your shoulders
- Breathe from your abdomen
- Look people in the eye
- Contain your gestures
- Hold your head high
- Open your chest
- Let your arms rest by your sides
- Enjoy the sense of calm confidence.