What Does Your Thin Slice Say? (Clinton in the Classroom Part 2)

(This is part 2 of a 2 part series… First One is here )

Whats Your Thin Slice?

Think about what impression you are giving to your students.   Science has a name for the snap judgments that our brains make when they first interact with someone. The term is thin-slicing, which was developed by Nalini Ambady at Tufts University. She videotaped over a dozen teachers teaching a lesson. She then cut the video clip into 30 second bites. This clip was shown to people and she asked to judge the effectiveness of the teacher. She then compared the participants’ responses to what the actual students indicated in their end of semester evaluations. Astonishingly, the viewers accurately evaluated the effectiveness of these teachers from the 30 second clip![1]

However, Ambady didn’t stop there. She then continued to cut the clips to fifteen seconds and then to only six seconds. Each time the viewers of the clips rated the effectiveness of the teachers almost as accurately! She suggests that better teachers might be better in their ability to spontaneously communicate nonverbal information.[2]


(Get Your Grit Builders Worksheets Here)


Class Hacker Tip: Don’t guess what you look like in class. Videotape yourself. All professional athletes do it and so should you. It will increase your Teacher Credibility after your first viewing. Use the checklist here  to see how you are doing. Watch the film and try to disengage yourself personally. Objectively watch for what is going well and what needs to be improved. Don’t be defensive or get upset at yourself if what you see is not great. That is how you improve as a teacher!

Key Takeaways

  • Charisma = Power, Presence, Warmth
  • Charisma is synonymous with Teacher Credibility
  • Charisma can be taught
  • Power is influence over the situation
  • Avoid power struggles, videotape your lessons, and use the checklist above


            How often are your thoughts wondering when you are in conversation? People can tell this on an unconscious basis. Stay present throughout the day with your students. I used to be in my head all the time when I was teaching. Thinking about later that night or earlier that morning.   When something did not go right in class, I got upset with myself and secretly wondered, “Am I a good teacher?” As soon as your mind starts wandering and you start time traveling (thinking about the past or the future), you are no longer present and become uncharismatic.

Presence can only truly be felt if you eliminate these thoughts. If you find your mind wandering, a quick tip from Olivia Fox Cabane is to “think about the sensation in your toes.” This forces your brain to sweep through your entire body. It helps get you back in the moment.

Meditation is another way to train your brain to present with the students. Mindfulness meditation and other forms of meditation allow the practitioner to experience presence. There are many other benefits to meditation. I meditate every morning to begin the day in calm. Meditation is like a bicep curl for the brain.

Bicep curls bring me to my next point: teachers should exercise daily! Gets your mind and body going for the day. Ever notice that feeling after working out. You know the “I can take on the world” feeling. You need that before you start teaching for the day. Three years ago I started working out before school and I will never go back. Well, I might go back if I am incapacitated in someway, but I won’t go back willingly.

This digression probably could have been written under Power, but it is important to exercise and will help you with your presence because you will not be thinking, “Man, these kids are stressing me out and I still have to exercise after work!” So exercise, and increase your presence!

A few more tips for presence:

  • Attempt to reduce distance between yourself and students by moving or by moving away from barriers such as desks or lecterns.
  • Seek to understand the student’s situations and factor that into the lessons
  • Keep eye contact with the class. When you speak, look at a particular student in the eye and try to notice his or her eye color before moving on to look at another student.
  • If a student seems disengaged, kindly call on him to participate. This lets everyone know that you are paying attention to everyone in class.

[1] Ambady, N., & Rosenthal, R. (n.d.). Half A Minute: Predicting Teacher Evaluations From Thin Slices Of Nonverbal Behavior And Physical Attractiveness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 431-441.

[2] Ambady, N., & Rosenthal, R. (n.d.). Half A Minute: Predicting Teacher Evaluations From Thin Slices Of Nonverbal Behavior And Physical Attractiveness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 431-441.

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