Mind-bodies, Interdependent Opposites and Knots: A Phenomenological Inquiry into the Child-Teacher Relationship in Upper Primary School
Ó Breacháin, Annie
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
This study is a qualitative, phenomenological inquiry into teachers’ and children’s ‘lived experiences’ of the child-teacher relationship in an Irish upper primary school context. It highlights the current need to re-focus our attention on the child-teacher relationship which Biesta (2004) argues is the 'location' of education. An overview of the literature on relational pedagogy is provided which connects the child-teacher relationship to broader theoretical debates including Heidegger's (1962) concept of Mitsein and Buber's I- Thou relation (1937). Hermeneutic phenomenology describes the overarching methodology following van Manen’s (1990) ‘lived experience’ approach. The study was conducted in a large, suburban, primary school with designated disadvantaged status. Before data generation commenced, a Children’s Research Advisory Group was established in the school following Lundy, McEvoy, and Byrne (2011). The function of this group was to advise about conducting research with children. Research participants included three teachers and five children from each of those teachers’ classes. Data generation featured the use of protocol writing and conversational interviews following van Manen (1990, 2014) and the use of embodied, drama methods which were unique to this study but inspired by the work of Norris (2000) and guided by O’Sullivan (2011). Data was also generated using visual methods drawing on the work of Mitchell (2011), Tinkler (2015) and Chappell and Craft (2011). In line with the phenomenological approach adopted, data was interpreted in what Gadamer (1989) describes as a circular manner. This involves attending to ‘parts’ whilst keeping in mind the ‘whole’ picture. This study identified three overarching thematic findings which find resonance with the fields of relational pedagogy and embodied teaching and learning as well as new insights at the point where these two areas overlap. These include how teachers and children relate to one another as ‘whole, embodied feeling beings’; the idea that there is a tension between ‘closeness’ and ‘distance’ in the child teacher relationship and that there is a need for both ‘structure’ and ‘freedom’ to feature in that relationship. Further, this study found that the child-teacher relationship is experienced as ‘knotted’ with social and contextual relationships. These findings are discussed in light of the concepts of ‘connectedness’ and ‘emergence’, features of complexity theory. This study provides new insights into how teachers and children experience their relationships with one another, thereby extending the body of knowledge on the child-teacher relationship.
EdD in Education