How to Have a Big Presence

To tell the truth, I was often frightened to walk into a new classroom of middle school students or inmates. I often felt too small for the task—too short, too introverted, too soft-of-voice, too out-of-touch with the culture. My impulse was to constrict my presence, tamp it down, mute it. But in order for me to survive and my students to thrive, I needed to bring a robust presence into the classroom.

So how could I build this kind of a presence with a pit in my stomach? At the most basic level, I had to change my focus—to think less of myself and more of my students. What did they need? What were their experiences? How did they think? How could I help them learn?

But beyond shifting my thoughts away from myself toward others, I also found a series of small practices that helped me exude a bigger presence. Here are a few. Some of these may work for your next daunting class:

  • Stand tall—Good posture made a difference. It lifted my confidence, gave me energy, helped me catch a breath, and, most important, sent messages to my brain and to my students that maybe, just maybe, I could teach this class.
  • Inhabit the whole classroom—Getting out from behind the podium, leaving the security of my desk signaled to students that I wasn’t intimidated by them, that I wanted to be with them. Walking through the rows as I read aloud, perching on a stool by the side of the room to lead a discussion, talking from the back of the room about a diagram on the front Smart Board, sitting on a low stool beside a student desk—all these vantage points decreased distance between me and the students, making us more comfortable with each other.
  • Use sound—My voice isn’t big, but I could play loud music as students entered class. I could slam a door and then smile when they looked up. I could ring a bell. All these sounds helped me save my voice for teaching, not waste it on controlling.

These simple measures helped me to become more expansive in the classroom, more alive, exude a bigger presence. And they helped students settle in to learning.

One Reply to “How to Have a Big Presence”

  1. Wow! What good advice! I sure could identify with feeling introverted and that my voice was too quiet or in my case, difficult to understand. Been told that sometimes my words are kind of garbled. Doesn’t help me have the confidence I need, I did use a bell to help keep noise down (I was the one being loud) when I worked in the library at Clinton Christian.


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