QUICK READ: Top 5 confidence hacks for students

Confidence isn’t something that has ever come naturally to me. It’s something that I’ve had to, and continue, to work on daily and as such, I’ve absorbed a scary amount of self-help material. Because of this, I’ve gained a really useful tool-set when working with students who struggle with the same issues. The methods below have really worked for me personally, and they’ve always been well-received with my students too!

Here are 5 top tips to gain instant confidence:

  1. Tony Robbins tells you to imagine that you’re wearing an invisible cape – like a superhero. Seriously. If I’m ever feeling low, I put my cape on and turn around to see it flapping in the wind. Your body language changes entirely. What can I say? I’ve always fancied myself in a bat-suit.
  2. Tell yourself – it’s not nerves, it’s excitement. In nerve-wracking situations that used to terrify me (job interviews, public speaking etc.) I would practise deep breathing and tell myself I was calm. My brain just didn’t buy it – what my body was feeling was the opposite of calm. As the symptoms of excitement and anxiety are the same, it’s much easier to just repeat in your head, ‘I’m so excited!’
  3. Step into the moment. If you’re having a wobble, distract yourself by noticing your surroundings – really noticing… like you’re a new born baby or an alien. Stare at the sofa/carpet/sandwhich as if you’ve never seen anything like it. Examine the way it looks, smells, feels, sounds, tastes – just be warned that if you taste the sofa, people may start to worry about your sanity.
  4. When you’re full of self-doubt/paranoia/fear and anxiety, think about what you would say to a friend in this situation, and say it to yourself. A lot of us find it easy to motivate and inspire our friends when they’re down, but don’t extend the same kindness, patience or sympathy to ourselves. Treat yourself like you’re a good pal, apply reason and show yourself some self-love.
  5. Recite a mantra in your head. For years, I was super skeptical about mantras. I likened them to incantations and pictured myself talking to the mirror like Bruce Willis in Friends: “I am a neat guy!” Then, a couple of years ago, I listened to the audio-book of Susan Jeffers, ‘Feel the Fear and Do it anyway.’ When I heard her happy, confident mantra, “I’ll handle it,” on my way to school, I realised that if I really believed that I could handle any situation – any presentation, difference of opinion with colleagues, argumentative colleague, last-minute deadline – then although the actual tasks would still be there, their negative emotional pull on me wouldn’t be. Whenever I start to feel like it’s too much and I can’t cope, I force a smile and tell myself, “I’ll handle it.”

Here’s what has worked for me, but everyone is different. If you’ve found success with any of the methods above, or have an alternative tip to share, comment below!

Teachers: are you paying attention to your own body language?

Body language: It’s one of those things that you learn about when you’re mid-way through teacher-training, in between crying over your lesson reviews, future plans and endless piles of marking. And while we all find it very interesting, for many staff, it’s often one of those things that we just never make time to come back to and review.

At least, not in respect to ourselves.

We’re absolute pros at analysing, commenting on and correcting the body language of our students. I can tell you what pupils X, Y and Z will be doing in each of my classes, depending on the time of day and topic covered, before they even know themselves they’re going to do it. Like many, I even have a bag of tricks complete with stress balls, doodle pads and blue tack for some of my more attentionally-challenged students.

And I know I’m not alone. For many teachers, assessing body language of pupils is a fundamental aspect of teaching a good lesson. Aside from a way of maintaining listening, it’s incredibly useful in assessing the mood of the class, their levels of interest/curiosity in the topic and task, and of course, actually judging whether you’ve pitched the lesson right and they’re actually going to be able to understand and complete what you’re asking of them.

But what about our own body language? Personally, I think I did have to put a lot of thought into my own body language when I started out, mainly because I was a nervous wreck. By the end of my PGCE year, I could barely hold a conversation without having a panic attack – I was fully in the midst of ‘Social Anxiety’ and seriously re-considering if teaching was really the right vocation for a frail little flower like me. But after a course of CBT(Cognitive Behaviour Therapy), I was willing to think of body language as something that I actually had control over. More importantly, I realised that just as I would tend to think and feel a certain way, and unconsciously hold my body in a way that demonstrated and enhanced this feeling; equally, I could adopt a positive stance and hold my body in a confident position, and actually trick my brain into feeling the positive emotions associated with this.

