Cultivate charisma and command attention

4th January 2013 at 00:00

The debate over whether teachers need to be lion tamers or scholars when it comes to entertaining, educating and controlling their classes is not new.

But the days are gone when throwing chairs or even pencils to quell a student uprising was an option. And many teachers have learned the hard way that "befriending" pupils is equally not the best way to impart knowledge or build respect.

What most teachers are likely to have experienced, however, is a pang of envy at colleagues who seem to have an effortless Mr Chips or Miss Jean Brodie effect on their pupils; mesmerising them with charm.

It used to be thought that charisma was an elusive quality; that you either had it or you didn't. But there's new evidence that presence - or at least the techniques behind it - can indeed be learned. And in matters of the classroom it's become a very hot topic.

Pupils are said to be subconsciously influenced by a teacher's body language (how you stand); the tone of your voice (at the right pitch to conjure authority); whether you gesticulate wildly (appropriate when trying to convey energy and enthusiasm); or have the ability to use silence to punctuate a point or encourage pupils to think.

Does it work? Well, a growing number of people seem to think so, and not only in academic circles. Indeed, drama training - with its emphasis on deep breathing, creating a sense of confidence and poise, and controlled voice projection - is increasingly being seen as a tool by business leaders, politicians and others in the public arena.

A plethora of self-help books is available, including Your Voice and How to Use It (once the preserve of actors) and Acting Lessons for Teachers. There are a growing number of courses, too.

You might initially find the idea of growling like a puppy, gurning like a Victorian sideshow freak or stamping your foot while shouting "ha" (among the exercises recommended for stretching and relaxing your facial muscles) a little alien at first. But at least you don't have to do them in public.

Jo Knowsley is acting editor of TESpro @tes.

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