Teachers: take a seat!

The first time I sat while presenting a lesson was at the end of my first semester of teaching four years ago.

On this particular day, I was recovering from a flu and was literally too tired to stand. I collapsed into a chair and sat at eye level with my first-year Advertising students. I don’t remember the subject of the lesson, but I clearly recall that students enjoyed it and that they were engaged. I remember one particularly endearing young woman declaring at the end, “Frank, you should teach sick more often. You’re funny and fun.”

At the time, that student’s comment perplexed me. Looking back, however, I realize that sitting—not perched up high on a desk, but at the students’ eye level—can have a number of positive effects on a class dynamic. It can make the instructor feel more informal and it shifts the balance of power so that students can also feel more relaxed.

I haven’t yet studied the teacher-student power dynamic in my M.Ad.Ed. research, but I’m keen to do so. I’m pretty sure that it’s adult education professor Jack Mezirow who has written extensively on the balance of power between student and teacher. Meanwhile, I’ve been doing some of my own experimenting: Often, when we do an exercise in class, I sit down in a swivel chair in the middle of the room.

Jack Mezirow has studied extensively the balance of power in the classroom

In business psychology, it’s well known that one way to diminish the confidence of opponents is to have them sit while you stand over them. Certainly, standing before a classroom of sitting students can have the same effect.

So this simple gesture of teaching a class while sitting changes the atmosphere of the class almost every time. There’s a lot more laughing and good humour and I’m pretty sure I’m seeing more hands stretching up to answer questions. I am certain that seeing me sit makes it less intimidating for students to ask and answer questions.

I wouldn’t recommend that everybody do this. For sure, there must be mutual respect between students and teacher for this to work.

Indeed, I taught a lesson sitting down on Friday. It was on comma splices, a normally dry subject. But we had fun. Students seemed to really understand the lesson and even enjoy it.

Now, don’t forget that this was a lesson about comma splices.

So, come on teachers, don’t be afraid to give away some of your power.

Take a seat. Use that power by sharing it and to energize your lessons and to take a load off everyone.


About teachingteacher

Business communications instructor, journalist, corporate communications writer and media trainer ... and Masters Candidate M.Ad.Ed.
This entry was posted in adult education, Reflective Practice and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Teachers: take a seat!

  1. The students are so lucky to have you. I wish more teachers were as thoughtful and reflective.

  2. Awww… Thanks, Kathy… It’s not fun if I’m not learning and growing!

  3. Stephie says:

    Do you think clothing makes a difference too? I recall you’re a business casual kind of guy. But what do you think it would be like if you were in a suit, or jeans and a tshirt? Or a loud Hawaiian shirt?

    • Good question, Stephie. Clothing can make the difference. When I first started teaching, I always wore a dress shirt and tie, trousers, and polished leather shoes. I also shaved every day without fail. Now I’m a bit more casual and have tossed aside the tie and dress shirt for khakis or nice jeans and more casual collared shirts (sometimes I even forget to shave—egad!). New teachers may feel they need every edge they can get and, indeed, it’s been proven that formal attire helps a person to command respect. I’d suggest that teachers dress the way they sense is necessary to feel competent and confident. I feel comfortable as a teacher now, so the fancy dress has gone out the window ;).

  4. liammoorecoaching says:

    Hi Frank, If you’re looking at power dynamics and transformative learning you might want to look at the following if you haven’t seen it which is a collection of essays edited by Mezirow. I’ve found the chapters by Belenky and Stanton (which would relate well to your experience of quieter students in your piece on ‘one-to-one’s with students), and Stephen Brookfield really helpful. Good luck and thanks for visiting!

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