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Substitute Insight Series: Developing Classroom Presence

Substitute teachers may be one of the most underappreciated positions in the professional world.

Getting in front of new classes can be intimidating and it takes a strong educational professional to connect with different students.

It’s important to remember that since instructional time is so important, substitute teachers are an integral part of a school’s success.

Here at Insight, we value our education professionals and want to make sure our substitute teachers feel prepared when they step into a classroom.

Read on for the first post in our Substitute Insight Series devoted to developing classroom presence.

Lesson 1: Developing Classroom Presence

Presence may take practice to develop.

Having a presence in the classroom is when a teacher is confident, stands centered and certain, so they create and generate a feeling of safety, set boundaries and mindfulness.

Mindfulness for education professionals means a state of being conscious and aware of their surroundings and students. Mindful teachers are fully present in the moment, paying full attention to their students and they are non-judgemental and compassionate.

For teachers, having presence is important as a solid classroom presence helps to manage behavior. It means students will want to listen to you because students feel a sense of security when the person managing the classroom is in control. This means they not only get the best out of their education, but they also feel they are in a safe and positive space.

Substitute teachers with strong presence can create, make or break the learning opportunities and possibilities.  So here are some techniques and strategies that you can use to help you develop your presence in the classroom.

Confidence is key

An immediate way of establishing your authority as a teacher is to enter the classroom with confidence. If you come into the room feeling worried and fearful, students may pick up on this and possibly take advantage.

We recommend teachers enter a classroom looking in command of themselves, self-assured, and giving an air of confidence. Project that you know exactly what you are going to do in that lesson.

Greet your class, settle the room down, stand tall, and look comfortable.

What’s your body language saying?

The students will have their eyes on you before you speak to them. It’s important to be cognizant of your body language as they enter the room. And remember: the skills that involve developing a presence in the classroom and body language go hand-in-hand.

When you enter the classroom, the physical decision about how you stand when opening a lesson sends a very powerful message about whether or not you can get control of the class.

Ideally, a teacher’s stance is centered. You want to make sure you are grounded in your body and not your head. You are fully present in the moment and paying attention to the way you’re standing and moving.

We advise our teachers to stand tall, with shoulders back but in a relaxed position. Facial expressions need to match the body, and it’s important to smile to connect with the class.

Crossing legs is a way of giving away power — stand with your feet planted but relaxed. Eye contact is also a powerful tool. Try to look at every member of the class throughout the lesson. Eye contact helps engage the students and help them feel recognized, something that’s particularly important and helpful for substitute teachers looking to make a connection.

Use your indoor voice(s)

Remember how a stern word or a kind turn of phrase from one of your teachers affected you? It goes without saying that different voices prompt different responses. Teacher presence is tied in with ensuring the voice gives the same messages as the words.

The voice creates a subtext for whatever someone is saying. Using one voice all the time is no good for teaching. Modulate your tone; teachers need different types of voices to elicit different types of responses from students.

Different types of voice include a firm voice to ensure you grab the attention of the classroom very quickly, and soothing, comforting advisory voice.

Relax your diaphragm and vocal cords to ensure you have a calm, deep voice. We don’t mean drop your voice artificially to a baritone, we mean focus on avoiding having a high-pitch or shouting. This voice can help to give a sense of authority and indicates that you are grounded in your body.

Try to avoid high-pitches and raised voices at all costs.

When speaking, a calm, measured pace is preferable. It helps to vary your tone and play with the natural rhythm of what you are discussing. If something is exciting, move your voice faster, and if something you’re saying is really important you can speak slowly, and perhaps take a pause.

And it may sound silly, but it works — simple warm-up exercises, such as humming or singing before you go into work can help you to control your voice. So we suggest rocking out in your car on your way to school.

Take up space

Making the most of classroom space will help you to develop your presence as a substitute teacher and manage student behavior.

Although it may be tempting to stand at the front of the class to show authority, we advise our teachers to move around the space. Teachers who are always standing at the front of the room lose half the class.

When reviewing the lesson plan left for you, we recommend thinking about where you can gain the most presence in the room at different points during the lesson. This kind of preparedness helps to engage students.

From time to time during your lesson pause and reflect on where the energy is – and isn’t – in the room.

Moving throughout the room, making eye contact with students, and projecting confidence and openness helps prevent you from giving the impression that you know all the answers. The last thing you want is to deter students from taking risks in terms of their learning and make them afraid to make mistakes.

Observe your peers

A large part of learning developing presence in the classroom is by observing outstanding teachers and repeating what they do.

We strongly encourage our substitute teachers to observe their experienced colleagues and examine the mechanics of what they do when standing before a classroom to understand what makes their lessons impactful.

Thinking about ways to develop your classroom presence will help you improve and reassess your own particular style. The more you develop your presence, the more you will garner respect in the classroom.


Thanks for reading! It’s this commitment to continuous improvement that sets Insight substitute teachers and educational professionals apart.