This TED talk is one of my favourites – I’ve watched it again and again, especially if I’m feeling a little apprehensive about an upcoming meeting or presentation. Amy Cuddy completely reinforces the idea that you can control and use your body language to ‘fake it until you become it.’

As she reports, her team have tested people in a lab, asking them to strike either low-power poses or high-power poses for 2 minutes, before giving them a series of tasks to complete. Remarkably, her results showed that the power posers averaged a 20% chemical increase in testosterone as well as a 25% cortisol drop. On the contrary, the low-power posers, saw a testosterone drop of 10% and an increase in cortisol of 15%. As a social anxious teacher, facing ‘the mob’ in the classroom along with a series of fairly stressful adult-interactions, I really found this information to be invaluable.

As Amy says, this information would probably prove most useful to people in ‘threat situations’ like when you’re about to give a presentation, or go to a job interview.  Whether facing difficult classes, unpleasant conversations with staff, parents or school leaders, or giving presentations to adults, for many school staff, ‘threat situations’ can be a regular part of school life. And whilst I prefer to think of them as ‘charm challenges’ rather than ‘threat situations’ myself, a good high-power pose certainly doesn’t hurt either way (I’d just suggest doing the ‘Wonder Woman’ in the disabled loo to avoid strange looks!)

For me, when I’m lined up on ‘death row’ at the front of staff INSET training in the hall, waiting to speak to a sea of tired, cynical faces, I just do a quick body-scan and ensure that I’m sitting like I’m a really relaxed, confident person. And I’ve got to say, it really works for me in this situation, and I feel much less nervous, particularly at the beginning of the presentation which is when the real anxiety always used to hit; I loosen up much more quickly and find my body language really opens up and flows throughout; I actually genuinely enjoy presenting to adults much more than I did previously, something that I previously would have never thought possible.

In a classroom situation, it’s a little different. Though there are peaks and dips throughout the lesson depending on if you’re speaking to one student, one rebellious student, lots of students, or lots of rebellious students… really, you need some solid body-language skills to get you through the lesson.

Thankfully, Ofsted have long-since moved away from the idea that teachers has to be some kind of loud, tap-dancing narcissist in order to get a good lesson grading, allowing the more introverted  of us to rely on exciting planning and solid behaviour management strategies instead. But still, researchers argue that over 90% of our communication is apparently based on non-verbals; thus whether you’re naturally a lion tamer or shrinking violet, you can’t afford to ignore this aspect of your teaching if you want engaged, well-behaved pupils.

So whether you’re a struggling teacher in training or an experienced staff member facing the toughest class of your career; or anyone, in any profession or role that deal with these ‘charm challenges’ on a regular basis, it’s a good idea to take half an hour out of your day to watch this TED talk and have a really good think about your body language.

Ask yourself – are you consciously controlling your posture/expressions/movement? Are you using your body effectively to support successful teaching? Does your body language help you to manage behaviour, or does it send mixed messages? Does it encourage interest in the lesson, or boredom?

Be honest – if you were one of your own students, would you be one of the engaged or the disengaged? If your school has any capacity to film lessons and watch them back (it only needs to be you watching!) this is a fantastic way to take note of what your body is unconsciously doing, albeit horrifying when you hear your voice/see your hair from the back/realise that you say ‘Okaaayyyyy’ every few minutes like a deranged parrot.

To this day, I swear that the reason I ended up doing A levels and eventually a degree in History, despite being much better at other subjects, was the passion and curiosity instilled in me by my high-school History teacher. That man had crazy hair and was constantly scratching his privates; but he also leapt – physically leapt– around the room with excitement for his subject. And as a result, my rather attention-challenged mind soaked up every single word that he said.

Ultimately, if you want your students, colleagues and people to listen to the words coming out of your mouth, then you need to have a serious think about the message your body is sending out as well.