The Power of Make-Belief: Pushing Boundaries

Meet this pair of “C-O-O-L” glasses. It possesses magical powers that not only makes voices louder like a microphone, but also makes the speaker more confident. What does the speaker have to do? Just put on the glasses, stand up straight and talk. Hearing the excitement in Aman’s voice, as he read aloud a page from his story, is one of the defining moments in my fellowship. Aman had always been a quiet student; so quiet that I would often have to walk up to his seat to hear his answers.

Then there is this Santa hat. Wearing the Santa hat makes you see things from another’s perspective. It makes you approach someone you had a conflict with, and talk to them calmly. All you have to do is put it on your head, and say sorry to someone you’ve fought with recently. In a moment of negotiation with two boys who had gotten into a fight, I fronted an idea. I ignored their fighting, wore this hat I had bought just a day earlier and apologized to the class for raising my voice. The sudden change in my demeanor left the boys confused, and more importantly, calmed them down. I asked them if they wanted to wear the hat too and it was a chain reaction. We spent the next half hour passing the hat along as boys who had been cause of many disrupted lessons and bullying came out of their shell to go to their classmates to make up and be friends.  It was incredible. From that day on, the hat remained in my classroom as the “friendship hat.”

Both the stories above demonstrate, what I like to call, the power of make-belief. These harmless inanimate objects gave the kids a sense of foreign energy to push them out of their comfort zones. A lot of teachers use this strategy, from keeping toy mics for speaking and listening classes, to having magic carpets for students to stand on during show and tell, to having a magic wand that casts a spell that grabs students’ undivided attention.

A similar phenomenon occurs in adults as well. Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist, talks about how certain postures, she calls them power poses, affects confidence levels in people. Her message, “Fake it till you become it” also in a way talks about this power of make-belief. She says, if we ever have to do something that scares us or makes us nervous, we should just 'fake' confidence and get along with the task; and if we 'fake it' often enough, we'll forget that we were 'faking it' at all! We will 'become' that confident person. You trick your nervous brain to believe in yourself, to act with poise and strength.

So try these power poses sometime if you're nervous about an event;  or create magic in your classroom with any object you like if you’re thinking of ways to build engagement in kids.

For more on Amy Cuddy and power poses take a look at her TED Talk. You can read her research here.

For some simple classroom ideas look at these: magic mic, magic wand, magic carpet