• Educating Gender

The Power Pose!! Giving Everyone their Space in the Classroom


Guest Blogger: Jessica Laux Yaffe


“You should watch this TED talk I saw on power poses,” a friend told me when I expressed my anxiety at teaching a solo lesson to my 5th grade class. “It’ll help you feel more confident.”


This is not the first time I have gotten this recommendation this year from a friend or relative. It isn’t the first time I have gotten this recommendation in my scholastic career. The TED talk is from 2012, by Amy Cuddy, and based on the 2010 research paper she published with Dana Carney and Andy Yap. The whole practice fell out of favor due to other researchers not being able to recreate the original paper’s results. However, it is still very much making the rounds on social media.

So, in the past few weeks, when I felt particularly nervous about an upcoming interview for a fellowship opportunity, I watched it. The concept itself was interesting. The primary school of thought is that our body language governs how we think and feel about ourselves, and how we hold our bodies can have an impact on our minds. So, people who take up more space with their arms and legs (a high power pose) will release more testosterone and feel more confident than people who naturally sit or stand leaning inward or cross their legs (a low power pose).

While this advice seems like it would be more successful at combating a mountain lion than a case of stage fright, I still found myself power-posing in my apartment as I got ready the day of my interview. Did it help my confidence? Unclear. But after my interview, I started to think more about the video and some of the unintentional messages about gender it conveys.

I now try every day to ignore the lounging so long as the class still seems to be engaged in the lesson. It’s still a work in progress, but I’m seeing that the girls are starting to act like they have more room in the class. Room to joke, room to relax, and room to lounge if they want.

The primary factor behind power poses is space. People who take up more space feel more confident. As Amy Cuddy mentions in her TED talk, she observed with her MBA students that the men automatically take up more space when they sit, and therefore they are more confident. While her women students tend to take up less space and therefore have a lack of confidence. She states, “Women feel chronically less powerful than men.”

I should mention at this point that all the people who recommended power posing to me were all female. This is not a video that men share with one another. Which is exactly my point. The pattern in this power pose is that there is a direct correlation between high power poses and men.

I think about this as I assist with my 5th grade class. The girls in the class tend to sit “properly” in their plastic chairs, while the boys are more likely to lounge in theirs. “The 5th grade boys here are naturally squirrely,” I remember another teacher telling me during orientation week. “You’re going to have to accept some movement from them.” I realize I had internalized that notion, and I now note my tendency to call out the girls in my class over the boys for not paying attention when they slouch or wobble or lounge in their chairs. As a result, the girls of my class tend to be more focused than the boys. They actively participate and joke around less, but I don’t know what my constant monitoring of their posture is doing to their self confidence in the long run. Or what it is doing to the boys I am allowing to remain unfocused.

I now try every day to ignore the lounging so long as the class still seems to be engaged in the lesson. It’s still a work in progress, but I’m seeing that the girls are starting to act like they have more room in the class. Room to joke, room to relax, and room to lounge if they want.

Seeing this change in them makes me wonder if being constantly reminded in my formative years by society to “sit like a lady” isn’t what has impeded my confidence, rather than a lifetime of actually sitting like one.


Jessica Laux Yaffe is a 5th grade teacher at the Ilan Ramon Day School in Agoura Hills, California. She is also pursuing her Masters Degree in Education at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles.


* And, a little add on as Gary Trudeau, in Doonesbury this past week, has been focused on gender bias in the classroom. A perfect complement to Jessica's piece! Enjoy.



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Jason is flexible and attentive, yet remains committed to his high expectations of my work in tackling tough situations and tasks.  With a sense of humor and compassion for the rigor of a leadership position, he knows how to guide me with just the right amount of productive stress.  I appreciate that.

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