Towards an Understanding of Presence in Teaching: Having and Being
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Abstract The study reported in this thesis investigates the phenomenon of ‘presence' in teaching. Past research suggests that the relationship between the teacher and student is the “keystone in student achievement, motivation and engagement and in their capacity to trust what they know” (Midgley et al, 1989; Pianta, 1999; Roeser et al, 2000; cited in Rodgers & Raider-Roth, 2006: 266). Despite this, a comprehensive review of the literature has revealed that the notion of ‘presence', offering a holistic, relational, situated and dynamic lens through which to explore the essential elements of classroom interaction, has been strangely neglected to date in the educational research domain (Kornelsen, 2006; Meijer et al 2009; Rodgers & Raider-Roth, 2006). Moreover, in many teaching milieus, despite there being so little clarity about what the notion of 'presence' means in teaching terms, it appears as an observational criterion in both initial and developmental teacher education programmes, where it can be used to make judgements about teachers at different stages of their careers. Contextualised within an ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) school over a nine month period on site, this phenomenological study employs individual and focus group interviews with teachers, teacher educators and students, alongside classroom observations and post-observation discussions. Findings generated by the study offer a new depth of understanding about the multi-dimensionality and complexity inherent in the notion of 'presence' in teaching and allow a critical interrogation of the ways in which it is currently being used in a school context. This highlights the potential power it has as a pedagogic construct and reveals a paradoxical duality, intrinsic to the ways in which it was construed; making it more suitable for developmental than assessment purposes. In short, this study offers a valuable holistic and existential contribution to understanding the nature of teaching, by augmenting the ways in which teachers and teaching have been construed to date. In addition, by illuminating the inherent ambiguity and paradoxes in the complex, dynamic and multi-layered meaning of ‘Presence in Teaching’, the findings have strong implications for teaching practice, teacher education programmes and in particular for the practice of teacher observation in respect of observer awareness, understanding and development; all of which are discussed in the final chapter of the thesis.
PhD in Education