The teacher ‘power pose’: posture in the classroom.
21 Oct 2016
“I faced it all and I stood tall and did it my way.” – Frank Sinatra
I realise I am being a little harsh to our new Prime Minister with this rather unflattering image. Her fervent promotion of the grammar school agenda, however, results in a pretty swift loss of sympathy! Close inspection of the image reveals one striking feature of Mrs May: her posture is pretty poor, she always appears slightly hunched with her shoulders high. Apparently this generates from poor posture as a teenager, a self-conscious response to her height.
Does this have an impact on our perception of her? Does it effect how closely we listen? Does it result in us having less confidence in her as a leader?
This post was inspired by the brilliant Alex Quigley’s blog: http://www.theconfidentteacher.com/2016/10/can-power-pose-prove-confidence-cure, in which he exposes the nonsensical reality of this power pose:
If this image inspires you and fills you with confidence join the 36,945,167 people who have watched Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk on how to implement this ‘life changing’ pose: https://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are?language=en. Warning: you will have to wear the outfit.
Quigley rightly highlights that this ‘quick fix’ to inspiring improved confidence in the face of challenge is, of course, too quick to be true. Confidence and self esteem cannot be solved by anything so artificial and simplistic. In fact, using such attempts to seek to inspire confidence through “power posing” can only lead to ludicrous moments like this (apologies again Mrs May, this is getting a bit vicious!)
Or even better, employed here by her old chum George Osborne. Did they practise together?
Now, while giving me a good chuckle, these images did get me thinking about posture and perception. To what extent are our students influenced by our posture in the classroom? Does it impact their confidence in us; how carefully they listen and respond to our teaching? Is there any correlation between effective behaviour management and effective posture? Also, how does how we stand impact our own self-perception and confidence with a group of students? An interesting study was ‘The Effects of Posture on Self-Perceived Leadership’ by the University of Carolina which “confirmed the prediction that posing in a positive, upright posture lead individuals to rate themselves higher in leadership than posing in a negative, slouched posture.”(http://ijbssnet.com/journals/Vol_3_No_14_Special_Issue_July_2012/2.pdf)
I also suffer to an extent from Mayposturedom: hunched shoulders and poor posture combined with years of football and running have taken their toll. Add to this the thousands of hours hunched over student workbooks and the tension and stress that are the bread and butter of teaching and the issue confounds itself. It gets to this stage in the term and it is (cue violin solo) fairly uncomfortable, I am perpetually bent over, shoulders hunched and neck full of tension. Reading this description of Crooks in Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men’ was a bit close to home a couple of weeks ago:
“In one hand he held a bottle of liniment, and with the other he rubbed his spine. Now and then he poured a few drops of the liniment into his pink-palmed hand and reached up under his shirt to rub again. He flexed his muscles against his back and shivered.”
So over the past couple of weeks, like a phoenix from the flames, I have started to rise again. I have started to make conscious and determined steps to stop slouching and stand and sit straighter. I have started to pull down those irritating shoulders that appear to want to socialise with my ears, I have started to mark with a straighter back; resisting the desire to land face down in the books. I have started to stand tall in my teaching, started to embody cool, calm, collected authority. Apparently, all the smug postureittes say that this should feel “seamless” and “relaxed”, not like the rigid tin man I have become. The repetition of starting is deliberate: this is a very slow and painful process that is stretching my will power to breaking point!
I have had posture checkers in my lessons, students who point out if I and others are not sitting or standing tall. They and my wife (chief posture nagger and of course model of splendid, easeful posture) have enjoyed this project far too much, now giving me a range of non-verbal signals to get me to stand straighter. I was even, after much angst, deliberation and fear, the first ever male attendee at the yoga club that runs on a Thursday after school in our school. Still slightly scarred (nobody thought to mention the straps and paired yoga) and still aching in places I didn’t even know existed, but I will be back.
So, had this demonstrably changed me as a person? Am I now a vision of self confidence, any insecurity dissolved into my elongated spine? Are my students now like proverbial lambs, meekly complying with every instruction because of the force of posture behind it? Do the corridors part in awe as I glide through them, the vision of stately wisdom? Not quite. But it has made me think reflect on the value of good posture in the classroom:
Increased assertiveness: good posture can covey calm, confident control – surely what we all aspire to! Standing tall has had some impact in how comfortable and confident I have felt when delivering instructions from the front. It has also helped with the sense of feeling like more of a ‘presence’ at the front of the room. Hopefully it has helped in giving teacher led talk and instructions more of a sense of clarity – or perhaps students are too busy preparing themselves to tell me off about my posture to pay attention!
Increased concentration: Apparently a study completed Colorado College showed that male students with the best sitting posture scored higher on tests than students who slouched http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200710/primarysources/2 Tomi Ann Roberts Ph.D, lead study author, stated that “an upright posture makes people feel dominant and successful, which in turn improves their ability to relax and focus on problems.” Not sure if I completely buy that, but standing straight has indeed made me feel more alert and to a certain degree more focussed on what is going on around me. Certainly not relaxed though!
Reduces tension: To confess, I am still waiting in hope for this one. Better posture = less tension according to postureittes. Apparently straightening your posture can strengthen the muscles on the back of your neck and shoulders. Once the tin man stiffness dissipates I can see how this would happen. The yoga style stance is slowly starting to feel more easeful and relaxing, we will see if this pays off! I can also see this perhaps having an impact with more challenging students, particularly in maintaining a dispassionate calm.
Role modelling: I am forever telling my students off for slouching, particularly when writing. Standing tall models to them the sense of being focussed and upright. Really focussing on this has also encouraged students to do the same – we are now embracing a stand tall, sit up philosophy in the classroom!
A man who exudes good posture, assertiveness and appeal is of course Barak Obama. A quick look, however, at a range of Obama’s early speeches, including this one from 1995 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w5JlqDnoqlo, do not demonstrate the posture and body language he is now so widely respected as a public speaker for. Good news then: it is a skill that can be honed and developed. I would argue that it can indeed have a real impact on sense of control and calm in the classroom. So while the idea of an instant “power pose” is indeed nonsense, self-awareness and practise regarding posture can have a positive impact, and perception and posture are intrinsically interlinked. Thank you for reading, I’m off to do some yoga.