Luke O’Neill is a senior manager in Morgan Hunt Education.

Understanding gravitas in FE is as important as a windsurfer understanding swell and surf.

Surf forecasts are the results of modern scientific study and gravitas is the observation of an empire formed over 2,000 years ago. When was the year, the month, the week, the day or hour that having an in-depth knowledge of your FE subject ceased to be enough? 

When a critical mass of people gained expertise and knowledge, and differentiation and performance became necessary to observe gravitas once again. Gravitas has been known about since the Romans who thought it a desired virtue and today in our modern world it is still considered an attribute worthy of attention.

The question of whether gravitas is learned behaviour, in the genes or a mystic aura is debatable as some people do seem to have it naturally by the barrel loads and for others it takes time to nurture. The good news for colleges is that much can be done to acquire the skills of gravitas and depending on the commitment of the individual, that luminous radiation exuding from some FE classrooms and common rooms can be owned by you.

Having gravitas in FE can lead others to feel more confident in you despite your levels of experience, education or skills, and it can be dominant against many other attributes but if you’re the one it alludes there is a lot you can do to develop the perceptions of influence, authority, dignity and importance.

What does gravitas in FE look like?

The physical attributes of a person in FE with gravitas generally resembles a well groomed teaching professional or an FE leader who is confident of their audience and appropriately attired for the environment they work in. They will also have good body posture, tone and volume of voice, and be able to talk authoritatively and clearly about their subject.  

In terms of mental state and emotional responses, a person in FE who possesses gravitas is associated with good judgement, even under pressure, the ability to speak in an inspiring manner, and command respect from all levels within the college.

Understanding the whole body thing

It goes without saying that having gravitas can help you get to places in your FE career that you would not have got to on just hard work, skills and education alone and the magic of this lies in your whole being and not just in the knowledge that you hold.  In fact your knowledge can play to your strengths, or indeed your weaknesses.

According to Albert Mehrabian, a University of California psychology professor emeritus, 55% of first impressions are made based on appearances (i.e., what the eyes can see) alone while the tone of voice including its pace, pitch and volume contributes to just 35% of the impressions. This means that only a mere 10% will go to the actual impact of your knowledge presented to students.

So as much as the substance of your FE brains including your top-notch FE education, training and FE experience matters, you should also put effort into your charismatic appeal. You may be the smartest pebble on the beach but if you’re not commanding attention in the classroom, lecture room, hall or assembly or taken seriously when it matters to learners then you'll be one pebble washed away in the student swell and surf.

Give me some tips

There are indeed people who seem to have gravitas naturally but fortunately it is also something that can be worked at. The following tips can help you work on your FE professional appeal.

  • Dress in a manner that commands respect. Clean clothes are a must even on more casual end of term days but particularly on parent evenings, in sponsor meetings or on student open days.
  • Adopt good body posture – stand up straight, elongate your spine, and avoid slouching when sitting or standing. Be sure to hold yourself in a manner that expresses your confidence and commands respect from others.
  • Be conscious about your body language, facial expressions and tone of voice.
  • Use appropriate language depending on the situation. Make eye contact with colleagues and students. Use the right tone of voice for each keeping the pitch and volume appropriate to your audience.

You can develop you own style of gravitas that sits comfortably with your environment but it takes commitment on your part and its benefits are well worth the effort.

Luke O’Neill is a senior manager in Morgan Hunt Education.

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